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My first public automobile auction - What to expect

Updated on January 28, 2015

Doing homework first.

Paying a car note can be a real burden on the budget. When you factor in the price of gas, insurance on an automobile and repair cost, paying cash for a vehicle to drive around in can be an attractive alternative. I had the opportunity to go to public auto auction with a friend who was looking for this very advantage. I found some on line information to assist us with what we could expect; however, the information was very limited and when we got there, we discovered that it was quite outdated. The information I am presenting is current as of February 1, 2012.

The reason I ended up going to the auction with my friend; we’ll call him Ted, is so that I could drive his car back home and he would drive the newly purchased car. Ted called ahead and was able to ascertain what time the auction started. We were attending the ADESA auction in Montpelier, Ohio which is a 2.5 hour drive from our home. We left out before the crack of dawn so that Ted could check out the cars ahead of time. This is important as the auction process happens very fast and this will be the only time you get to check out the car under the hood, the interior and the exterior. The keys were in the cars of this auction so you could turn the engine for a listen. I understand some auctions don’t allow turning of the keys on the automobiles.


How much money to bring and why.

This information is for those who are of the public. These auctions for the most part are dominated by car dealership dealers. This particular auction the registration fee was $50. This price is a yearly cost and it covers your being allowed to come on the premises and bid on the cars. You are issued a number tag that you are to put on your jacket or item that you will raise when you are accepting a bid. This is also where you get a brief overview of how the auction works. Here is where we could ask questions and where we found out for this auction that only the vehicles that were repossessions were open for the public to bid on. All other cars were for dealers only. There were three lanes for bidding; however, only one was for repo vehicles and is where the public buyers were to gather.

The next cost is a deposit of $400. This fee is to show the auction house that you are serious about bidding and have the finance to prove it. The $400 is refundable. You get it back in two different ways. The first is if you do not purchase an automobile. The second is if you do purchase an automobile, that $400 is applied to the purchase. There is also a price for the changing of the title which can run a couple hundred dollars. Also, ADESA must pay their friendly and well informed staff so 1 to 20 percent of the purchase price goes in their hands. Yes, all these fees left me wondering the advantages to getting a used car at an auction.

The prices paid for the cars varied greatly for this auction. The one thing Ted and I learned is that if you are expecting to get a great deal on a vehicle; that, most likely will not happen. You are bidding against dealers with lots of available cash. Another reason to bring a large sum of cash is because there are also on-line bidders that are attending from their office or home computers. They’ve seen the paper work on the autos, and a picture but even though they are at a visual disadvantage they may have a passion for the vehicle or access to inexpensive repair cost that would give them an upper hand in paying more for the car then the average person.

When Ted and I did our on-line research, we were told that cost could run from $500 to $3000. I would say that having at the very least $4,000 to about $18,000 would be more appropriate. For this auction the lowest car purchased was between the cost of $2,359 and $6,700; pickup trucks and SUVs went as high as $18,000.


What happens during the auction

The announcement was called out over a PA system that the auction was beginning and everyone went to their appropriate spots. The first cars were driven into the bidding arena, where 30 seconds was given for one last look over of the car. The Auctioneer gave us a surprise when he started out with what we thought were high prices for the vehicle. As it turns out he has done his research and the price he starts with is the blue book value of the vehicle. If no one bids on the price he starts with then he goes down on his price by $1000 until interest is presented. This is where a bargain can be had, provided no one else has interest in the vehicle you do. That never is the case. This is a cat and mouse game the dealers play to get the lowest price for the vehicle. Once the price comes down a few thousand dollars then someone bids and the bids go up by $100 increments. The energy is high and listening and being very still is extremely important as you don’t want to either miss out on the current price and end up paying too much or nod or scratch and purchase something you weren’t prepared to pay for.

The bidding process on each vehicle runs about two minutes long and the entire auction last 1.5 to 2 hours long, depending on the amount of vehicles that need to be presented. There is another auction for cars that were not drivable but we did not attend that one so I have no information on how it works.

Needless to say we did not get the car that we went there to buy or any other car. Ted brought about $4000 and every car worth buying went over that dollar amount. We did, however, gain lots of experience and know what to expect should we decide that purchasing used car cash at an auction is the desired way to go. I hope that this information was useful to you. Let me know.

Did you find this article informative? Would you purchase a car at auction after reading this article?

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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      4 years ago from California

      We went to an auction once. We had no information and it was confusing . Your hub was helpful. We are considering going again.

    • Carlon Michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Carlon Michelle 

      4 years ago from USA

      You're welcome RonElFran

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      What an interesting experience. I've never considered buying a car at auction, and this confirms me in that decision. Having to pay a registration fee up front would be a big barrier for me. Thanks for some good info.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It was very interesting to read the information you've shared. Thank you for this. I also attended a public auto auction - it was Repokar - but this auction is only online and i didn't spend so much time as you did. I just chose a car and placed a bid then I saw that there 3 more users who also put bids. I was upset that I will not win, I contacted the seller of the car and he showed me the car personally where i could touch it.. Then I placed one more bid before the auction ends and won it. You cannot realize how happy I was. :)

    • Carlon Michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Carlon Michelle 

      7 years ago from USA

      I agree Jim. I want to know who previously owned the car and the history of it like accidents and such. Thanks for stopping by. Smile

    • Jimijams profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting article. I've never personally been to an auto auction, and I know people who attend them quite frequently. I personally am far too picky to buy a car on the spot like that without having a little time to think about it. Unless the vehicle is obviously a bargain.

      I guess if I was in a better financial situation it would be a bit more appealing to me.


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