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Going Once, Going Twice...
Insider tricks to snag a bargain at auction!

Published 2/1/2001

We've all seen auction results showing the "steal of the day", that one car that got sold way under the current market value, and we wonder how the bidder got so lucky - well perhaps it wasn't luck? It turns out that the secret to successfully finding a bargain at the auctions is preparation. Here we've listed the ten smartest things you can do to increase your odds of driving away the "steal of the day"!

  1. Pre-register to bid - Now days this is required more and more but can almost always be done over the internet, phone or via mail. Most larger auction events require first time bidders to produce a letter from your bank effectively guaranteeing you have sufficient funds in your account to cover bids up to a given amount. By pre-registering you don't wait in long lines and waste time on the day of the auction.
  2. Don't go alone - Bring a friend with you, ideally a knowledgeable and objective person. If necessary pay a mechanic to come with you for the day. It may cost you a few hundred dollars up front, but it could save you thousands down the road.
  3. Get there early - Obviously you want to give yourself the opportunity to view all the cars, ideally at least one full day before they go under the hammer. Many people don't realize that there may be late entries that didn't appear in the catalogue and unless you allow plenty of time to have a good look around you may never know they are there.
  4. Bring communication devices - Be it cell phones or walkie-talkies, but set it to 'vibrate' not ring. Usually it's so noisy in the 'bidders pit' you won't be able to hear the phone ring. On the other hand, if it's an up-scale event the ring of the telephone may get you thrown out! One great trick is to place your friend in the 'bidders-pit' with an earpiece, then you direct him to bid for you from another part of the room. This allows you to be un-pressured, in control and also able to discreetly view your competition.
  5. Leave a note - Place a note or business card on the car you are interested in with your cell phone number on it. The owner may well be on the field somewhere, and if you can get a chance to speak with them it'll give you the opportunity to find out more information on the vehicle, lessening the odds of you wasting your time or buying a mistake.
  6. Stay near the car - Try to stay near the desired car as much as possible, identify and eves-drop on other interested parties, and be sure to be close by shortly before it goes over the block and follow it up. This way you get to see and hear it run and drive, if only a little way.
  7. Other auctions - Often different auction companies will do battle for available buyers in the area and may hold competing events on the same (or almost the same day) close by. Do your homework, check papers and magazines or as a last resort, ask at the time about coinciding events. Your perfect car might just be in a nearby auction other than the one you are planning to attend.
  8. Stay late - Some of the best bargains are had late in the day when the bidders have thinned, many having spent their money and the auctioneers are tired and want to go home.
  9. Don't get caught up in the excitement of the moment - This isn't the time to get your 15 minutes of fame! Stay far enough away from the auctioneer so he cannot clearly see your face. These guys are experts at reading expressions and given the opportunity will bleed you dry. Calculate what you want to pay BEFORE you start bidding and if you reach that limit go absolutely no higher than 10% more.
  10. Hidden costs - Find out BEFORE you buy a car what the buyer's premium and other auction costs will be. Also figure out ahead of time how you intend to get the car home. In many states, if you can't supply the auction company with a bill of laden from a shipping company that day, you will have to pay sales tax in that state before you are allowed to remove the car from the field.
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