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How to Get the Best Deal on a Used Car at Auction

"If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is" may be an old cliche, but it's still important to keep in mind when buying a car at auction.


  • Step 1: Exercise quick reflexes when your car rolls up. Raise the auction catalog to catch the auctioneer's eye.
  • Step 2: Stick to an affordable bid. Once the deal is struck, there's no refund. Accept an additional charge if the auction house provides a warranty, proof of legitimacy, and guarantee that the car has been involved in no serious accidents.
  • Step 3: Learn in advance the means and arrangements the auction house prefers and be ready to close the deal. Protect yourself and pay through a secure means.
  • FACT: Sold for $12.4 million in 2009, the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testarossa was the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
  • Step 4: Before bidding begins, inspect the vehicle for misaligned panels and oversprays of paint that indicate accident repairs. Ask the seller questions, and analyze the vehicle's documentation and service history. Listen for engine knocks and look for smoke when the car is started. Take it for a test drive.
  • Step 5: Decide on a car ahead of time. Check the price and condition against ads, dealer info, and comparative research.
  • TIP: Target months toward the end of the year, when there's less competition. Dealers don't want to stock up as January, a slow month, approaches.
  • Step 6: Choose auctions that specialize in different types of cars. Find the most respected police and government fleet or seizure sales.
  • TIP: Weekdays tend to be the best time to avoid professional buyers who will pay top dollar and drive prices out of your range.
  • Step 7: Learn about auctions by visiting a few and watching the action. Get a feel for the auctioneer, who should lead the bidders, not be led by them.

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