Frequently Asked Questions
Did You Ever Buy a Car at Auction? Learn How and Why!
By Bill Miller, Jr.
Having been in the car business all my life, I have bought and sold a lot of cars to make a living. This was not just a hobby experience for me as I had to make money for the dealer that I worked for and then for myself as I became a new car dealer in the 1970's. From 1966 until 1995 I bought and sold cars at auction often two or three times a week.
In that 30 years, learning all the ins and outs of the business is what made my dealerships successful. The new and used car business is a fine balancing point of keeping the right inventory for the customers. Every dealer can have new cars to sell but the good dealers also have a perfect balance of used cars for their type of customer and their area of the country. The quality of the used cars sold was the total reputation of the dealership. Whatever franchise the dealer had backed up the new cars, but the dealer was the backup for the used cars sold so it was important that the best used cars were purchased for resale.
Let's prepare for a typical day at auction and see how to purchase a car. First of all, I make sure that I know the value of the car I want to purchase. Do your homework and research the value of what you want to buy before you leave home. There are many good books out there to give you some idea what something is worth. I use "Old Cars Price Guide" as it is updated often and I see them at many auctions keeping up to date on values. Another good one is NADA as they have been doing car values probably longer than anyone. Now that I am prepared with an estimate of the car's value, I am ready to look over the inventory at the auction I am attending. Always keep in mind that the exceptional collector car at an auction will bring a premium over any book price. This is strictly my opinion but to me the best cars to own are original cars that have never been restored. A car is only original once and that is exactly as it came from the factory. People often say the car is original when it is restored to its original specifications but that is not true. It is then a car that is restored to original specs but not an original car. If you can't find an original car, the next best car is the restored car. REMEMBER THAT THE PERFECT ORIGINAL CAR WITH LOW MILEAGE WILL BRING A PREMIUM BUT IS IRREPLACABLE!
Start out your day at the auction early. If you have a friend or know a mechanic or body man who would tag along with you to the auction, this is always a plus for you if you do not have the knowledge yourself. A trap that many people fall into is getting to the auction late, seeing a car on the auction block just as you get there, making a snap decision, and regretting it later. As you sort through the cars at the auction, don't only look at the condition of the car but also at who has the car for sale. There are many excellent collector car dealers out there and they know what a car is worth. These dealers buy and sell cars every day so they are not looking to get to get rich on every car; they just want to make a fair profit and have a happy customer. They also have a reputation to uphold and want you to do more business with them so they try to sell only quality cars. If you have heard some sad stories from other people about the seller, be wary and make sure you know exactly what you are purchasing. Sometimes people make an unfair evaluation of someone so judge for yourself when you look the car over. Spend plenty of time checking out the car to be sure that is the one you want. Has it had a lot of body work? How is the fit of the doors, hood, and trunk, etc? Look in the trunk, under the hood, and at the door jambs as this is often where poor body work is done if the car has had some prior damage. Is the paint nice and smooth? Can you see sander marks in the finish that were not smoothed out before the paint was put on? Are there dirt marks in the paint from poor ventilation while painting? Are there sander marks on the chrome trim that could have been damaged when the body work was done? Does the motor sound good? A little secret is to rev the motor just above an idle to listen for bearing noise. If the motor has a deep rattle it may need some major engine work. Is the interior correct? Many times interiors are replaced with material that is not original. Always look at the headliner in the car as many times people never look up until after they purchase the car to find out the headliner is either gone, torn, or dirty. Check the chrome for poor recroming or for pitting or discoloration. The only thing left is the glass. Many vehicles may need to be inspected in your state so check to see that any damage to the glass will pass inspection in your state. Often a mark in the windshield will pass in some states but may not pass in yours. Also curved glass windshields are very expensive and sometimes are not even available.
Now that you have done your homework you are ready to do your next step and that is to try to purchase the vehicle. When the vehicle comes on the block the auctioneer will ask for a bid to get the auction started. Don't be the first bidder unless you have much experience at auction purchasing. Let someone who has experience bid first to see if the car will be in the price range that you want to spend for it. Set the top number that you are willing to spend for the car and see where the bidding goes. REMEMBER WHAT I SAID BEFORE, "THE PERFECT ORIGINAL CAR WITH LOW MILEAGE WILL BRING A PERMIUM BUT IS IRREPLACIBLE." If this is the perfect car for you, set your top number high so you don't regret not buying it later. When the bidding begins to slow down and the auctioneer is calling for a last bid, if the car is in the range that you want to spend, then it is time for you to jump into the bidding. Often when two bidders fight over a car and one finally drops out, the other bidder gets frustrated if a new bidder gets involved. Then they drop out and you get the car.
Remember to follow these steps to the purchase a car at collector car auctions because cars are sold AS-IS and you want to know what you are buying before the purchase is made. Buying at auction is often the best way to buy a car because when the auctioneer drops his hammer with the last bid that is what the car is worth. Many times individuals who have cars for sale ask much more for the car than what it is worth. After you buy a car at auction, you take it home, take care of it, and enjoy it for a few years. Then when you take it back to auction to buy another car, you will often get more for it than you paid a few years before. What a great way to enjoy the hobby, have fun with cars, and often make money.
Ready to get started? Register as a bidder today!