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A Beginner’s guide to car auctions

Car auctions aren’t just for those in the trade. Read our beginner’s guide to find out how you can bag a bargain motor.

Thanks to daytime TV we’re all familiar with seeing homes and antiques go under the hammer.

But when it comes to the second most expensive purchase most of us will ever make – a car – many of us shy away from the auction house.

A recent survey by Manheim Auctions found that 85 per cent of drivers have never thought of visiting an auction, with many believing that it would be an intimidating experience.

But the car auction industry is seeking to clear up the perception that they’re just for trade customers.

As Jon Collingbourne, owner of independent auction house Newport Auctions, in south Wales, says: “We have our sales in the evenings so people can come after work, we have a guide for beginners on our website so people can read up on what to expect, and you can also view all the cars online.

‘Money savvy’

Collingbourne says the message is slowly getting through to the public, evidenced by the fact that his custom is now 60 per cent trade and 40 per cent private buyers.

He said: “People have become more money savvy over the past few years and are more careful about making their money go further.

“People seem more clued up to the fact that while they can buy a car at a second-hand car garage, the car they buy there has probably come from auction in the first place and the garage will have added a mark-up to the price.

“Private buyers are becoming wise to the fact that if they come to an auction in the first place they can make savings.

Save hundreds of pounds

“We advise people that there are always hundreds to be saved, and in some cases more than a thousand by buying at auction.”

The cars up for auction are mainly part-exchange vehicles, explained Collingbourne. “For example, if a Ford dealership ends up with another make because of a part-exchange, then they'll need to get rid of it so they’ll sell it at auction.

“A lot of dealerships also end up with old stock which they need to get off the forecourt to make room for newer models.

“We have also seen more private buyers selling their cars through auction. It’s a good way for them to attract a big audience of potential buyers. “

Top tips

So what can a beginner expect from a car auction? Well, we've prepared a handy video guide for you.

Read on for our top tips for buying a car at auction:

Do your research

Attend an auction as a trial run to get a feel for how it works. Decide what sort of car you wish to buy and make a note of how much they end up selling for.

Ask questions

As with buying from a new or second-hand car dealership, if you don’t know much about cars bring along someone who does. Attend a couple of hours before the sale and examine the vehicles. Check under the bonnet, turn the engine to hear how it sounds, read the description of the car. Sales staff are there to answer any questions so take advantage of them.

Read the small print

Each auction house has its own terms and conditions explaining what the fees are and how to complete your purchase if successful. Make sure to read this information in advance so you know what to do later on. Some auction houses require a deposit with the full balance 48 hours later, or if you’ve got the money you can drive the car away there and then.

Set a budget

If you’ve done your research then when you’re ready to buy you’ll know how much the car you’re after is likely to cost. Stick to your limit and don’t go above it. If you miss out on the car you want, there’s always a next time.

Factor in the insurance costs

It’s a good idea to find out how much the car insurance on a vehicle will be, so you get a better idea of the overall cost. Confused.com customers can now get a price in a matter of seconds by texting the car’s registration to 66800.

To find out more, check out our QuickQuote page.

Be clear when bidding

When bidding, be as clear as possible by raising your arm and checking that the auctioneer has seen your bid.

Car insurance

You’ll need this so you can drive your car away. You can arrange short-term car insurance cover with a number of providers.

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Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick reports on all things personal finance at Confused.com. She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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