Monday 24 September 2018

Fifteen things you need to know - and do - to buy a car at auction

Focus on auction

Car auctions can be great fun
Car auctions can be great fun

Aidan Timmons and Eddie Cunningham

We've been getting a lot of enquiries for some time now from people who are thinking of buying a car at an auction.

They are looking to save money or cut out the middleman and want to know the pros and cons as opposed to buying an import or privately.

The level of interest seems to be a reflection of buying confidence among a certain section of motorists prepared to make their own deals.

And it does appear that more people are physically buying at auction, two of the big outlets here being Merlin and Wilsons.

Obviously, however, the majority of buyers are in the trade in some shape or form.

That is worth bearing in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. You are in seriously knowledgeable company.

There are also more specialised types of auctions coming through and private buyers seem to like them a lot.

It is accepted within the business that the accessibility of websites and details of cars have transformed people's perceptions of auctions.

Against that backdrop, we've come up with 15 things to know and do before you hear those immortal words 'going, going, gone'.

1. Like everything else, auctions can work in your favour and against you if you don't know the lie of the land.

Do not expect to go into an auction first time and come out with a bargain. You need to give yourself time to get used to how things are done and to assess what's value and what's not.

And remember, people go to auctions for all sorts of reasons. Most of us go to buy a good-value car, but others go to pick up cheap motors as they can carry out repairs at first cost.

So what might be trouble for you can be an opportunity for someone else.

2. One of the hugely important things to do is to bring someone with you who has a knowledge of cars and of how the auction scene works.

You might need their steadying presence if you get involved in a bidding competition.

3. A little bit of history. Back in 2008/2009, when the economy hit the buffers, auctions became hugely popular. People wanted to buy cheap cars and auctions were packed with finance repossessions.

Due to the large number of repossessions, banks found themselves among the largest dealers in the country.

There were some truly great deals but that was a different world. It has changed of late, but you can still get a deal.

Vehicles going through auction houses now mainly comprise stock, a lot of it really good quality, from dealers. The quality is improving all the time.

A rising tide of better, newer and well-minded cars on the general market means dealers have a lot of fresh stock in store.

Cars that a few years ago would have been forecourt stars are now being sold at auction as dealers are under pressure to retail only cars of high quality. So because they are a little older than dealers might like they are sent to auction. Worth knowing, we think.

4. Remember, there are other routes to buying a car. Make sure auctions are the right fit for you and your abilities.

5. It is absolutely essential that you stick to your budget. It is all too easy to go an extra couple of hundred euro more and then another €50 and then another.

Don't get hung up on 'besting' your rival bidder(s). Sometimes the deal you don't do is the best one you'll do that day. There will always be another.

6. Have you sorted out ALL finances and clearances from the bank, credit union etc on the basis that you will buy? Make sure the money is there to meet what you spend. It's always worth doing a double-check on the morning of the auction.

Knowing your budget is a good discipline to help you stick to yours too.

7. The main auction houses are excellent at keeping their websites up to date, so you can start your research at home. The better the research, the more likely you are to find the best car for you.

8. It is helpful too that each car is graded and given its own report. That can helps significantly narrow your search pre-auction.

You should have a good idea of what would suit you before arriving. If you don't, we suggest you wait until next time to start bidding.

Getting all excited about a car you know nothing about is a recipe for disappointment.

9. The choice of car can vary tremendously. Different types of auctions can be held on various days. Some large dealer groups hold specials for cars that have been traded in to their garages from various outlets.

On other days, you could find what we'll call general stock from a broad variety of dealers. Check ahead.

10. As soon as the gavel drops and you're the highest bidder, the car is yours. There is no going back. Good or bad, it is yours to pay for (nut then you have checked with the bank haven't you?).

11. Cars at auction don't usually come with warranties, but some may have time left on manufacturer guarantees.

Check this out beforehand because there could be a couple or three years left on some.

12. Before bidding starts, take a walk around the auction lot. Start the car in which you are interested (you are not allowed to drive it). Have your friend stand behind when you start it to check for smoke from the exhaust.

Have a look inside. Does it look well-minded? Rough?

Trust your instincts. Match the wear and tear on seats, boot lid sill, brake, accelerator and clutch pedals with the mileage. If not happy, don't get involved.

13. Remember, the lights of the auction room can make a car look better than natural light. Try not to see it as too glamorous.

It's also worth having a torch with you for checking the interior beforehand.

14. Leave a few euro for improvements. Don't blow your whole budget on the purchase price. You may need something to cover servicing and remedial work.

15. Check out the details of the auction fees via their website or office. Another reason to keep some of your money and not spend it all on the car.


Auctions can be great fun, with plenty of excitement and a special buzz all of their own.

The quality of car has improved no end and there are bargains to be had. Just take your time and don't make rash decisions.

Above all, enjoy the experience.

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