Guide to Popular Car Auctions Locally and Online

As you scour the internet for good auto auctions, you are bound to find several options to choose from. You will discover car auctions all over the United States, aimed at different buyers.

Many choose to go to general public auctions. Classic car auctions will attract vintage car enthusiasts while other auctions may only attract average consumers looking for a cheap car. If you are interested in understanding the kind of car auctions available, read the sections below.

Classic Car Auctions

This kind of auto auction includes cars with history. Also known as collector car auctions, you will see classic 1920s muscle cars or, if the auction is more high-end, you might even come across movie memorabilia.

A car is considered “classic” when it is 20 years or older. The historical appeal of the cars on sale is what makes them collectible. When you are going to classic car auctions, there will be more than just car buyers. These ticketed events present an opportunity to network with other classic car enthusiasts, which is why many auction-goers may not go just to bid on cars, but to talk to others who share their passion.

Classic cars can be sold through an online car auction as well, but that way, you are unable to have a first-hand look before making a purchase. Online auctions also lack the face-to-face networking opportunity many enjoy. If you are looking to restore a classic vehicle, buying at classic car auctions is the way to go.

When buying a classic car, keep in mind that:
  • it's a used car, and many depreciate, so make sure you know more about the vehicle you are interested in before going to the auction. 
  • if you see rust, that car will be difficult to restore.
  • insurance costs may be higher than you think, so make sure you check before bidding.
  • the cost of upkeep can get steep, as can maintenance and changing parts, especially if parts are no longer available and special pieces need to be ordered or made.

Online Car Auctions

The purpose of an online car auction is straightforward. You can join the auction and make your bid. Physical auctions are still more popular, but online auctions are slowly gaining notoriety. One reason for it is that purchasing online is easier than having to physically go to the auction lot and wait while your lot shows up. 

There is also a certain convenience to an online auto auction. For example, when you make your maximum bid, you can set it and forget it and, thus, not have to worry about paying too much in the heat of the moment. You are also less likely to get to scammed on the price of a car when you buy it online. 

One of the downsides of online vehicle auctions is that you don't get to see the car in person. Online auctions don't give buyers the opportunity to inspect the car before buying. Overall, it's easier to get a better deal on a car since you can find them online.

However, if you plan on buying a car at an online auction, consider the following tips:
  • Research is paramount to ensuring that you buy a good vehicle. Request the car history report. If possible request an inspection before the auction.
  • Get in touch with the auction specialist to learn more about the cars available and which have the greatest promise.
  • Online auctions mean full payment in cash, without financing, so make sure you have the money. Otherwise, the sale will be lost and you may lose your deposit.

Private vs. Public Car Auctions

Not all auctions are available to the public. Public used car auctions will generally get a higher turnout and the costs of the cars will be lower, as will the quality of the vehicles. At private auctions, car dealers can buy wholesale or sell for profit, or gain access to more exclusive, more expensive vehicles.

Private Car Auctions

To participate in a private wholesale auction you must meet a few requirements, including having a car dealership license, which will allow you to buy and sell the vehicles at the auction lot. 
You can find online wholesale guides online to help you determine the wholesale price, like Kelley Blue Book, NADA Guides or Edmunds. 

Also, at these auctions you can find new or close to new vehicles, trade-ins and off-lease cars.

Public Car Auctions

Public car auctions are regular auctions that everyday people go to buy vehicles. Often, car enthusiasts will go to meet fellow enthusiasts. Car auctions open to the public do not include new cars. Instead, they can include:
  • Repossessed cars
  • Trade-ins
  • High-end sports cars
Like private auctions, public auto auctions can also include cars for wholesale. Public auctions are also very popular in terms of getting a good deal on a car.

However, they are becoming more competitive since the economic downturn. It is important to remain informed to avoid overbidding.

Police Car Auctions

This type of auto auction is government-run and includes a variety of government vehicles. These auctions can include but are not limited to:
  • School buses
  • Police cruisers
  • County vehicles
  • Utility trucks
These vehicle auctions may also sell impounded cars. These are cars that have been confiscated because of traffic violations or crimes.

When going to police car auctions, remember to make sure the car is in good condition. This is especially true at a police auction because the vehicle could have been part of a gunfight or been dismantled at some point by the police in search of drugs or forensic evidence.

While you are checking out an old police car, make sure to check the hour meter rather than the odometer. Officers will typically keep their car running while they attempt to catch someone speeding. Accordingly, officer cars will have an hour meter to tell how long a car has been idle. 

Additionally, many of the bidders at a government or police vehicle auctions will be people who have more expertise. Therefore, they will know how much to fix the car and its overall value. Remember to have a budget for a car and stick to it.