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Buy car at auction

I may buy a car at public auction.

Are there ways to “test drive” the car without driving it?

I understand that I can:

1. test automatic transmission by step on the break, then shift it between park, drive and rev.

2. listen the engine noise

3. check transmission and engine oil

is there are any others tip for me to check the car?

Hmm… seems like we’ve been getting a lot of these questions lately. Have they been advertising to the public more since the economy has slowed down?

Anyways, the short answer is no. Buying a car like this at an auction is basically a crapshoot. Dealers make enough profit and do enough volume that they can afford to write a bad auction purchase off from time to time. You presumably can’t, which is why an individual buyer needs to do a thorough pre-purchase inspection.

Considering that deals at these auctions are usually only good deals compared to a used car lot, but not any better than you can get from a private party, you’re better off doing it that way if you’re looking to save money.

Auctions are the worst place to buy a used car – they are at an auction for a reason.


As previously stated, purchasing a car at auction is really a gamble. You may get a decent car, or you may end up with a really big paperweight. You will be fortunate to be able to do as much inspection as you say you intend to do in your post. Some auctions will only let you look at the cars, not start them or anything like that. The auction is also the place where dealerships take their really bad cars to unload them onto another dealership, or sometimes a private buyer.

We had a post on here a while back from someone who bought a car at auction. He got the thing home, and it wouldn’t start. The information he provided on here sounded to me a lot like the engine was seized. I never did find out what was wrong with it. He never posted back.

This is one of those “if you have to ask” situations…auctions are only advised for folks that are both experienced in evaluating cars ‘on the fly’ AND able to live with making some mistakes (bad purchases) along the way. They are a BAD idea for someone inexperienced with cars and auctions trying to buy personal transportation.

Are you talking about an estate sale auction or an auction held primarily for dealers? These are two different things. For a vehicle being sold at an estate sale, you may be able to talk to either the owner, or in the event that the owner is deceased or in a nursing home, the heirs of the estate. You will at least know who owned the car and may be able to find out where the car was serviced.

On the other hand, of this is an auction where new car dealers dispose of cars that the new car dealer does not want to put on its lot, then you have to evaluate the car as it stands.

What I’ve been told over the years is that auctions where good deals are available attract buyers who make a living buying cars at auction, fixing them if necessary, then reselling them. So the odds are that either the cars at the auction aren’t a good deal to begin with or that one will be competing for good deals with folks who know a lot about which cars are bargains and which aren’t. Either way, the outcome for an amateur isn’t likely to be all that great.

I have purchased vehicles for over 20 years at public and dealer auctions. I have been a mechanic off and on for 40 years. With all my years of experience with all types of vehicles my success rate is probably about 70 percent. Some vehicles will look terrible but run great and some will lull you in with their cherry look only to let you down when you get it on the road. It’s really a crap shoot. I would advise against trying to buy at auction unless it is a private estate sale. You might get lucky but you might not.