Buying a Car At Auction

Could buying a car at auction be the answer to the problem of getting on the road cheaply? Cars go into auction for all sorts of reasons. Dealers might want to get rid of cars which have been traded in, leasing companies may sell cars which have come back at the end of the lease into auction rather than selling them on themselves, and finance companies often put repossessed vehicles into the auction too. Every large town and city has a car auction, so look online to see where your local one is. It’s certainly an opportunity to grab a bargain, but aren’t there pitfalls to buying at auction too?

Register First

If you’re thinking of buying a car at an auction, you’ll have to register as a buyer first. You can often do this online through the auction company’s website. Once you’ve registered, you can then browse through the catalogues for upcoming auctions and make a note of cars which you may be interested in buying. There’s also nothing to stop you going along to an auction as an observer. This can be a good way of getting to know how the whole process works, and get a general idea what vehicles are being sold for.

Arrive Early

Once you’ve spotted a car which you’re interested in, make sure you get to the auction as early as you can. Most auctions won’t give the opportunity for a test drive, but you may be able to get into the car, lift the bonnet and inspect it for any obvious faults. If you have the registration number, you can log into the DVLA website and look to see whether it’s taxed, and what the MOT status is.


When the bidding starts, make sure you are absolutely clear about which lot numbers you are interested in bidding on. The auctioneer will read out the description of the car and may give other information too. If the car has known faults then these should be stated on the listing. If a car is listed as having no known faults then you can’t assume it’s perfect. It just means that the auction company hasn’t picked up on any faults during the inspection process.

Set your ceiling price for the vehicle and don’t be tempted to go any higher if you are outbid. There will be another auction in a few days’ time with plenty more cars. Each auction has their own way of registering bids with paddles or numbers, and if you’ve taken the opportunity to watch a few lots being sold, you should have a clear idea of what to do.

Winning Bidder

Congratulations, you’re the highest bidder! Again, all auction houses have a different procedure for what happens next, but it’s fairly standard to ask for a deposit of around 20% straight away. The auction house will then complete the paperwork needed to transfer the ownership of the car, and when that’s finished, pay the balance on a debit or credit card. This all usually happens the same night, but you might have to return the next day.


If you’ve bought a car untaxed, you can arrange this right away online through the DVLA website. MOT is slightly trickier. You can only drive a car without a MOT if you’re on the way to a pre-booked appointment at the garage. If you haven’t had the chance to book a MOT, then usually the auction company will deliver your car for you, but will charge extra. You’ll also need to organise insurance, but again you should be able to do this online using your mobile while the auction is still going on.

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