Again depending on value, you may like to try buying at auction, a very large part of the trade buys and sells at auction either clearing out surplus stock or cars that it has acquired in part exchange but are below it's forecourt standards or buying cars sold at auction by fleets and car hire companies.

Like dealers, auctions vary considerably from those which are parts of large chains and national associations and are selling thousands of cars often from major fleets - sometimes even car makers own fleets which are changed every few months - and from hire companies which change their cars 2 or 3 times each year  to smaller affairs at the more budget end of the market. Such auctions are usually SMA members and follow their Code of Practise.

The  smaller auctions are usually selling cars released from local dealers who have too much stock or who have accepted a part exchange they don't want on their forecourt because it's the wrong make, model, type or just too old.

Cars like these tend to cascade down through the trade via the auctions with smaller dealers buying the leftovers from the larger dealerships.

In their turn smaller dealers are often trying to move stock that they've had on the lot too long and is costing them money - profit - to keep looking clean and tidy.

Rather more dangerous are the pretend private buyers who are looking for cars that they can tart up easily and cheaply with scant regard for safety, advertise in a local paper's classifieds and move on quickly to some fool who can easily be parted from his money and has virtually no redress when things go wrong, as they so often do.      

Don't be afraid of buying at auction, it is possible to get a bargain, particularly if  you are you looking for something a bit unfashionable or out of the mainstream. The trade will usually get the easily moved on bargains due to their greater experience but the private buyer can outbid them although sometimes private buyers get carried away with the thrill of the chase and pay far more than the car is actually worth. Try to bid when dealers reach their limit but don't outbid yourself by being last up for a car you don't want.

Don't think you have stand to attention afraid to flicker an eye brow in case you buy something by accident. Most auctions require you to register in advance if you intend to go buy and you will need to satisfy the auctioneers that you have the means to pay for anything you bid for, either by cash or bankers, or, in advance, by arrangement with your bankers.

Once registered you will usually receive a numbered card or paddle and auctioneers will normally only take bids from a face known to them or a pre-registered bidder.

If you intend to buy at auction go to several before the one at which you want to bid this gets you into the routine of how things are done, find out how to pre-register, where the cars are driven to after sale, what the auctioneers terms and conditions are, how long the warranty period is.

Always arrive very early on the day of the auction, this gives you plenty of time to go through the registration process and then start looking over the cars.

Bring with you an up to date price guide and wear clothes that will allow you to crawl around on your hands and knees and look underneath.

Never take the kids - or any other distractions - to an auction if you actually intend  to bid but do take any member of the family along who will drive the car, even if occasionally, as their input into the choice process will be essential.

You will not be allowed to drive the cars or, usually, even to start them up but you can still make a thorough and revealing check on their condition. At many auctions the cars will be locked until 10-15 minutes before they are driven to the sale  ring, be there to check the interior at that time.

Each car will usually have some form of statement from the seller certifying - or not - the mileage and warranting that certain major elements - engine, gearbox etc - are believed to be in good order.  

Avoid buying "as seen" - unwarranted -  unless you really know what you are looking for. Look for "direct" - from the owner - "with engineers report", "with warranty", "all good" or "no known faults" all of these will give you some redress albeit usually only for an hour to two. Most commonly cars are only warranted for 1 hour after the sale finishes, always check what the policy is at the auction before buying.

Best method is a quick survey of everything, sift out those cars genuinely fitting your needs and then concentrate on them checking as thoroughly as time allows. Never bid on anything you haven't checked over, ruin lies that way. Follow the check-list very carefully and look closely at everything.

Check your selected possibles against the price guide you bought with you, assess the condition of each car within the grades in the price guide and write in the catalogue or on the sale list an absolute maximum price that you will bid to for each car, do not exceed your maximum ever, you will regret it. There are always more cars coming along so don't get too set on a particular car and pay too much for it.

As your chosen possibles come through you will have the chance to hear them running, you will often see dealers draw closer to listen to the engine and gearbox as the car is driven in, do the same, it gives some clue to the mechanical condition. If all doesn't sound right don't bid.

If your bid is successful you will have to make an immediate deposit payment on the fall of the hammer, usually of 10%.   

If you are successful in buying a car go and pay for it straight away, give it a quick check over by driving it around the auction car park and if in doubt whizz straight off to the nearest MOT testing station that does while-you-wait tests, it'll cost you a few quid but your warranty from the auctioneers may only last an hour or two so you want some assurances that the car is reasonably OK before that  warranty expires. If you can try to sneak a peek under the car while it is on the hoist so you can have a better look at the car's underside. Many testing stations will not allow this for insurance reasons, some are a little more casual.
If there is any doubt over a major element of the car say engine, gearbox, back
axle then go straight back to the auctioneers and explain the situation, you will generally find they have no problem in accepting the car back if it has been mis-described in respect of some vital part by the owner and they will usually refund your cash immediately.

That hour or so warranty is all you have in the way of guarantees, never more so than at auction does the phrase caveat empty - let the buyer beware - apply. If you know nothing about cars don't buy at auction as your redress is minimal, all of the cars are essentially sold as seen and you are entirely reliant upon your own knowledge, there's little legal support if you get it wrong.

If you do unwittingly buy a dud at auction best bet is to leave it on site and bung it back into the next sale, you will probably make a loss but chalk it up to experience.

Abstracted from the book “Buying a Used Car” © G Benge 1997-2007

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