Buying a car at an auction – six top tips

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Lucille Barrett
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Buying a car at an auction can be daunting, so here’s everything you need to know before you go, with input from two leading auction houses.

1. How does it work? 

Auction firm British Car Auctions (BCA) advises that before you bid at an auction, you first attend one purely as a spectator.

Go with the intention not to buy but to learn the process and familiarize yourself with the hustle and bustle of the auction hall, so when you are ready to go and buy, you’re not overwhelmed by the experience.

 six top tips

Manheim Auctions says that specific words, phrases, and acronyms are frequently used and can confuse those new to auctions if they’re not familiar with them. The company has produced a jargon buster on its website to help out.

2. Do you need to register?

Not at BCA, which has 23 auction sites across the UK. Make sure you have a sufficient deposit available, preferably on a debit card. Deposits are usually 20% of the bid value or £1000, whichever is greater.

For Manheim, registration is required online. Customers new to the brand need to pay an initial, one-off £500 deposit before any bids can be made, which can be made by debit card.


If a vehicle’s bid is successful, the deposit can be used towards the full payment of the vehicle. Should no vehicle be purchased during the sale, the £500 deposit will be returned on request at the end of the sale.

You will also need to show photo proof of ID and proof of address before you’re able to buy a vehicle at Manheim, so make sure you have this with you.

3. How do I get the best deal?

Make sure you know your product, which specific model or type of car you want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

Buying a car at an auction - six top tips 1

Then research typical used values and find out how much consumables might cost. That way, you can calculate whether the car you’re interested in is a bargain.

The night before an auction, BCA publishes online what’s going under the hammer, although printed catalogs are available on the day.

Manheim’s general manager for group auctioneers, Andy Conde, offers similar guidance and says it’s worth reading the conditions of sale and to ensure you know what the buyer’s fees are before you bid, so there are no surprises when it comes to paying. He also says to remember to register before you bid – don’t try to buy without a buyer’s number because your bids won’t be accepted.

Conde recommends looking at the vehicle in person or online and setting yourself a limit, and then when you arrive at the auction, sit somewhere you will be seen to be clear and decisive when you bid.

It may seem obvious, but make sure you are insured and taxed before moving a vehicle if you successfully buy one.

4. Do cars get inspected?

It’s usual for cars that are less than eight years old to get a BCA Assured vehicle check, produced by the AA for BCA.

This mechanical report contains more than 30 checks, including servicing reports, MOT tests, and tire tread depth. There’s an inspection area where you can get up close with cars to check their condition and spec, but test drives are not available.

seo tips

Manheim offers its own SureCheck, which provides three levels of inspection: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Each level has a different number of checks included (up to 56 per vehicle), which gives interested bidders a choice of detail when selecting vehicles to bid on.

A copy of the full inspection report is available online, and a summary of the information is attached to the vehicle windscreen so it can be read before and during the auction.

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