Auto auction question.
September 7, 2005 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever been to an auto auction?

I want to buy a used pick 'em truck and I thought maybe that the cheapest option would be an auto auction. Is that a viable option? Am I just asking to get ripped off, or to get suckered into a lemon? I live in Raleigh, NC and I have no idea where to look for them. I'm also not very proficient with a wrench. I'm not totally clueless, but I'm by no means an expert.
posted by NoMich to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
What do you mean by "auto auction?"

There are "dealer auctions," which as I understand it can only be bought from BY licensed dealers. If you have a friend who is a car dealer, you can ask him or her to look for something for you at auction, buy it, and then sell it to you at cost. This may or may not be legal.

If you're referring to one of those "recovered property" auctions where you can buy seized customs property and stuff like that, all bets are off. I wouldn't bother with stuff from there personally.

Homer: Wow, sweetheart, look at all this seized booty! We could find the drug boat of our dreams!
Marge: I don't want a drug boat!
Homer: Well, I bet theres drug dresses, and drug vacuum cleaners, too!
posted by autojack at 12:41 PM on September 7, 2005

My parents bought my first car at an auction. Generally, the cars that are sold are in working condition, but if they go for cheap, then there's probably a reason. For example, the car I bought sold for 200 bucks - I drove it off the lot, but the engine died after less than a mile (due to the carburator being filled with river mud).

Usually, there's a period of time before an auction (around a day) where you can wander around and look at all the cars. Bring someone who knows something about trucks to look under the hoods. You can get a nice deal if you know what to look for.

(on preview - yes, the car I bought was dragged out of a river with 100 pounds of weed in the trunk. go figure)
posted by muddgirl at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2005

Best answer: I used to drive cars for an auto auction when I was in high school. Where I worked, most of the drivers were either high school kids, or people with serious money problems who needed some cash for beer or whatever over the weekend.

We drove cars into an area where the bidders were. They would pop the trunk, holler questions at us and sometimes climb in the car with us. We were told to reply to the "how does it drive?" question with "like new" no matter how it drove but usually I'd tell people if something was seriously messed up. The two hugest things for people buying at the auction [usually dealers] were working AC and working power steering. Cars without AC often sold for lots less. Cars without power steering were hard to sell to the dealer crowd.

Many of the cars that I drove -- and this was almost 15 years ago now, maybe 20 -- had serious problems, had been jumped in order to be driveable into the shed, or had stink that seemed like it was ingrained into it [a lot of cars had been wet, it seemed and had bad mildew problems]. If you can, I'd recommend seeing if you could drive with the driver in the car to get an idea about whether it's nearly impossible to drive or not, and whether it has bad stink issues.

Go EARLY and go kick tires and whatever. Once the auction starts there is very little time to look at the car, you won't get very good answers from the driver, and there will be competition. The auctioning all happens very fast and you will have to make a quick decision with too little information. I saw people drive away with what seemed to be good deals from the auction [older models, or cars that needed some body work] but I have no idea what sort of shape they were in for long term ownership/use, as mudgirl's story demonstrates.
posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2005

There are basically two types of cars at auctions. First, new car dealerships will auction off any trade-in that looks crappy or old or hard to sell. These can sometimes be OK. Then there are the other cars. Some people make a living buying and selling used cars and some of these people will do some nasty stuff. A car has to start and drive through the auction barn. What you don't know is that it may overheat after 10 minutes (cracked engine, blown head gasket, bad radiator), may not go into reverse or high gear, may have a bent frame or axle, may be made out of bondo, may have bad brakes, may have a bad bearing in the trans or axle that howls at highway speeds.... I've heard of oatmeal in the trans, draining coolant below the level of a crack, rust holes in the floor you can drop a beer keg through...
You may be better off buying directly from a dealer that takes in a lot of trades, you can ask a salesman to call you if they get a trade that you would want.
posted by 445supermag at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2005

The dealer auctions are where its really at , but like autojack said, you usually have to be registered with the auction as a dealer. If you have some hookup that can get you in, you'll be able to get some great deals.

Dealer auctions often have the nice cars - 1-2yr old fleets from rental companies or company cars, as well as the higher-end cars from bank seizures. Typically, prices will be in the "wholesale" range of bluebook - sometimes less if the auction is flooded with a particular model. Two warnings though - many auctions expect you to have payment in full ready with you (unless you have some prior arrangement) and if you're not very handy, bring someone who is.
posted by dicaxpuella at 2:13 PM on September 7, 2005

I also drove for an auction for a (very) brief time, and can confirm what Jessamyn says. Probably 80% of these cars had very serious problems. Talking trashed interiors, smells, crazy clutch issues, and in at least one case, no brakes. Someone would have to know a lot about cars to know whether they were getting a decent deal or not.
posted by Gilbert at 2:30 PM on September 7, 2005

I bought one at a State Surplus Auction in Wisconsin once.
In North Carolina they sell them by sealed bid.
Might be worth checking out.
posted by Floydd at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2005

County and city governments often get rid of their older cars by physical auction (some have started using eBay or other online auctions). You might call the larger jurisdictions and ask how they dispose of older vehicles. (The chances are that these are well-maintained.) Try asking for "Fleet Services" or "Transportation", or the purchasing department. If you talk to someone in the purchasing department, the magic words may be "surplus property".

Typically, a government body hires a commercial auctioneer to sell vehicles and other things, say, once per month. The purpose of a public auction is as much to demonstrate that there was no corruption involved in selling off an item (since anyone could have bid on it) as it is to get money back for the government. But virtually no money is spent on advertising such auctions, and they are often mid-week, mid-day, so it isn't uncommon for only "regulars" to show up.
posted by WestCoaster at 5:00 PM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for your answers. They were all very good, but I'm going with jessamyn's response as, just barely, the best answer. As a result, I've been talked out of the auction option.
posted by NoMich at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2005

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