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How to get the best out of classic car auctions

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Being part of a car auction, either in person or online, offers a thrilling opportunity to snag a great deal on your dream vehicle, whether it’s a sleek sports car, or a vintage classic. There are many dealers that attend, and only around 10% of cars are bought by private buyers, so navigating the fast-paced world of car auctions requires strategy, knowledge and a bit of insider know-how. In this guide, we’ll unveil the secrets to help you get the best out of classic car auctions.


1. Do your research first


Before diving into the world of car auctions, it’s crucial to arm yourself with knowledge. Research the different types of auctions available, such as those from auction houses like the BCA (British Car Auctions), dealer auctions, and online ones. Each has its own set of rules, and also pros and cons, and not all auctions are open to the public, so do check they allow public bidding before you attend. Check in advance how you need to register, for example by setting up an online account, or by registering to bid in advance. If you can’t be there in person, look at the online catalogue or listings to get a good idea of both what’s available, the reserve prices and the greater details of each car.


Additionally, familiarise yourself with the market value of the vehicles you’re interested in to avoid overpaying, and see how many there are in circulation. Obviously the rarer the car is, the more money it may often go for. You can also check what the previous prices of similar cars were at auctions that have taken place before.




2. Set a budget


It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of bidding, but setting a budget is essential to prevent overspending. Determine the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a car - and factor in not only the purchase price of the vehicle but also additional expenses such as auction/buyers fees, VAT and any registration costs, as well as the costs of any renovations that are needed. Stick to your budget to ensure you walk away with a good deal. 


If you’re new to car auctions, consider starting with smaller, less expensive vehicles to gain experience and confidence. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the auction environment without risking a significant amount of money. As you become more comfortable, you can potentially bid on higher-value cars (if you want to buy more than just the one classic car).


3. Inspect the vehicle


Unlike buying from a dealership, cars at auctions are typically sold as seen, which means there are no warranties although there might be an independent inspection guarantee. You will see that the faults known about individual cars are listed. Before bidding, thoroughly inspect the vehicles you’re interested in, if attending in person. Look for signs of damage, wear and tear, and mechanical issues, and look at the mileage and service history. If possible, bring along a trusted mechanic to assess the condition of the car and provide expert advice. You probably won’t be able to test drive it, but you might be able to start it up.




4. Attend previews


Many car auctions offer preview days - or even previews hours beforehand on the actual day - where you can inspect the vehicles up close before the auction begins. Take advantage of these opportunities to get a feel for the car, sit inside it, and even start the engine if allowed. Pay attention to details such as the interior condition, mileage, and any modifications.


5. Understand the auction process


Each auction may operate differently, so take the time to understand the bidding process before the auction begins. Some auctions use traditional in-person bidding, while others may be conducted online or via proxy bidding. Be aware of the rules and procedures to avoid any confusion or mistakes during the bidding process. Finding the perfect car at an auction may take time and persistence, so it’s often worth going to a few beforehand to see how things work.


When you do go, you’ll see that cars are referred to as ‘lots’ at an auction, with each lot being given a number. There will be a starting price, and then the highest bidder will get to buy the car. If you are bidding, raise your hand clearly so that you can be seen - it’s a fast process, so be alert!


If you are the top bidder, you will have to put down a deposit, which might be 10% of the car’s value or perhaps £500, whichever is greater. You’ll then be directed to the office to pay the remainder of the car off and finalise any paperwork. It is your responsibility to ensure you have insurance, tax and a valid MOT (if applicable) on the car. As we said, some auctions take place online, and you can bid in real time.


Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win the first few car auctions you participate in. Stay patient, keep attending and doing your research, and eventually you’ll find the right vehicle at the right price. Also, try to have a few back up options on the day in case you are outbid on your favourite. 


Finally, it’s good that you don’t have to haggle over prices, but do bear in mind that if you win at auction, you do need to buy the car!




Car auctions can be a treasure trove for savvy buyers looking to get a great deal on their next vehicle. By conducting thorough research, setting a budget, inspecting the vehicles, understanding the auction process and staying patient and persistent, you can maximise your chances of success and get the best out of car auctions. So, gear up, sharpen your bidding skills, and get ready to drive off into the sunset with your new classic car!