How To Buy A Car At A Public Car Auction | American Auto Shipping

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How To Buy A Car At A Public Car Auction

public car auction

Are you a public car auction first timer? Are you worried that you might be hit hidden fees or hung out to dry? You might be wondering if public auction cars are worth the risk.

Are there only salvage cars at public auctions? Can I access public auto auctions online to avoid face to face interaction? All these questions and more will be answered for you.

You could buy your next car at an auction, just read this article for more information.

What Is A Car Auction?

An “auction” is a process whereby products are sold and purchased by putting them up for bid. As you probably know, the highest bidder gets to take home the product.

They’re held all over the world, and with the internet making things easier, it’s an exciting (and popular) time to get involved.

Cars are just one of the products available to buy at auctions. They’re popular because they give you the opportunity to buy a vehicle at a very reasonable price and have fun doing it!

Why Are Cars Sold At An Auction?

There are many reasons cars are sold at auctions. After all, we see it used by manufacturers, companies with company cars, as well as car rental business taking part. And as we mentioned earlier, car dealers acquire a good chunk of their inventory this way.

Just as outlet stores and bulk retailers get rid of extra stock fast by lowering prices, so do the sellers at car auctions. Inventory stocking isn’t a perfect science, so there has to be a way to eliminate the extra goods if they sit around too long or are no longer needed.

With salvage cars, you’ll see damage such as from an accident or other events such as floods, for example. In these cases, insurance companies have decided it isn’t worth its value to fix. So the insurer will pay the owner, but then turn around and sell it at auction to retrieve some of its value.

But, lucky for you, this doesn’t mean they’re always totaled. Some of these vehicles might only have minor damage, which means they can still be fixed up, re-registered, and legally driven again.

Four Types of Car Auctions

You may have heard about these 4 main types of car auctions. They include public, private, government, and online. Let’s take a closer look.


The word “public” here means that anyone can take part. They occur in real space (not online), and it’s easy to get your car shipped to you. Also, at public auctions, you don’t need a special license like you do for private auctions.

Here you’ll find cars in all conditions — new, used, damaged, and everything in between. They’re sold “as is”, which means no returns or guarantees. If you go to one knowing this, you’ll be able to look at the situation realistically, and with no surprises.


Private auctions are only for private car dealers and aren’t open to the public. You can only participate if you have a dealer’s license. Car dealers acquire much of their inventory this way.

These auctions have vehicles in better condition than at public auctions — usually new or nearly new. Dealers participate to save money, and then of course they add their markup before reselling.


These types of car auctions are done by local governments or other government bodies such as police departments. They can include any type of vehicle as long as it was seized by authorities. We’re talking trucks, motorcycles, and even boats!

You could even be like Elwood in the Blues Brothers and buy a decommissioned police car. Up to you! When the government bodies upgrade to new vehicles, they auction them off at low prices to get rid of them fast.

Online Public Auto Auctions

You can find low prices online as well. They’re pretty much the same as public and government auctions, except you don’t have to get off the couch. Have you ever purchased a police car or a Pontiac in your pajamas?

More benefits of using an online car auction for public access is that you’ll get to choose from a wider selection, countrywide. There can be thousands to choose from, and if you’ve ever gone online shopping, you know how convenient it can be.

You’ll notice that online action platforms will offer great customer support. They can even handle the dreaded paperwork as well as the logistics involved in auto auction shipping.

6 Tips for Buying a Car Through An Online Auction

You have the right to ask questions before and during the event. Researching the type of car(s) you’re considering could save you from being scammed.

Do you know anyone who has experience? Hit them up with questions and hey, they might just tag along!

If you get to the auction as early in the morning as possible, you’ll have a better chance of getting your favorite car at a reasonable bid. This is because bids aren’t that high during this time.

1. Research Vehicle Values

Check Kelly Blue Book as well as Edmunds to research vehicles’ ballpark values. Prices might vary depending on where you live, too. So it would be worth checking out vehicle prices on Craigslist and in your local classified ads as well.

You’ll feel more prepared and knowledgeable if you do this investigation work. You’ll also make smarter and more confident decisions while you’re at the auction. You just might outsmart someone else, which adds to the fun!

2. Find Any Hidden Issues

A dented-up car may work great. A pristine looking vehicle may run like an old golf cart. Be prepared to investigate under the surface and be ready for any hidden electrical or mechanical problems.

Learn all about how to spot obvious mechanical problems under the hood. Teach yourself how to recognize issues based on how the vehicle sounds when the engine is running.

3. Obtain the Vehicle’s History

By knowing a vehicle’s history, you can find out a lot about its present condition. Look up the VIN number to check on whether it’s been in any accidents or suffered any sort of damage. How many owners has it had?

More owners usually mean more trouble, but not always. Think about gas mileage, wear and tear, driving comfort, etc. Try to make a list ahead of time so you know as much as you can before making a bid.

4. Just Remember, There Are No Warranties

Remember, as we mentioned above, vehicles sold at actions do not come with guarantees or warranties. There are no returns, nor can you ask the previous owner to shell out for repairs, etc. This is one of the main risks you run if you buy a car at auction.

5. Add a Cushion For Repairs

Build into your budget a cushion for repair costs. What are you willing to pay in this regard? Can you fix it yourself, or do you happen to know a mechanic who can get you a great deal?

6. Stick to Your Budget

Try to stick to your budget range. You don’t want to have buyer’s remorse — it spoils the enjoyment of the vehicle. Promise yourself that you won’t go over, even if it’s for the car of your dreams.

Sticking to your budget will help you avoid bidding wars. If you let your emotions take over, you’ll be living in that car. The whole point of an auction is to save money, not waste it over a silly argument.

How to Find a Public Car Auction

You can find a public car auction by searching Google for “online public car auction near me” or check your local newspaper. If you’re willing to travel, you’ll broaden your choices. Try searching on Copart, for example, for the type of vehicle you’re looking for by brand or location.

How to Buy At A Public Car Auction

All public auction cars come with a detailed description. These are drafted and provided by the auctioneers. Be sure to read them carefully because they contain vital information like disclaimers and conditions.

If you miss any disclaimers, you might not be able to get compensation for that vehicle, which are known as Category D write-offs. You’ll also see the “reserve price” listed in these descriptions, which is the minimum bid amount that the seller is willing to accept.

Each car is referred to as a “lot” and will be driven into the auction room according to the order in which the cars are listed in the auction house catalog. If you weren’t there early for inspections, just listen to how it sounds as it’s driven into the hall.

Bids come in fast, so be prepared for them to rise quickly. Try to keep a clear head and a fast hand if you’re interested in a car. If you’re sure you want to bid, quickly and clearly raise your catalog, hand, or numbered paddle while catching the auctioneer’s eye.

When and if the vehicle reaches the reserve price, it’ll be sold to the individual who offered the highest bid. Then the auctioneer will band a gavel, at which point the car will be classed and announced as sold.

If you won the bid, all you have to do now is pay the auction house a deposit of usually 20% of the auction price. The remaining balance can then be paid with a bank transfer or debit card. Using cash or credit may incur admin fees from the auction house.

How Does Shipping Work?

Auction shipping is easy because the options are endless. They can be shipped by train, truck, ship, air, or simply driven right to your door depending on location.

First, get an estimate quote by filling out an online form or calling the auto shipping company directly. If you’re happy with your estimate, fill out an official line order form or call to complete your order.

You’ll then be given proper notifications as to the pickup time, location, and then you’ll get a 4-24 hour notice prior to delivery day.

Have Fun Bidding on the Car of Your Dreams!

We hope you get the car of your dreams and not a lemon! With these tips, you’ll be better prepared and have a “lot” more fun!

If you’re not a gear head yourself, consider asking one to join you and you could save yourself even more money. They could take help you out during those early morning inspections. Good luck with your public car auction bidding!

Contact us today with any questions and we’ll be happy to help.

Dave Armstrong
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