For savvy bargain hunters, local public car auctions offer a prime venue to score great deals on used vehicles. Auction prices are often well below market value, which allows bidding incredibly low on older trade-ins and seized vehicles. But cheap auctions still require a strategy to avoid buying hidden lemons or overpaying in auction fever.
Like skilled poker players, smart auction winners prepare thoroughly before bidding. That starts by researching upcoming local auto auctions through sites like AuctionZip to find dates, locations, and vehicle previews. Study the auction catalog to target desired makes and models worth pursuing. Note minimum bids disclosed. Then inspect target vehicles thoroughly at previews, documenting any issues needing repair. Use Vehicle History reports to uncover major problems like flood damage. Budget wisely for required repairs and fees on top of bids. Success requires knowing a vehicle’s actual market value before auction day using pricing guides like Kelly Blue Book and NADA. It lets you recognize lowball deals and avoid overpaying if bidding runs hot. Factor in mileage, condition, demand, and options using localized adjusted values, not just baseline MSRP. Examine completed auction results to see winning bid prices on specific vehicle types. Conservative bidding limits risk.
Set your maximum bid
After thorough inspection and valuation, determine your absolute ceiling for each target vehicle. It is the highest bid you will place, including a reasonable buffer. Bidding emotions run hot at bank repo car auctions, so sticking to predetermined limits avoids overextending. Have someone enforce your ceilings to pull you out of auction fever. Winning shouldn’t mean overpaying in the heat of the moment. Opening auction bids often blaze high as impatient or inexperienced bidders jump in prematurely. Wait through the initial bidding frenzy when amounts typically exceed value. Once the pool narrows to knowledgeable bargain seekers, prices begin to normalize. Patience pays off. Jumping in too early risks overbidding or encouraging bidding wars that inflate prices.
Know the increments
Auctioneers announce bid increments, usually $100 to $500 depending on vehicle value. Study increments and how they impact totals. Adjust your bids to land on numbers just above increments so competitors must increase substantially to outbid you. Bid amounts ending in round numbers or just above increments intimidate incremental raises. Use odd bids like $7,731 when standard increments are $500.
Look for red flags
Spot suspect issues that justify dropping out of the bidding, like pending transmission work, bad body repairs, or flood damage. Don’t fall for cosmetic makeovers masking mechanical deficiencies or wreck histories. Walk away rather than inherit someone else’s problem. For newer models, try connecting to the OBD port to check for troublesome diagnostic trouble codes. Let skeptical inspection protect your wallet. Most auctions tack on 10-15% “buyer premiums” to winning bids, so account for these fees in limits. Required reconditioning and transportation fees also quickly inflate costs on cheap auction vehicles. Ask to waive extras like bidding registration fees. See if you get premiums lowered to 5-8% for frequent buyers or bulk purchases. Know the fees going in so surprises don’t spoil great deals.