Buying From Auction

Buying from a car auction:

Okay this primer comes in two parts: Part one is where I discuss if buying from auction is necessarily the best thing for you to be doing and how and why most of the time you should avoid doing it (See: Do you really want to buy from Auction?) here

If you’re still here then you have decided you want to buy from an auction, and you want to know how it’s done.

Which Auction should I buy from?

Okay there are about five large auction groups in the U.K and after that there are another shed load of small independent places for you to go.  The small independent places tend to be on in the evenings or Saturday afternoon so as to entice the general public.  I hate to generalise but as I have to I will.  I would avoid small independent auctions. While there are bargains to be had there and I have bought many, the general level of stock is so erratic that these are shark infested waters for the newbie.  If you go to these places on a regular basis you will find the same faces who buy and sell, and generally people who walk in off the street like you are not going to grab a bargain from under a good customer’s nose.   Like I say I will post a further and more complete analysis when I have time to explain myself fully but for the moment avoid.

There are other chains left for you to buy from but ultimately two large companies see the most amount of auction traffic in the U.K. Namely British Car Auctions(BCA) and Manheim Remarketing. They have about 45 auction sites between then and they have a centre near you.

Okay why am I saying these two only?  Well I’m trying to simplify the guide as much as possible ,and the avalanche of cars that get sold through these companies every week means a few things.

1/ Cars are there to be sold !. You say of course they are it’s an auction?   I say I can go to one of the smaller auction houses and spot some lemons floating about for months before some lucky newbie walks in the door waving his catalogue.   A car being on sale is important.    At the big auction houses they may have 200 lots in from a finance company for a Tuesday auction; they aim to sell most of this day one and hope to only have a few left over for Thursday’s sale.   So if a car hasn’t sold within 2 auctions they generally re-access and drop the price.   They also tend to look at the figures holistically,  for example if they are having a good sale and figures are up they are more inclined to sell a perfectly good car  behind its book value.

2/ That’s were the cars are?   realistically car companies have many options on where to sell stock but it comes down to keeping their money in circulation.  The best place to put a car on Monday and get paid by Wednesday is an auction .  If they are a big company with good stock then the auction company will be offering them outrageous incentives to sell their cars there, so that’s were they send them.   Some cars are retailed and some may be offered through there remarketing arms  but ultimately if they have a tonne of cars coming back off lease they need them sold quickly.   Your best bargains at the big auctions are 2-3 year old cars coming back off lease.   Usually they will have large multiples of the same model so in most cases perfectly retailable cars will be getting cashed in because their dealerships can only support X amount of each model

3/They are trying to sell correct cars correctly, and are not trying to hoodwink anyone ! Again how much did I get paid to say that??   Well nothing, it’s a fact these big companies deal with too many cars and customers to be messing about.  If they know a car has problems it’s generally listed in the catalogue, or the auctioneer will announce it from the podium.

Okay that’s the basics you have searched the internet and decided on the sale and place you will be attending what next:

For a start for free or a very small fee ,you can check the auction catalogues online(I will post the correct info soon)  This is worth doing as in most cases it means you can narrow you selections down, the catalogues usually give information on when the car was last serviced or mot’d which is all important.  Some catalogues will also give an auction grade (check the T+C’s of the auction) and even a guide price valuation.

Are the Public welcome?  Do you have money?  Are you looking to spend it???  Then you’re welcome come in.  Auctions used to be shadowy places that were strictly trade only. This has all changed in recent years and to the best of their abilities they try to make themselves accessible to the public.   You will still find auctioneer’s give you short shrift and tellers at the counter can be pretty gruff and rude.   This is common in the trade these people have a pressurised job and have to deal with a larger than usual share of Muppets They will not hold you by the hand .  I’m going there twenty years and still get looked at like I’ve two heads when I ask the wrong question,  either way you are welcome.

Do I have to register?  Most auctions you only have to leave your details when you are the highest bidder on a car, in which case make sure you have means of paying a good deposit.  Cash or card but it tends to be a minimum of £500 or 10% of hammer price.  There are certain “closed dealer sales” which are closed to the public.  As a premium member of all U.K auctions I get invited to these,  so myself and a greedy cabal get all the bargains right? Wrong !  I have never had any particular luck at these sales and you are not missing out on anything. The main benefactors of these sales are main dealers looking for particular stock and not being afraid to pay London for it.

My advice is to attend the auction early, get the auction catalogue (usually £2-£3) sit down over a coffee and mark out the cars that you are interested in.  Go and Inspect those cars but having arrived early you should have plenty of time to walk all the cars, which you should do.  In the average auction there will be 10-15 car groups selling and by walking the cars you can get a general Idea of “the cut” of their product.   If you find yourself saying “this sections got a lot of rough junk in it” then it might be best avoiding that section.   All the cars are locked at auctions these days so from the off you will only be able to do an exterior check.  Paperwork and service history are important, but a lot of service histories and V5’s appear at the auction podium.  So don’t mark a car off your list yet because it appears to have no history.

Externally what can you check? Dents, Scratches, stone chips, wheel kerbing, I can’t make you a bodywork expert  but you can get down on your honkers and try to look along the side of the car.  A car is meant to be the one colour if it appears to have shades then it may have been painted. You are also looking at the texture of the paintwork it should all be the same if one panel appears to have an “orange peel” type texture then it was probably painted.  The same applies if a panel appears to be finished like a sheet of glass while the rest of the car has a heavier paint texture. Once you have established the extent of the damage to the vehicle it’s really a personal choice as to how fussy you are about a car.  I personally don’t mind some blemishes on a used car ,it’s only going to pick up more anyway.  If you are the type that lays awake at night stressed out about a few shopping market dings then walk on and find another car you prefer.

Obviously if the paintwork on a car is so bad that it’s waving at you then I would walk away regardless, as it will badly affect later resale value.  So personal choice aside keep an eye out for the condition of the tyres (sounds cheap, but they are not and all have to be factored into the budget) If you have read any of my other buying guides you will know how I feel about a car with mismatched tyres or cheap remoulds. It’s a sure sign of cheapo maintenance.  Also look out for chips to the windscreen as this is a possible MOT failure and look at the level of stone chips in comparison to the cars mileage.  Some cars are low slung at the front and prone to stone chips, but ultimately lots of stone chips means the car has travelled at pace up and down the motorways.  This is fine on a 100K Passat diesel that you are buying as a cheap runner but not acceptable on a 25K Mini convertible. Once you have made your choice you should narrow it down to as few cars as possible i.e. 2-3 cars, again back to the coffee shop and work out your price.

You should have an idea of the value of what you are trying to buy before you attend an auction.  For example you’ve looked on autotrader, ebay and motors so you know what price you would pay for that car on the open market.   You need to take into account the cost of the auction fee, any possible rectification work the car will require i.e. 2 front tyres, Paint front bumper for chips etc  and  how far the car is away from its next service/mot.When you are buying a car that has say 60 to 80 K on the clock you want to know if its next service is a major one and does that major service include a cambelt? Because that’s the expensive one.

So now set your price. Set it now and write it on the page this is not like “cash in the attic ” on TV. Once a car goes into the ring it will be sold in ten seconds so do your thinking beforehand.  Ultimately we can all easily have a fantasy figure in our head,  for example a car that’s worth £6500 you think to yourself “I’d like that for £5000” and if fortune smiles on you that’s a possibility but work off a realistic figure. Have a figure in your head where you are happy to walk away and not sit in the pub later thinking “I should have gone the extra £100”.  So if after much deliberation you decide “£5800 that’s my lot” then that’s it have discipline and walk away if you are outbid.

When your car is going to the block it will be opened and started by the auction staff.   You want to be there when that happens.  You now have a few minutes to check over the car’s internals.  Run around the car open all doors look for interior damage, excessive wear, cigarette burns, evidence of dog transportation etc.  Have a look in the glovebox for service books if present have a read. look for sat-nav discs any dodgy phonekits drilled into your fascia, a good Bluetooth system like a Parrot is a plus but any other phone-specific kits are just rubbish that’s in the way.  Check the dash for any warning lights see if the electrics work. Most of the Major auctions wont allow you to check under the bonnet anymore for health and safety reasons.

Again I can’t teach you how to be a panel beater but if you want to briefly check for damage, open doors examine the door edges they should all be uniform.  Pop the boot look for symmetry,  both sides’ welds should match. This also applies to under the bonnet and of course things like headlights and tail-lights should match and have similar wear.  This is not such a worry when buying a fresh i.e. under 3 year old car but check anyway.  Needless to say the car should start on the button and not make any odd noises or rattles. When the cars moved in the line talk to the driver “alright mate seem ok? “ ,“How’s the clutch? ” , “What’s the handbrake like?”. Once that’s done and you’re happy leave the car alone and get into the hall.

It’s important to get into the hall and not be distracted,  Pay attention.  The auctioneer in between saying “look at this beauty guys “, will tell you important information about the car .Also any supplementary info that has come up since the auction catalogue was compiled. Things like “V5 here”(logbook) , mileage is warranted, or crucially “ the vehicle has been the subject of a claim”(insurance loss).  These things are announced clearly and if you haven’t paid attention that’s your tough.   If in doubt speak up and ask don’t feel scared to question the auctioneer if there’s something you didn’t hear.

Get a clear bid in early then observe.  Once you have thrown your hat into the ring the auctioneer knows you are bidding and even if he looks like he’s bouncing off everyone else in the room and ignoring you he’s not.  He has you clocked and you will get another bid in when you want.  You don’t have to wave your catalogue in the air like you’re at the races.

If the car goes over your budget walk away, its polite practice to shake your head telling the auctioneer you are out of the equation .  If the car comes in on price for you good, now go to the podium beside the crow’s nest and give them your details.  If a car goes “provisional”  then you are the highest bidder but the reserve is not met.  You may have to negotiate with the seller (through the auction company provisional’s) the bigger sales can usually tell you straight away if it’s your car or not or if the seller needs another £300.  Same rules apply stick to your budget. Once you are provisional the car is exclusively yours to negotiate on, so the auction should not be attempting to sell to anyone else until you have clearly stated you don’t want it.  Obviously in negotiations I’m always up for a haggle,  even if you’re willing to give the £300 be diplomatic tell them “look I can go an extra £100 will they meet me halfway? “.  Don’t be bullish no need for “my price or shove it” obviously the auction companies job is to get the best price for the seller,  but on the other side of the coin they are making money when they sell.  So they will try to sell it to you within reason.

Bought a bargain?  Good get it paid for and collect it.   Some of these places charge you a tenner a day storage!   Any info about complaints to the auction after the sale are covered in my other Guide outlaying the reasons why I believe that auctions are not always the greatest place to be buying your car. But as a keen punter you’ve read that one already right !

One or two last things back in the day when labour was expensive and nothing was on the internet geography played a big part in car pricing.  Cars in London made “London” (all the money) and the further north you travelled the cheaper it got.  Now with larger networks of car buyers,  Auction company self grading of cars and the ability for car dealers to buy Live-Online the geographical borders have blurred.  Personally I buy as many cheap cars in London as I do in the northeast so don’t think travelling out of the way is going to pay off for you.

Also if you are picking a day to go try to avoid Mondays and Fridays.  Pick midweek if you can.  Car buyers start the week strong looking for stock and finish the week in a panic trying to meet their quota.  Fridays are also the most common day for private individuals taking a day off to attend, and some Friday auctions have more families than the local playbarn.  I’m not complaining but they push prices up.

Go midweek and enjoy it.  Try and get a bargain but don’t be afraid to walk away empty handed, when you pay too much for the wrong car you will have to look at the pig for the next two years!