If you've got your eye on a second-hand motor but don't know where to start just take a look at Wheeler Dealers presenter Mike Brewer's handy guide to buying a car at auction. 

Mike Brewer

You’ve got cash burning a hole in your pocket and you’re ready to bag yourself a cracking used motor. But where to look, and what should you do when you get there? As a wheeler-dealer, I’ve bought hundreds of cars so I’m about to tell you everything you need to know about buying your next motor at auction. 

Let me tell you, I love buying cars at auction. There’s a real buzz, with all those shiny motors just waiting to be snapped-up and bids flying around all over the place. It’s easy to get carried away and end up coming a cropper.  I know – I’ve done it loads of times myself!  So start by doing plenty of homework. 

Solid plan

Make sure you know exactly what car you want to buy and set yourself a budget and make sure you get to the auction with a solid plan in your head. Get on the internet and find out how auctions work – there’s lots of advice out there, and better still, find an auction that specialises in the sort of car you want. And remember, the price in the catalogue isn’t the one you’ll pay. There are other costs like a buyer’s premium and tax which all add-up, and can take you over your budget.

Once you’ve arrived at the auction, the adrenaline will kick in, and the best piece of advice I can give you is to take your time. Get there nice and early, find yourself a nice quiet corner and spend some time going through the catalogue to narrow down your search. Once you’ve found a car you’re interested in, go and find it in the car park and spend as much time as you can having a good old look around. This is the only chance you’ll get to examine the car so make the most of it. Give the bodywork a good going over – you want car that’s nice and straight so check all the panels, and get the trusty torch out and having a good poke around to make sure there are no horrors underneath.

Do your wheeler-dealer checks:

  • Take a good look at the number plates to see if there are any dealer stickers. If they are different front and back, ask yourself why. Just a replacement number plate or a bit of new bodywork after an accident?
  • Look for a dealer name in the back window and on the tax-disc holder, as well as the number plates.  These are all good clues to the car’s history.
  • And a big tip : check all the glass to see if a registration or chassis number has been etched in.  It’s a simple thing but if a number is missing or different, perhaps there is something dodgy in the car’s past.
  • Have a look at the mileage. This is normally on a sticker somewhere and might be guaranteed, but don’t worry if not. There a few things you can do to see if it’s genuine, starting with the inside. You might not get a lot of time, so get a good look at the seats, steering wheel, and gearlever.  Another good trick is to pull out the seat belts – if they are a bit slow to reel back in, this could mean the car has had plenty of use and maybe a bit of a hard life.

Don't rush

Now I said to take your time, and this is where that can really pay-off.  Don’t be in a rush to get into the auction hall – hang around the car you’re interested in for as long as possible.  Not only will this give you a chance to see who else is interested, but you can wait for the guy who drives them into the hall. This is a great chance to see and hear the motor running – you can look for any smoke from the exhaust and have a good listen to the engine.  If it sounds like a bag of nails you’ll know to keep the money in your pocket!

Also, try to grab a word with the driver, ask him what it felt like to drive. Basically, do everything you can to find out about the car. In the old days, there were a few unscrupulous traders around who would whip off a spark plug lead when no one was watching so the car would run roughly – other punters would be put off and the dodgy-dealer would pick up a bargain. Things have changed a bit now thank goodness – you had to be on the ball in my day – but follow my advice and you won’t get caught out.

Test drive

The car looks spot-on and you’re ready to do some bidding.  Now this part can be a bit intimidating, but relax!  Look at how people are bidding so you can see how it all happens, and don’t be shy.  When it comes to your motor’s turn in the ring, be positive and show other people that you really want it – it can put other bidders off when they see how keen you are. 

When you’ve bought a car most auctions will give you an hour or so to return it if you find any major faults, so use this time wisely. Give it a really good check over and test drive and if you think there is a serious problem, or the car isn’t as described, don’t be afraid to take it back.

And my last bit of advice? If you’re not sure about buying at an auction, take along a knowledgeable mate or member of the family to help you out.  

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