12 essential tips for buying and selling a car at auction


Buying or selling a car at any auction can be daunting, deceiving, and downright disturbing. Vast sums of money trades hands during sales that play out quickly. Winning requires no small amount of research, vetting, insight and, yes, sobriety -- and selling is no easier. Hagerty understands the challenge and can help. During auction week in Arizona last month, we asked a panel of experts to provide sage advice for first-timers and veterans alike.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/02/11/tips-for-buying-cars-at-auction


“chandelier, or bogus, bid”. This is legal?


LOL, as if many readers of Hagerty actually go to these auctions to buy a car. One or two going does not make a trend. In my three car clubs of ordinary people no one has or ever will buy a car at one of these auctions. Leave them to the shysters, flippers, the cheats, the crooks, the get rich quick guys who have gravitated to the hobby and auctions unfortunately.


I find its very important to be around to witness a cold start before the car moves to staging. This can be maybe 60 to 90 minutes before its slated spot on the docket.Watch for hard starts and issues at idle as well as the most important, excessive smoke from the tail pipe. Once the car has moved from its spot, have a look for any oil leaks.


@roy_railsback - It is certainly a gray area and a hot topic among auction regulars.


@executiveflyfishing - Good tip for sure! The cars often get shuffled often enough it is a good idea to see them leave the spot they sat for an extended period of time.


And buy your cars from the independent shysters, flippers, cheats and crooks, and the ‘got poor guys’ who gravitated out of the hobby.
No personal experience, but think you’re painting them with a brush as broad as the lack of caveat emptor you apparently showed at YOUR last auction.


I am not a lawyer and it probably varies from state to state, but it is not unusual if there is a reserve on a vehicle. It would be very problematic to do on a vehicle being sold without reserve.


I feel lucky that I didn’t have to go to an auction, sounds like it would have ruined the experience of buying face-to-face from a decent person ready to sell a thing of beauty… I’ve had some issues with my cutlass but I knew I wasn’t buying a perfectly restored car and issues would likely come up. My attitude has been, whatever needs doing, do it right - preferably the first time so it is never an issue for me again. Hopefully whoever becomes the next owner many years from now will continue to do things properly for ‘Valerie’!


And ignore the ringman yelling in your ear.


I have been to probably (15) Mecum Auctions over the years. Lots of fun! But I have only bid on two cars during all those auctions. Too much hype and pressure during the actual bidding! I like to do my homework long before the bidding starts on the car(s) you are following. And, most of the time, information and history of the car is not available. Also, set your maximum bid before the bidding starts and stick to that maximum (unless you got money to burn!).


I’ve been to several auctions and I would add a few things:
Stronger statement about Rookies - NEVER EVER buy something at your first auction. Go to one or two to get a feel of the process, how people act, buyers, sellers, and enjoy it. Regardless of venue - all auctions have some commonalities. Ask lots of questions, talk to sellers buyers — and if possible get close to the stage to watch how & listen the handlers work both sides. They are there to sell the car

Auction houses are very different. Barrett is an entertainment circus, Gooding is a high class affair. Totally different auction styles. There are auction houses that really don’t care what the seller brings - shill bidders to drive up price against a reserve- I won’t name names but there are places to avoid.

If you can’t find the owner - there is probably a reason. Avoid that car. If you can find the owner - Ronald Regan said it best. “Trust but verify”. I know I have talked to owners who were convinced of their statements - not lying but they were wrong for what ever reason. Everyone believes they had the ex-big block car and not the ex-6cyl.

not all auctions are scams - as some have stated - there are good deals, there are terrible deals, good sellers, and bad. Key to it all - knowledge is power. As the article suggests - if you don’t have the knowledge, buy it in the form of an expert.


Barrett Jackson got accused of running false auction items across their platform about ten years ago. They would send cars through that were not actually for sale and put phony bidders in the audience to “bid” and generate enthusiasm. Not sure if that ever was proven but the behavior would not surprise me. Anyone here knows there is dishonesty happening all over the car business every day.


I sir have sold many very high-dollar cars at auction. I think you may have a slanted view of the auction process. When you are represented by the likes of Gooding, or RM you get the utmost professionalism & both sides of the transaction are treated very well. Many of my circle of friends & colleagues have had nothing but great success in buying & selling this way. I would suggest that you take the opportunity to get better educated on the nuances of a high quality auction house like those I have referenced.


I have heard that the auction company, for an auction that have a reserve price, does have the ability to “bid” the car up to the reserve price. Seems shady to me, but it underscores the point that you need to stick to YOUR limit. If it’s at or above the reserve, what’s the harm with the auction company bidding it up to the reserve?


After watching the Mecum, and Barret Jackson auctions on television I’ve realized I couldn’t go to one. The incessant yammering of the auctioneer would drive me insane inside of an hour. They’re not actually saying anything it’s just inane gibberish.Why is it still a thing? Does it serve a purpose besides irritate? I’ve noticed the English auctioneers don’t have it.


I have purchased one car at auction (Mecum in Chicago) and I did have one surprise - the seller turned out to be a dealer, and that ended up costing me more money when I went to transfer the title to my name. In Illinois, if you purchase a used car from a private company there is a “fee”, whereas if you buy it from a dealer, they charge the sales tax (which is considerable more). So the point about “Know the Seller” is an important one!


I have driven cars up to the block at auctions, we are not allowed to answer questions how ever you may be able to get clues from facial or body language. Another hint is that the fees are sometimes lower on weekdays . The earlier in the week the more affordable they may be so look at the auction schedule before going. Also depends on if two or more people want the car or are only bidding to get a cheap deal.


I have bought and sold dozens of cars at many auctions. It is done every day at every auction. It may be against the auction company rules, but it is not illegal and it is done all the time. If possible, don’t watch the ringman in front of you. Watch and listen to the auctioneer. You can often tell when the other bidder is a ghost by watching the auctioneer. Buyer beware!


I had a friend that was a professional auctioneer that did lots of truck and equipment auctions. He always had about 6 phony bidder numbers he used to help move the bidding along, and if we couldn’t get to the reserve the item sold to one of the phony numbers. Not too ethical, but I guess not illegal at the time.

I also used to go with a friend to an Auto Dealers Only auction in Pasco, Washington at different times. They would have “champagne breakfast” auctions and by the time the auction started at noon 90% of the crowd was drunk. A local dealer that had a small store ended up buying 13 cars and couldn’t remember what he bought until he got home and got the invoice. At least the purchase doubled his inventory.