Never Been to an Auto Auction? Here's Why You're Missing Out.

With high-stakes competitiveness and quick action, auto auctions are the most fun you can have outside your vehicle. They can be a unique way to score an incredible deal on a used car, and they're a lot more local than you might think. Read on as we cover how to find a great ride for an even greater price.

The Local Scene

Depending on your location, there may be towing and government vehicle auctions nearby. Towing impound auctions are where seized vehicles are sold off to recoup costs. Government auto auctions are typically used vehicles that have aged out of their service life after serving your local city or county. They often sell with no reserve, so those who can do a little bit of tune-up work and don't mind cosmetic imperfections can score a huge discount.
Almost all local auction vehicles are running and able to pass emissions or safety inspections.
The variety of vehicles covers pretty much everything made in the last 30 years, with the average age being roughly 10 to 15 years old. Conditions are all over the place, from the pristine and needs no work to the well-worn vehicle needing attention, and everything in between. Most vehicles have some slight wear and tear from the daily grind, and could stand a tune-up.

Local Auction Tips

  1. To get started, visit your local classifieds online and look in the automotive and auction sections. You should see a few auctions for the coming week, usually with website addresses listed. The websites are useful for getting a look at the vehicles before the auction. Most of them offer one picture per vehicle, but others offer more and go into detail on features and condition. If you find one you're interested in, check the value to see what it's worth. You should be getting a deal here, so do the research to make sure you don't overpay.
  2. On the day of the auction, show up early. Sometimes the early bird gets free doughnuts and coffee.
  3. Oh, and you will want to survey the vehicles. Like buying any used car, carefully examine the vehicle for issues, and ask questions if staff is available. Every auction will start the vehicles before bidding begins so buyers can hear how they sound.
  4. Don't worry about sneezing and accidentally purchasing a Ferrari. This isn't a sitcom, and the auctioneers are used to first timers. You'll need to be obvious with your intent to bid.
  5. Finally, have cash and a plan. Almost every site requires cash or card payment same day and the vehicle removed within 24 hours. Be ready to win.

Large International Auctions

Local car auctions are great if you're looking for a daily driver but not so great for finding a weekend show car or special project. For a higher-end vehicle, you need to visit a more upscale auction. Barrett-Jackson is internationally known for selling beautiful machines of staggering variety, covering the entire breadth of automotive production. Past events have included a million-dollar Duesenberg, the General Lee, and a sixth-generation COPO Camaro with VIN 001. There's even wild custom cars, like the Ringbrothers' 1972 Pantera, and this insane GMC V12-powered roadster. By now you've noticed that looking through sold lots on the Barrett-Jackson website is an amazing way to kill time at work. It's also great in-person. These auctions operate similar to your local auctions, but on a much larger scale. Tickets are reasonably priced for the hours of eye candy you'll get to ogle, and if you're still looking for that cheap daily driver, Barrett-Jackson has you covered there, too. Upcoming auctions include Arizona, Florida, Connecticut, and Nevada. Check out the event page to see schedules and get tickets. If you want to view the action from your couch, Barrett-Jackson auctions are internationally broadcast on Discovery or Velocity, depending on locale. Maybe you'll stumble upon a moment like this: Have you ever bought an auction vehicle or hit up Barrett-Jackson? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
Last updated October 18, 2019