Last Updated on June 13, 2023
Municipalities on the local and state levels, even the federal government, all employ vehicles, heavy equipment, emergency services, and more while serving the public. Eventually, whether due to old age or being replaced with newer technology and equipment, those service items get replaced. From there, they become government surplus.
That’s where you enter the picture.
Government surplus describes anything a municipality sells and consists of government-owned items like police vehicles, as well as lost or forfeited items like jewelry or cars.
As a citizen (and adult of legal age), you have the opportunity to buy government surplus through sealed bids, live auctions, or online auctions. The purchasing process depends on the rules set by the selling government agency. But before you partake in anything, be sure to first consult the best government surplus guide on the web.
Types of Government Surplus
Government surplus will come from one of three places – the federal, state, or local government. Though, there is so much overlap between the state and local levels that they are essentially the same in what they provide customers.
When searching for surplus in one of these places, you have to know where to look in order to determine not just their inventory, but other regulations that determine the auction process.
If you’re searching on the national level, then you need to check out the U.S. General Services Administration who runs the federal government surplus program. They provide information on their website related to real estate property, vehicles, and aircraft parts up for grabs.
Federal surplus generally has a time table for purchase access levels. For example, if the Navy is selling surplus, those items are first available for purchase from others in the Navy. If the surplus isn’t sold, then the availability is opened to other service branches. If the surplus still isn’t sold, then the offer is extended to other government agencies. From there, the commodities become available to the general public. Of course, some items are off-limits and will never be sold to the public.
On the state and local levels, agencies consist of police and fire departments, the department of public works, water authorities, townships, cities, boroughs, counties, etc. Those are the municipalities divesting their surplus. Sometimes they do so privately, but public auctions are where you can participate.
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If you’re ready to search for this kind of surplus, you can find each state’s surplus process here: https://www.usa.gov/state-surplus-sales.
There are three ways state and local agencies sell to the public:
During this auction process, you submit one bid in person at the city hall. You don’t know what the other bids are and are not allowed to bid again.
For live auctions, items are hosted at a specific location and put up for sale on a specific day. In order to partake, you have to be in person to bid.
This method involves items that are posted online and available for online bidding 24/7. These auctions last 7-14 days.
You can find state and local government surplus online auctions at Municibid.
What Gets Sold at Government Auctions
If you’re wondering what you can find at government surplus auctions, know that the list extends beyond what you imagine. Sure, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances may not come as a surprise, but what about dump trucks, generators, and traffic lights?
Since government auctions consist of both surplus and seized items, there is a wide range of things to find.
- IT equipment
- Heavy equipment
- Landscaping equipment
- Water and sewer equipment
- Street and traffic equipment
4 Steps to Navigating Online Government Auctions
Know the auction site
Every site has different rules, which means you have to do your homework. Spend time learning how the auction works as well as the terms and conditions.
Know the location of the item
Most auction items are pickup only. If you’re willing to travel, add travel costs into the overall price you’re willing to pay. If delivery is available and you opt for that instead, expect an additional fee.
Know the item you’re bidding on
Make sure that before you place a bid, you have an idea of that item’s relative value. This will help prevent over or underbidding.
Only bid on the item you intend to buy
Don’t place a bid on something you don’t actually want. Otherwise, you could end up with lost money and an unusable item. Once you find something you actually do want, establish your top price, and stick with it.
Tips for Scoring Deals
As you navigate any online or in-person auction, there are some key ideas to keep in mind, ideas that will help you score great deals!
Use your common sense
Look at everything carefully and note any signs of wear and tear or previous repairs. For vehicles, make sure you budget on replacing the battery, oil, brakes, and tires.
Know the item before you bid
For whatever item interests you, make sure you research the market price. If you don’t know what it’s worth, don’t take the risk.
Remember, nothing is as good as it looks
If possible, inspect items in-person. Pictures and even videos don’t always tell the full story. If you aren’t able to or feel unsure about what you see, don’t bid.
Observe other bidders
If no one else shares your enthusiasm for a particular vehicle, maybe there was something you missed.
Tips for Bidding on Vehicles
While vehicles are not the only items to be found at government auctions, they are among the most popular. There aren’t many other places where you can buy a used police cruiser or ambulance. Many people take these automotives and convert them either for business or recreational use.
Here are some topics to bring up once you’re in conversation with a selling agency and have a particular bid in mind for a vehicle.
Number of previous owners
A car with multiple past owners may not have had proper care, at least not by every single owner. More owners typically also means more mileage and need for repairs.
A vehicle’s past locations may have caused some significant damage from extreme heat, flooding, or snowy and icy road conditions.
Vehicle’s current information
Upon examining a vehicle, make sure you get details on the car or truck’s VIN number, make, model, style, and vehicle description.
If you’re looking at heavy duty trucks, check the GVWR and whether or not you need a commercial driver’s license to drive it.
If a vehicle was seized or forfeited, don’t expect there to be a title, keys, or maintenance records. Ask for the paperwork you’ll need to apply for a title from the DMV.
Vehicle’s past information
In addition to current details, make sure you examine your chosen vehicle’s history. That includes any and all reported damage and accidents the car was involved in, and any auto repair work.
Some specific questions to ask include:
How was the vehicle used?
Are maintenance records available?
Any undercarriage and wheel well photos?
If you want to secure a worthwhile vehicle, then you consider consulting our handy government vehicle surplus guide.
Bidding on EMS Vehicles
There’s plenty of overlap you’ll discover when exploring auctions for civilian vehicles and emergency medical service vehicles. Much like the questions you ask for regular automobiles, you’ll ask much of the same here: mileage, number of owners, service records. What you’ll find is that government vehicles are not only kept in surprisingly good condition, but also that municipalities exercise impeccable record-keeping too.
EMS vehicles are built for specific purposes and often with much more durability in mind. They get used constantly and need to withstand rough terrain and hazardous conditions. The enhanced design means more costly repairs, but also greater reliability.
When you look into getting an EMS vehicle, here are some questions to consider.
When examining a police vehicle, are the doors/markings painted or wrapped? Are any of the previous lights and equipment staying? Unless it’s an unmarked detective vehicle you’re dealing with, you’ll need to do some cosmetic work to the paint and plug in holes where lights and equipment once were.
Don’t forget to take a look at the wear and tear on the seats. Officers carry around equipment on their belts, equipment that over time does a number on the seat fabric.
As you take a look at a fire engine, take note of the pump size, tank size, pump brand, GPM, and whether the vehicle passed the pump test. If not, why? What is the engine’s serial number? How much horsepower does the automotive pack? How are the engine brakes? Get as much detail as you can for both the inside and outside.
When looking at an ambulance, ask yourself, what are the interior dimensions of the box? These automotives make excellent food trucks and recreational vehicles because of their built in compartments for water and storage. However, depending on your intended use, you have to make sure your particular ambulance offers enough space. Once you install equipment, you want to know you can fit inside and if you can stand upright comfortably.
Questions to Ask about Heavy Equipment
Heavy equipment includes excavators, tractors, and the like. Whatever you’re inspecting, here are some general questions to ask:
Does it come with a title?
Is it 4×4?
Is there A/C or heating?
What horsepower and hydraulics?
Questions to Ask about Landscaping Equipment
Landscaping equipment consists of lawnmowers, blowers, and similar things. Whatever piece of equipment interests you, ask these questions:
How many hours has the equipment logged?
What’s the horsepower?
When was the equipment last run?
If you’re looking at attachments, check that the hitch or attachment points are compatible with your vehicle or equipment you plan to use the attachment on.
Government Auction Wins
If you’re not sure how you’ll be able to use your auction wins, rest assured that others have come before you. You can follow in their footsteps or do something completely unique. Whatever you choose, here how other people are using their wins from government auctions.
Greg Sullunberger, a former police officer, experimented with small municipal purchases like a piano and office supplies, before bidding on a city bus. Afterwards, he and his family converted that city bus into a Disney-themed RV!
Charles E. Snyder II won his very first bid on Municibid and turned that victory into a creative reselling business. Today, he sells automotive related antiques, memorabilia, and decór.
Like Snydeer, you don’t have to procure surplus just for yourself. You have the option of starting your own reselling business.
Municipalities follow the idea of “out with the old and in with the new,” but there is often plenty of life left in what gets divested. For you, that’s a chance at great affordability and worthwhile utility.
In an effort to serve municipalities and their constituents, today Municibid serves over 5,000 governments and schools across the US, all of whom auction off police vehicles, fire trucks, buses, ambulances, heavy machinery, agricultural equipment, technical equipment, and other surplus goods to the public online. Founded in 2006, Municibid is a four-time Inc. 5000 member (2018-2021).
With a clear mission in mind, and a helpful government surplus guide to follow, we hope you’ll take a look at our online auction today. We offer landscaping equipment, vehicles, and plenty more on our website.