Steve Lang offers his take on auto auctions based on experience, not just as an auctioneer, but also as a bidder, buyer, seller, and auction house manager. With that broad perspective, Lang has seen a lot, and his tips are not to be ignored.
He notes, “This is a world that average car buyers enter at their own peril.” The hundreds of thousands of deals he observed—everything from a $200 VW to a $200,000 Ferrari—have included both “future joys” and “long-term sorrows.” Perhaps his greatest warning is that “Almost nothing is what it first appears to be.” In other words, sellers will do almost anything to get the best dollar for their car while buyers hope to get the best car for the best price; so unwarranted assumptions can lead to disaster. He warns that hidden problems can be serious and that removed warning lights and recently changed oil may hide known problems, known to the owner, that is.
Here are 10 tips from the experienced auctioneer’s perspective:
- Decide If You Can Really Handle an Auto Auction-He explains why auctions may not be for everyone.
- Know the Sellers-Banks aren’t car people. New car sellers auction off brands other than their own. Independent dealers are most likely to sell to someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Public auctions serve the purpose of finding the people who fit the “clueless” mold.”
- Do Your Pre-Auction Research-As noted elsewhere, Carfax and AutoCheck are excellent sources to learn a vehicle’s history.
- Know the Auction Rules-Are there fees or deposits? Can you drive the car? Lang says never to bid on a car without driving it.
- Assess the Car by Assessing the Previous Owner-Examine the car for indications of the owner’s being someone who didn’t care for his vehicle.
- Pay Attention to the Auction Lights-Auction block usually have 4 colored lights. Red is for “as is.” You buy it, and it’s yours. Yellow is for caution, because the car has an issue that could be serious. Green means the winning bidder may drive the car for 1 to 3 hours, and may be able to get out of the deal if an extremely serious issue is discovered. Blue means you may have to wait for the title, though after 30 days you can probably get your money back (He says, “Always pay with a check!”).
- Don’t Get Drawn Into the Drama-Don’t allow yourself to get suckered into paying more than you planned or into buying junk.
- The Auto Auctioneer Is Not Your Buddy-His job is to sell cars, not help you.
- You Have a Court of Last Resort-If you’re among the few who get a misrepresented car, remember that auctions hate bad publicity.
- Build a Relationship-The auctioneer has a job to do, but if you’re pleasant and interested, he may become you ally.
This is a summary at best. If you’re serious about buying at an auto auction, I highly recommend reading this entire piece and getting all the choice details. You’ll have greater success for doing so.