Buying a car at an auction is tempting. The starting price seems so impossibly low, and stories of people walking away from auctions with vintage cars for half of their value or less seem like amazing promises. However, purchasing your next vehicle from an auction is risky business: there are no signed contracts that protect you from verbal misleading on the part of the seller; there is a high chance you could actually get a better price elsewhere; and you'll likely go through a lot of stress and work, only to lose the car at the last second to a higher bidder. If you're determined to purchase a car at auction, however, there are some things you can do to make it a safer, better experience.
Do a Blue Book check. You can use online databases to check the value of the car you're interested in before you even head down to the auction house -- and you should, because you don't want to bid more than the car is worth. Nor do you want to pay more than the price for the same car on craigslist or a used car lot, so do your local homework, too.
Run a VIN check. This means you need to obtain the VIN (or Vehicle Identification Number) from the auctioneer or auction house, and then plug it into a national database. Then you can read up on past accidents it's been in, past and current ownership, and any other issues the VIN databases might list for you. If the car has any suspicious notes on its listing at all, don't buy it. Just don't.
Trust your gut. After you do your homework, you may find that there is nothing obviously wrong with the car...but your instincts are screaming at you that it's a very bad idea. You may have subconsciously picked up on something pointing towards a scam, and no matter what, you should just walk away and find a different option. There are a lot of ways to be scammed over an auction purchase, and it's best to drop the idea if you sense anything fishy at all.
Bid wisely. Your final bid will most likely have an added percentage given to the auction house/auctioneer, plus there are other fees associated with live auctions. Factor in some extra money to your final bid, and just let it go if someone tops you. You don't want to end up paying a ridiculous amount of money more than you intended to.
Buy a used car warranty. Some companies offer protection plans for used cars, and it's a good idea to get one for your auctioned car. That way, even if something does go wrong despite all your precautions, you'll still get your money back.
More great auction tips await you here at the GarageSaleCow.com blog, and the main page is great, too! Head on over to join a free community of garage sale enthusiasts!