Public car auctions | Four tips for buying a car

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Public car auctions | Four tips for buying a car
Public car auctions | Four tips for buying a car

Cars have grown to be a vital part of our lives. Driving to your job interview to make a good impression, getting to work on time, going out without squandering hard-earned dollars on taxi rides – owning a car helps you hold it all together. However, times are hard; credit rules and previous not-so-good credit history leave many out of the game and push them to pay cash. A public car auction may be a good place for someone who is tight on money and looking for a bargain.

Government vs public auctions

Some time ago when government auctions were only becoming a thing, we would strongly advise you to settle on them instead of attending a public auction. Usually, you can get reliable information about the vehicle you laid your eyes on. There are no reasons to lie to you about the maintenance of the car over the years, how it was used and fixed, and how many miles this baby left behind. Sounds like a fair deal, eh?

Sadly, you are not the only one who thinks so. Taxi companies are after decently looking cars. Foreign traders want to transfer vehicles abroad. And even government employees who grew so fond of the cars you used to drive at work, they decided to make them a part of the family and never part ways. Bottom line: there is a ton of great deals, but the competition is huge. Not wanting to deal with experienced hunters who are ready to walk over other attendants motivates people to test their luck at a public auction.

Public auctions – what do you need to know?

What usually comes first to mind when someone brings up car auctions is a bunch of rich people bidding on upscale vehicles and offering crazy amounts of money for another Ferrari that is too good to be true. Well, not the case when it comes to public car auctions. The cars are more than ordinary. And the only thrill you’ll feel is thinking nervously if you just bought a lemon that will fall to pieces once you take off or hit the jackpot of your lifetime.

The downsides of participating in a public car auction are obvious. First, you cannot really know if the information on the vehicle is true. After all, the car might have been through hell, but once the owner rolled its clocks back, you’ll never find out. After all, there’s a good reason why these cars ended up here and not at a wholesale dealer auction. Besides, they make a good use of the fact that you can’t always take a car for a test ride. That’s how you can be blissfully mislead by its seemingly shiny appearance.

Despite all the horrors, the Internet is full of stories about buying a good car that didn’t resemble a bucket on wheels for as little as $400. So what are the secrets?


  1. Learn a couple (not a couple, actually) of things about cars

Business is business. What on earth could be better for a dealer to not only get rid of a vehicle far beyond repair, but to also make someone pay for it? If you couldn’t tell the difference between a catalytic converter and a carburetor, even if your life depended on it, bring someone who can. Preferably someone who has an ‘eye’ for cars and can see beyond the layer of fresh paint.

You can do something on spot such as looking up the average price for a used car of the model you laid your eyes on so that you don’t bid inadequately. And there are things you can do in the days to come. Many public auctions offer a limited-time guarantee. Make a good use of this time. Take the car for a ride with someone who knows stuff and let them observe its behavior. Having it checked by a professional may also help. Maybe it will turn out that it would better be heading back to where it came from.  


  1. Know what you’re getting into

As we previously said, there must be a reason why this car ended up at a public auction. You may pay close to nothing, but don’t forget about additional repair costs that are most likely to arise. You may also prefer your car to not only be intact on the inside, but also well-groomed on the outside. In this case, lay aside some money for cosmetic work.

Normally, sedans require repairs costing anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Getting a truck, a van or an SUV might cost you even more, with repair prices ranging from $600 to $2,000 with the latter especially true for high end vehicles.

Keep in mind that you might need to pay for towing in case you buy a vehicle that you can’t just drive off the lot.


  1. VIN is the key

VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number and can tell you a lot about the car. How much you can find out though depends on what service you use. For free, you can figure out the model year, assembly plant or trim level. However, an in-depth report can expose unlisted damages and spare you money in perspective. Two out of three Americans order a report when buying a used car.

Right on spot you can compare VINs located in different parts of the car. If they don’t match, it may mean that the car was in a bad accident and had to be rebuilt. Which is again information you might want to consider before making a purchase.


  1. Don’t get your hopes high

Buying a used car at a public auction is not always the ‘lived happily ever after’ story. Prepare for parting ways with your newly bought car in the near future. Off course, it’s not always this pessimist, but anyhow don’t expect your car to outlive a brand new model. Hope for the best, beware of frauds and good luck at your next public car auction!