Tips for Buying and Selling a Car at Auction

It’s been quite a week for car collectors, and it’s hard to miss all the news coverage about celebrities, athletes and other car enthusiasts in town for the big car auctions. While these major events get a lot of attention, many people don’t realize there are car auctions going on around town every week. Granted, the majority are not luxury vehicles, but I’m always surprised when people share their skepticism about buying or selling a car at auction.

Because our auction house handles estates, we’re often called upon to sell cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles. Some are in mint shape…others, not so much. Some have a fascinating history, like the custom 1929 Ford Model A pick-up truck that realized $15,000. Others have a vintage appeal, like the 1967 Sunbeam Alpine Series V that sold for $6,000, or the 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle that realized $23,000. And, some vehicles we sell are near new, with little mileage and minimum wear and tear.

Here are some tips for buying and selling a car at auction:

Buying: When you buy a car at auction, especially a used car, you have greater chances of paying less than you intended. There’s no high-pressure sales rep haggling you, and your main concerns should be the integrity of the auction house, the condition of the car, knowing the car’s value, and setting a budget and sticking to it.

Do your research in advance, but also take the time to attend the public preview to carefully examine the interior and exterior of the car. Be sure to check for smoke or water damage as well as rust, which is a big issue with cars that came from cold climates. I always recommend getting the VIN number and checking the vehicle’s history through a site like Carfax to find out if it’s ever had prior damage such as body damage and even flood damage. Also, examine the title to make sure it’s clean, and check to see if the car has ever been salvaged or restored.

Selling: When you’re selling a car at auction, there’s typically a large buyer base and it’s also convenient and safe since the auction house deals directly with the buyer. Spend some time visiting auction houses to see how they operate. Check online reviews and ask questions. Be sure you review all the fine print and discuss realistic price ranges for your car before signing a contract. Also, make sure payment terms are spelled out clearly in the contract.

When selling a car at auction, it’s also important to understand auction terms. For example, in an “absolute auction,” the car is sold to the highest bidder. A “reserve” is the minimum amount needed to keep the bidding going. We rarely put reserves on auction items, including cars. In reality, absolute auctions will attract serious buyers who appreciate a fair bidding experience with no games or hidden agendas.

Whether you’re buying or selling a car, the process can be daunting. Explore all avenues carefully before making a decision, and don’t discount the secondary market as a viable option.



Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.

Contact him at, or 623-878-2003.


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