Bargains can be found at auction if you know what you’re doing. Here are the key things to look out for
30 August 2016

Buying a car at an auction can be daunting, so here's everything you need to know before you go, with input from two leading auction houses.

1. How does it work? 

Auction firm British Car Auctions (BCA) advises before you go to bid at an auction, you firstly attend one purely as a spectator.

Go with the intention not to buy but to learn the process and familiarise yourself with the hustle and bustle of the auction hall, so when you are ready to go and buy, you’re not overwhelmed by the experience.

Manheim Auctions says that specific words, phrases and acronyms are frequently used and so can confuse those new to auctions if they're not familiar with them. The company has produced a jargon buster on its website to help out.

2. Do you need to register?

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Not at BCA, which has 23 auction sites across the UK. Make sure you have a sufficient deposit available, preferably on a debit card. Deposits are usually 20% of the bid value or £1000, whichever is greater.

For Manheim, registration is required online. Customers new to the brand need to pay an initial, one-off £500 deposit before any bids can be made, which can be made by debit card.

If a bid for a vehicle is successful, the deposit can be used towards the full payment of the vehicle. Should no vehicle be purchased during the sale, the £500 deposit will be returned on request at the end of the sale.

You will also need to show photo proof of ID and proof of address before you’re able to buy a vehicle at Manheim, so make sure you have this with you.

3. How do I get the best deal?

Make sure you know your product, which specific model or type of car you want and how much you’re willing to spend.

Then research typical used values and find out how much consumables might cost. That way you can calculate whether the car you’re interested in is a bargain.

The night before an auction, BCA publishes online what’s going under the hammer, although there are printed catalogues available on the day.

Manheim's general manager for group auctioneers Andy Conde offers similar guidance, and says it's worth reading the conditions of sale and to ensure you know what the buyers fees are before you bid, so there are no surprises when it comes to paying. He also says remember to register before you bid - don’t try to buy without a buyer's number because your bids won’t be accepted.

Conde recommends looking at the vehicle in person or online and setting yourself a limit, and then when you arrive at the auction, sit somewhere you will be seen to be clear and decisive when you bid.

It may seem obvious, but make sure you are insured and taxed before you move a vehicle if you successfully buy one.

4. Do the cars get inspected?

It’s usual for cars that are less than eight years old to get a BCA Assured vehicle check, produced by the AA for BCA.

This mechanical report contains more than 30 checks including servicing reports, MOT tests and tyre tread depth. There’s an inspection area where you can get up close with cars to check their condition and spec, but test drives are not available.

Manheim offers its own SureCheck, which provides three levels of inspection: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Each level has a different number of checks included (up to 56 per vehicle), which gives interested bidders a choice of detail when selecting vehicles to bid on.

A copy of the full inspection report is available online and a summary of the information is attached to the vehicle windscreen so it can be read before and during the auction.

If a buyer spots an issue that wasn't found in the SureCheck, Manheim allows up to five days to report a problem. Any problems can be reported via a SureCheck app and an independent assessor from AutoProtect will check the car and arrange a repair as soon as possible.

5. How does bidding work?

Auction crowds are made up of used car dealers, car supermarkets and private buyers.

The auctioneer’s job is to help make the auction as clear and straightforward as possible, so make sure you listen to what the auctioneer has to say. You’ll hear information about the vehicle before bidding begins, including service history information, MOT test and mileage details, plus whether there’s a V5C document (logbook) available or not.

Make sure you stand in the hall where the auctioneer can see you and when you're ready to make a bid, signal clearly. Nods and winks and subtle signs don’t always work, so raise your arm and make it really obvious.

The auctioneer will acknowledge your bid and then the fun starts, so listen out for rival bids and signal clearly each time you want to up your offer. Once the bidding has passed any reserve price, vehicles are sold to the highest bidder, so make sure you always stay focused and alert, and you only agree to pay what you can afford.

Once the hammer goes down, you sign for the car and pay a deposit. It can take 20 to 30 minutes for an invoice to be prepared, during which time you can arrange insurance and road tax, before paying the balance and collecting your keys and the car. 

For a Manheim sale, you'll need to leave your deposit on the day of the sale, and you have 24 hours to settle in full and three days to drive your vehicle away. During that time, your vehicle will be stored free of charge in Manheim’s secure holding area. After that, storage fees will apply. You’ll need to pay 10% of the final price or £500 on the day, whichever is the greater. Remember, it’s your responsibility to arrange any tax and insurance.

Once you’ve paid in full, Manheim will provide a receipt, a pass out slip so you can get the keys, plus all the vehicle documentation it has. After that, you can take it away. If you haven’t had time to arrange insurance, a MOT test, or you don’t have the V5C, you won't be able to drive the vehicle away, but the company can help you transport any vehicle to any location in mainland UK.

6. Are there any fees?

At a BCA event, other than the deposit, you’ll be charged a buyer’s fee, plus a BCA Assured vehicle check (£51) and the V5 (£26).

The buyer’s fee is on a sliding scale and dependent on the auction house. The information will be available at reception and in the auction halls.

For Manheim, the amount of the buyer’s fee always depends on the sale price of the vehicle. If the vehicle you buy comes with our Manheim SureCheck peace of mind, there will be an additional fee to pay for this too – for private buyers, this is between £20 and £40 per vehicle.

If you pay your deposit or the purchase price using your credit card, there is a small transaction fee. This is 3.5% plus VAT. There are no transaction fees at all when you pay using your debit card or bank transfer. If you decide to pay by cheque or bank transfer, the vehicle will only be released once those funds have cleared.

Join the debate


31 August 2016
I've bought a few cars at auction as a private punter over the years. However, I realised that all the good stock gets sold in closed trade auctions. The public auctions are full of the cr*p that is left over. The car supermarkets seem to offer better deals than you can get at auction.

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