The answer to that question is: it can be, if you know what you’re doing. You can snap up a car for significantly less than the going rate at an auction – but equally, you could pay through the nose for something that might not even last the drive home.
Say you’re in the market for a decent used van. You could head here to a traditional dealer, or take your chances at a dedicated light commercial vehicles auction, where the risks and benefits are very much dependent on your approach.
On the surface, the auction process is relatively straightforward. Cars are presented to potential buyers as lots, and the auctioneer coaxes bids of increasing value for each lot. Just as with any other auction, the highest bid wins. In many cases could pick up a car for far less than if you’d bought it on the forecourt. And just occasionally you could unearth a rare, highly desirable classic – it may need a little work doing on it, but it could be a real bargain.
If there’s a sought-after car waiting to go under the hammer, it’s sure to attract plenty of interest. Many motoring auctions publish lists of lots well in advance, and collectors will pore over them to make sure a hidden gem doesn’t pass them by. So be prepared to go up against plenty of other bidders if something seems too good to pass up. The Daily Telegraph suggests that the best auctions take place during the week, so expect to rub shoulders with traders and real experts.
As well as classics, there are auctions focusing on all types of vehicle. Expect more specific classes, such as kit cars, track racers or even repossessed cars, to pop up at less frequent, specialist auctions. Police auctions can be a good way to save to cash in on a car – but make sure you’ve done your homework on a lot before catching the auctioneer’s eye.
In fact that goes for any lot at a car auction. Before bidding kicks off, you’ll have the chance to take a closer look at each car. If you’re not mechanically minded, carbuyer.co.uk recommends taking along someone who is. That way, expensive repair jobs could be spotted before you make the mistake of parting with any cash. Since many cars that go under the hammer are fleet cars sold off by large companies, a knowledgeable friend could identify gearbox and brake wear caused by high mileage.
Before bidding begins, the auctioneer will list any issues the seller has identified with a particular lot. While you’ll need to keep an ear out here, this list is by no means exhaustive. And with warranties rarely offered with a lot, that means you’re often at the whim of a seller’s honesty.
Should you buy your next car in an auction, then? If you know what you want and, more importantly, how much you want to pay for it, then it could be worth a shot – but you may not be covered by the rights you’d have if you bought from many dealers. The best thing to do is head to an auction without any cash in your pocket to see how it all works first, then wait for your ideal car to come up, do your research and, if you’re feeling confident, place your bid…