April 13

What You Should Know before Bidding for an Auction Vehicle Online


Buying an auction vehicle is certainly a different experience than walking through your local new or used car dealership’s lot and test driving before saying “sold!” In addition, moving from in-person vehicle auctions to online auctions requires a bit more knowledge and savvy.

Luckily, we’ve got the details so you can head into that online auction room feeling confident and prepared.

Not Your Average Car Lot

Bidding for a vehicle online, at its simplest definition, is a lot like buying anything else via online auction (think: eBay), but of course it’s not that simple. The purchase prices can be higher, the rules are a little different, and the stakes can be much greater. To make sure you’re not treating your online vehicle auction experience like any other car purchase, you’ll want to understand the ins and outs of the auction world, be prepared for the fast pace, and double- and triple-check all your details before placing that winning bid.

Knowledge is Power

Always go into an auction with a specific list of vehicles you’re looking for. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few you want to bid on, it’s time to put your student hat on and get to researching. The more you understand about the vehicle before you buy it, the smaller chance you have of being surprised by something negative after you’ve won.

Begin by having a list of exactly what you’ll need to learn about a vehicle. Check out our handy guide to reading vehicle history reports to get started on the right foot. Read what others have thought of the specific year, make, and model you’re interested in on reputable sites like Edmunds.com. This is another great way to arm yourself with information.

Before you sign in and start bidding, make sure to know what kind of auction you’re taking part in. A public auction will run a little differently than a government auction.

A government auction will feature old police cruisers, utility trucks, and more; as well as vehicles that may have been impounded for traffic or other violations. These auctions tend to be highly competitive, with used car dealers and taxi companies often taking part.

A public auction often consists of repossessed vehicles; wholesale lots of cars; and sometimes, high-end sports cars and SUVs. The range of quality at a public auction will vary greatly, so it’s extra important to make sure you’ve checked out a specific vehicle’s history before bidding.

Online Auctions are Still Fast-Paced

Even though an auctioneer won’t be talking 1,000 miles a minute in front of you, the pace of an online auction is still rather quick. Being prepared for the pace of your online auction vehicle experience means keeping a few key points in mind.

1. Have a good internet connection.

Think about how devastating it would be to miss out on your chosen vehicle because your bid didn’t upload fast enough in the last seconds. Avoid crowded coffee shops and public places where the WiFi is being used by many people. Even with great bandwidth, there’s a chance an overcrowded internet connection will slow you down just enough to miss out.

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Instead, set up shop in a place where your signal is strongest and turn off WiFi on other devices (like your phone or smart TV) that might be crowding up the connection. This way, if you and one other bidder are up against the wire, you’ve got a better chance of calling that vehicle yours when the dust settles.

2. Be ready to adhere to a schedule.

When entering the auction space, be prepared to follow the schedule set by the auctioneer. If possible, get familiar with the schedule before the auction begins. Doing this lets you pick out the vehicles you are most interested in and know when they’ll appear in the auction lineup.

Do NOT be late to the auction. If you show up to the online space late, you may not be allowed to bid on the vehicles at all. Knowing what cars are up for bid and when you can bid saves you from missing your opportunity to take part in the auction.

3. Be engaged for the duration of the auction.

Bidding on an auction vehicle online isn’t like online shopping, so don’t expect to be able to sneak it in while you’re working on other tasks for the day. If you’re planning to participate in an online vehicle auction, be engaged from start to finish. Even if the vehicle up for bid isn’t one you had your eye on, you might miss the one you did want by tuning out and forgetting to tune back in when your pick comes up to the plate. Close out your other internet tabs, clear your schedule, and get ready to zone in.

Many online auction platforms may allow you to enter a “proxy bid,” or the maximum bid you’re willing to make for the vehicle up on the block. (Think eBay here.) Entering a proxy bid will allow the system to keep track of other bids coming in and bid for you when you need to raise your bid. While this is a handy tool, it’s definitely not something you want to set and forget about. Check in regularly with the auction and see how your proxy bid is going. Never set a proxy bid you’re not willing to pay – this should be no more than your “top dollar.” Remember: if you win it, you buy it.

Dot Your “i’s” and Cross Your “t’s”

Understand the terms of sale, full condition and value of the vehicle, and all the fine print before placing that winning bid. At the end of the game, if you’ve bid more than a vehicle is worth and if you ever try to trade it in again, you’ve made a pretty bad investment you can’t go back on.

Don’t get caught up in the bidding frenzy. Instead, take time to observe how the others at the auction are bidding. Even though auctions require a certain degree of intuition and knowing when to outbid the highest bidder, it’s vital to make sure you understand exactly what you’re purchasing and what to ask to confirm the purchase is worth your while.

Even though there are a fair number of risks that come with buying a vehicle at auction, it’s easy to avoid the majority of those questionables by simply taking the time to get prepared. If you put in a little extra effort before you enter the bidding room to fully understand not only the auction you’re bidding in, but the specific vehicle you’re bidding on, purchasing an auction vehicle online can be a fantastic way to save some money and get a great vehicle.


auction vehicle, buying used cars, government auction, public auction, Vehicle History Report, VHR, VIN

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