Car Auctions: A Complete Guide To Buying A Car At Auction In UK

Buying a car in auction is one of the best options of buying used cars at lower prices, in the UK. However, it is common for anyone who is new to this method of procuring cars, to fear the various risks that may be associated with buying cars at an auction.

More than 12,000 vehicles are sold off at auctions in the UK every week, of which 10% are bought by private owners. This gives us an idea of just how popular it is to buy cars in auctions. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every car that is sold at auctions is in perfect condition. Approach the auctions with a realistic expectation, and your needs will be met.

If you have a clear idea of what you want and what your limits are, buying cars at an auction is one of the best things to do.

Pre-Auction Inspections While Buying a Car in Auction

The following are some of the tips that you need to follow prior to buying a car in auction:

1. Arrive Early

It is important that you inspect the car that you are interested in buying before you decide to buy it. Cars at auction need to be inspected before coming to a decision to make sure that everything in the car is working properly. To be able to do this, you need to be at the auction house at 9AM, as most car auction houses open for pre-auction inspections currently.

2. Look for Warning Signs

Any car at an auction looks pristine and perfect online, but it is a completely different story in reality. Before you decide on buying any car, look for some major warning signs, which will make it clear whether you should buy the car.

Deflated tyres and shoddy paint jobs are just the beginning of so many underlying warning signs. These can be looked at if you manage to turn up for the pre-auction inspections.

Keep in mind to never bid on any vehicle before you inspect or see it in person, because there may be some nasty surprises in store for you.


What Things Should You Look for During Your In-person Inspection?

As stated earlier, there are certain things that you should take proper care of, one of which includes proper inspection of a car before you decide to bid on it. Here are a few things you should look for, during your in-person inspection:

1. Mismatching Bodywork Panels

If you see any sort of paintwork and shoddy shut lines on the car, then it could mean that the car has been through some serious trouble.

2. Low Quality Repaints

Simple repainting could result in this issue, but it could also be that there is a rust problem that has been disguised with the help of this paint.

3. Deflated Tyres

No one wants to drive cars with bad tyres, and not ones that you have just bought. Make certain that your car tyres are perfect, and not deflated.

If in doubt, walk away

If you notice several flaws in any car, the best thing to do would be to walk away. No one wants to get a ton of problems after investing a lot of money. You can always decide to buy another car.

How To Buy Cars at Auction

Do an MOT Check

Doing an MOT check on any auction car is especially important, as it tells you a lot of things about a car. An MOT check can be done online for any vehicle you may be interested in.

All you have to do is visit and enter the applicable registration number to know the details.

An MOT check will tell you the following things:

1. MOT expiration date (whether it has passed or failed)

2. Car tax expiration date

3. Vehicle make

4. Date of first registration

5. Year of manufacture

6. Cylinder capacity (cc)

7. CO2 emissions

8. Fuel type

9. Vehicle status

10. Vehicle colour

11. Vehicle type

12. Wheel plan

13. Revenue weight

Do an HPI Check

HPI checks tell you whether a vehicle has a hidden past. If your vehicle passes this test, then there is nothing you need to worry about.

'HPI' is the name of the company that offers the checking service, but with the test becoming a necessity, it has now become a generic term for checking a vehicle's past.

HPI tests can be a little costly, but they are worth the money and ensure that your vehicle doesn’t have any major faults.

The HPI check will tell you if your car has any outstanding financial issues, or if it has been stolen, which will all save you a great deal of problems in the future. This check will also reveal if a vehicle has been cloned (the VIN and registration have been changed to cover up the fact it has been stolen).

This check will let you know if your car has been scrapped, in which case, it would be illegal to drive on a public road. You will also get to know if your car is an insurance write off, which would make getting an insurance for your car difficult.

Here is what you will get to know through a HPI check:

1. If a car has been recorded as being scrapped by insurers

2. If a car has been recorded as being written off by insurers

3. If a car has been recorded as stolen (based on police data)

4. If a car is subject to an existing loan ('outstanding finance')

5. If the logbook has been stolen

6. Any number plate changes

7. Inconsistent mileage history

8. How many previous owners a car has had

Given that a full HPI check costs around £20, while a more basic check costs about £10, never neglect getting an HPI check done for your car.

Car Auctions: Choosing What to Bid On

As mentioned earlier, before you decide to bid on any car, it is always important for you to inspect the car you are interested in. You can check what cars are going to be auctioned either online or in the physical catalogues handed out at the auction house. Most of the catalogues provide a description of the car, detail its history, and grade its condition.

Always cross check the prices at which the car you are planning to buy is being sold for, at other auction websites or houses. This will help you determine how much you are willing to pay for your car in the end.

Once you have made up your mind about which car you want to buy and how much you are willing to pay for it, the first thing that you would need to do is inspect the car at the auction house. Simple checks of the engine, bodywork, electrical systems, interior trim and tyres will give you a general idea of the car's condition.

What Happens When the Car Auction Starts?

As mentioned earlier, the cars are driven through the auction house in the order of their appearance on the catalogue, and the auctioneer starts the auction with a price. Make sure you listen closely and very carefully to everything the auctioneer has to say, because that tells a lot about the condition of the car you have your eye on.

Here are the important things you need to look out for, in any auctioneer’s descriptions:

1. No Major Mechanical Faults

This means that there are no faults with the engine, suspension, drivetrain, or gearbox.

2. Specified Faults

The auctioneer would read out all the faults in the car, so make sure you make a note of them.

3. Sold as Seen

The auction house would be selling the car with any faults it may have and wouldn’t accept any sort of complaints after the sale of the car.

4. Sold with a Warranted Mileage

This means that the mileage of the car has been verified by an independent inspection, and the car is sold based on the report.

The bidding would then start, with bidding typically done in £100 or £200 increments. If the car is highly valued, the bidding could go up to £1,000 intervals.

How To Bid at a Car Auction

Buying a car at the first auction you go to is not recommended at all. You should at least go to three or four auctions before you participate in them. This gives you an idea of how everything works in real time. Also find out about the payment methods accepted in various auction houses, because they can be specific about that.

The bidding process is done by raising your hand or the catalogue, when the car you wish to buy comes up, and it will continue until there are no more bidders left in the room. The highest bidder gets the car

What Happens After the Auction?

A deposit needs to be submitted – usually 10% of the car’s value if you turn out to be the highest bidder for a car. This amount is to be paid to the rostrum clerk. Some auction houses can also ask for a 20% deposit, or £500, whichever is higher. You would then be directed to the cashier’s office then you would have to finalise the paperwork and pay the remaining amount.

A buyer’s fee would also need to be paid additionally, which is usually 4-6% of the car’s value.

Most auction houses provide specialty insurance services for the day – allowing you to tax and insure the vehicle and drive it home.

Will I Incur any Fees at Auction?

As stated above, you would have to pay a buyer’s fee whenever you buy a car at an auction, which could be anywhere between 4-6% of the car’s value. It can vary from auction house to auction house, however.

What Type of Vehicles are Sold at Auction?

From rare vintage collectables to run-of-the-mill hatchbacks, all kinds of cars are sold at an auction. Most of the cars that are sold off at auctions come from national chains, such as ex-rental cars and ex-fleet cars. These auctions are used by dealers too, who sell off those cars that are too old or have too high a mileage to sell through an approved used programme.

Used cars can also be sold at auctions, which makes it important for you to get an HPI check done before you decide to bid on any car.

Where to Find Upcoming Auctions

A simple online search would tell you where the nearest auction is, and its time.

There is the option of choosing online-only auction sites as well, where you can bid online in real-time. You would have to go to pick up the car, though, and while some places offer to deliver your car home, their delivery charges can be quite costly.

Do You Need a Licence to Buy Cars at Auction?

Special licences are not required to buy a car at any auction, but it is advisable to carry your driver’s licence with you, as you might be asked to prove your identity. In case you are planning to drive the car from auction, then having your driver’s licence with you is essential, and ensure your car is legal to drive. This includes road tax, insurance, and MOT, although auction houses can often arrange delivery to your address for a fee.

What Are the Five Top Tips to Buy a Car at Auction First Timers?

If you are planning to buy a car in an auction for the first time, then it would seem like a daunting task. The following tips might ease you up a bit:

1. Homework is Important

Gather all the information you can beforehand, so that you will have a good idea of what the car will be worth.

2. Don’t Rush

Spend most of your time looking around and always have back-ups in case the bidding goes out of your limit. Don't rush into anything.

3. Car Inspection is Important

Inspect the vehicle you are interested in, thoroughly, to be certain that there are no underlying problems, which can cause you a great deal of distress once you’ve purchased the car.

4. Be Flexible

Given that there would be no perfect cars at an auction, try to be as realistic as you can, when it comes to the expectations you have for your car.

5. Set a Fixed Budget

Never go overboard at auctions and set a fixed budget for the car you plan to buy. You could always buy another car if not the one you wanted to. Remember, you would still have to buy insurance and tax the vehicle, apart from buying just the car.

Can Anyone Buy a Car at Auction?

Once you register at any auction you go to, you can start bidding, if the auction is not closed off to trade only. It is always advisable to visit a few auctions and observe without buying before you participate.


Buying cars at auctions in the UK is a standard practice, as a lot of people buy cars at auctions, and a lot of people sell cars at auctions. As long as you take proper care and understand the process well enough, there is no harm in buying cars at auctions. Just make sure that you have done all the homework and checks you need to. Used cars, or second-hand cars, also need a warranty, just like brand-new cars do. Warranty Direct offers warranties for used cars at a very comprehensive level. Electrical, mechanical, digital, and every other part of your car is covered in our warranty, which protects your car from any unforeseen circumstances, and saves you a lot of expenditure in such scenarios.

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