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Buying a car at an auto auction

has anyone gone to an auto auction and had luck purchasing a good cheap car?if ones knowledge of cars is limited would this be a risky task?also,how much would we save going this route?could we find something reliable for around 2500 to 3000 dollars? thank you for you help and where are these auction taking place?

An auction is a crap shoot even for someone who is mechanically astute. For someone with limited knowledge the risk factor goes way up.

You will generally find these auctions in major metro areas and these are often advertised in various media sources. However, some of these auctions are for licensed dealers only.

You can find something reliable without attending an auction. It takes homework and footwork, with the big snafu being your limited knowledge of cars. Either a thorough inspection (which is not always 100% foolproof) should be done or the car should get a lengthy (50 miles) test drive; paying careful attention to everything on the car.

(It is possible to pick up a decent car at auction but you should keep in mind that auctions are also a dumping ground for someone else’s wheeled problem children.)

Do a search in this forum for auto auctions. There are some detailed lengthy and valuable discussions on the subject. If you’re not going to search and read those, then listen to OK4450’s input (from above). He captures it very well.

There are “diamonds in the rough” at auto auctions. But there is an awful lot of rough, so the odds are against finding and buying the diamond. If you are really car knowledgeable your chances go up. If you have plenty of time to inspect the cars and run them and move them, your chances go up.

Getting a good deal on a car that needs no work, is very unlikely. If you buy an auction car for $2,000 you better have another $2,000 available to make it a reliable, road worthy car. If you are lucky it will be a “smokers” car that only needs a good cleaning, new tires, and new brakes. If you aren’t lucky you’ll get a motor with a blown head gasket, or a bad transmission that needs rebuilding or replacement.

I’d add that police and repo auctions are even worse. There might be some gems there, but most people that get cars confiscated or repo’d aren’t the type to take any kind of care of them.

I was once told that “Trying to find a reliable car at an auction is like trying to find a virgin at a whorehouse.” There is a reason that no one else wants these cars. Buyer beware.

Every tag listed above is valid, I especially like the Virgin and the Whore comment, however, if 2-3K is the ceiling, start with an internet search on TRADERONLINE for cars within 50 miles of your zip with 3K as your top price. Weed out the shit boxes and dreamers then start asking question on here reviewing your choices. Craigslist or Backpage is available just about everywhere, even dealers use it and you can refine your search too. Even local tow yards have cars you can buy, from DUI cars to light and heavy accidents. I do a little repo work, most are junk because they get treated like a rental car after awhile.

I have been to many auctions and bought a few cars. It is not a winning proposition for the automobile novice. OK4450’s take on auctions seems very close to my observations. And I would suggest that anyone wanting the biggest bang for the buck on a used car to make the rounds at car lots to see what they have taken in on trades. They often get vehicles that have limited appeal and even the low end “tote the note” car lots don’t want them so they are sold for whatever they are offered. A hot pink Park Ave might be a great buy. Also, these trashy CASH FOR TITLE scum bags get cars and sell them for pennies on the dollar. But get familiar with automobiles before taking the plunge on any car.

thank you for your advice.we will try to look around a bit.we need to get him a car sooner than later but we do not want to give him another problem we will take your advice.thank you again.steve

thank you for your seems like everyone agrees with you.we had no idea about auctions.and we do not know a great deal about used cars we will try to be careful.thank you again,steve

Think of a car auction as a dumping ground for new car dealers who don’t want the car on their used car trade-in lot.

4450 said, "(It is possible to pick up a decent car at auction but you should keep in mind that auctions are also a dumping ground for someone else’s wheeled problem children.)

You got that right! At the Volvo dealer I was at, when they’d get a Volvo trade-in, naturally we’d see what it needed to become a “Certified Used Car”. If it cost too much to be certified, the refrain from the used car manager was, “Send it to the auction!” It’s common to see cars at the auctions with, say, the check engine light bulb, or the airbag light bulb removed from the dash to mask an expensive problem in these areas.

I know this because right now I work at a huge wholesale auto auction, as a road tester in the after-sale inspection. 20% of the sold cars, the buyer pays $500 to get checked out by our department.

We are forced to make educated (sometimes not so educated) guesses as to the car’s condition. You drive the car, and have to make a call as to whether a certain noise is ring & pinion, carrier bearing, or wheel bearing noise, for example, without the luxury of putting the car up in the air & pulling wheels, using a stethoscope, etc.

The reason dealers buy & sell at auctions is because OVER THE LONG HAUL they can make out, whereas, for an individual buying one car, one time, you take too much of a risk.

Others may feel auctions are the way to go, but I would be extremely wary.

Awful idea especially I recall you living in MA. A private or dealer sale you protected against unregistrable cars due emissions/safety defects. An auction you taking that risk and given your interest have limited funds.

We had a person post here a while back who bought a Chrysler Sebring at an auto auction. I don’t think they ever got back to us on the problem they were having with it, but I can only think of one reason why a new battery and a few new starters would produce the same symptoms of a smoking starter, and that would be a seized engine. If you can’t drive it and thoroughly inspect it, it’s probably not a good idea to buy it. You win some, you lose some.

It depends where you are. In Maryland, and maybe where you live, only cars that have no significant defects can be sold to the public. The others are on dealer-only aisles. This won’t prevent you from getting a car that needs significant work, but at least it will meet minimum safety standards. Larger auctions near you may have a web site. Read the fine print and see if you are still interested. I had a boss that bought all his cars over a 15 year period at auction and had good success. There were a few issue:

  1. Cash only, and you have to prove you have the cash before they let you in.
  2. You can’t drive the car. You can listen to it run and check everything out.
  3. If you don’t buy a car, they give you your cash back.

He typically got the car for several hundred below trade-in value. If you want to try it, take a friend that knows a lot about cars with you to find the ones that might be worth a shot.