What Happens When Your Auction Winner Won’t Pay?

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. Buying a car is exciting. Especially at auction. Selling one? Not so much. Unfortunately, it can be a real headache. A stressful experience to say the least. So what happens in the worst-case scenario? You’ve listed your car for auction, gotten the money you wanted, and now the buyer won’t cough up the cash.

Auctions are just negotiations

The ebay logo outside their headquarters
eBay won’t help you out much | Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Obviously, your auction winner won’t pay, and that’s not an ideal situation, now is it? Frankly, many auction sites and other places you can sell cars are just “negotiations plus.” Now, what I mean by that is your listing is just a vehicle for negotiations. You want a set price for your car, and you pay a site a little bit of money to help. By help I mean make your listing look clean, professional, and enticing.

Take eBay, for example. Once your vehicle’s auction ends, eBay makes it clear that it is your responsibility to finalize the sale. If your auction winner won’t pay, that one’s on you to solve. Yes, you can report them to eBay, and the site will even re-list your vehicle free of charge if they rule in your favor. But if you need that money now, you may just be out of luck.

Getting that cheddar can be harder than you thought

The Cars & Bids logo
Good guy Doug at Cars and Bids will help | Cars & Bids

Now, we could get into the legalities of completing a transaction, but that’s probably more fit for a legal blog than this article. In summary, you could try to legally enforce the sale, but that’s a long, expensive process that’ll quickly eat into any profit margins you’ve accumulated. Fortunately, there’s a sort of culture surrounding some sites that helps to combat this.

I make frequent trips to Cars & Bids. Admittedly, it’s one of my nerdier pastimes, sitting about browsing obscure listings for cars I can’t afford. But Cars & Bids has created a culture around that. Key to that culture is the listings, most of which are enthusiast-leaning trucks and SUVs “from the modern era” as owner Doug DeMuro puts it. Generally, these enthusiasts are focused on making sure their vehicle goes to a good home, and buyers want to provide that. However, it has to be noted that just like eBay, you’re on the hook for getting that cash into your hands.

Bring a Trailer is also just another mediator

Bring a Trailer's red and black logo with a trailer motif
Bring a Trailer’s logo | Bring a trailer

How to Bid and Buy Smart at Online Car Auctions

Auction site Bring a Trailer is the undisputed king at this point, helped greatly by the pandemic. Honestly, it should be called “Bring a Bullion” given the prices I see vehicles sell for on there. Again, it’s on you to finalize that sale. I recommend collecting a deposit immediately, as eBay allows you to. From there, it’s all about getting that sale done before there’s any buyer’s remorse. Kindness and understanding are key, but use your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. Try to take advantage of the culture created by sites like Cars & Bids and BAT, and you’re sure to sell without a hitch.