How to Bid and Buy Smart at Online Car Auctions

Online car auctions are becoming an increasingly popular avenue for car buying. Additionally, it’s possible to get yourself a deal online with some research and a level head. The global pandemic pushed them into the limelight, and now auction sites like Cars & Bids and Bring-a-Trailer are enjoying unprecedented levels of success. In light of their increase in popularity, it’s time to learn how to bid smart, buy smart, and find yourself a deal in the brave new world of online car auctions.

Online car auctions can be a great way to get a deal

Current inventory shown on Cars & Bids' website
Cars and Bids is one of many online auction sites | Cars & Bids

There are deals to be had online if you know what to look for. The benefits of sites like the ones discussed above are many. First, sites like these exist in their own little corner of the auto market. They are, in some cases, unaffected by market trends. Dealer markups are just one example. Another is that each vehicle has its own little “hemisphere” where the value of the car is determined solely by what people like you are willing to pay for it.

Speaking of dealerships, another little-discussed benefit is who you’re interacting with. Private parties and your interactions with them are moderated by the sites. This helps in discouraging shifty behavior. Moreover, the nature of these sites circumvents the pitfalls of a more traditional dealership expense. Speaking from experience, interactions are more conversational and pleasant than ones had on a lot at a dealerhsip.

Read the vehicle service history report

Online car auction sites are growing in popularity outside the U.S. as shown by CarPrice, a site in Russia
Russian auction site CarPrice | Anton Novoderezhkin via Getty Images

Now, it’s time to talk about actually buying the car you want. First, it’s best to do a little light research. What are the common issues on the car? Have they been taken care of, and is there proof are all important questions to ask the seller. As a general rule of thumb, assume something hasn’t been done to the vehicle unless you have seen the receipt for it.

With regard to bidding, it is important to know that most auction sites will take a percentage of the purchase price as a fee. For example, the buyer’s fee on Cars & Bids is 4.5%. This is on the lower end, so be prepared for up to 6%. Some sites like Cars & Bids will also place a hold on your credit card to be put towards the purchase of the vehicle should you win. Finally, there’s the actual act of bidding.

Don’t get emotional!

The online car autction site Bring-a-Trailer showcases listings for many different makes and models
Bring-a-Trailer is arguably the most well-known online car auction site | Bring-a-Trailer

Rule number one is simple. Do NOT, under any circumstances allow your bid to be influenced by your desire to own the vehicle. This can lead to you ending up holding the bag on a vehicle you later have regrets about. This is certainly the largest pitfall of buying online. Again, speaking from experience, this is a very easy thing to do.

Use your best judgment and know when you get caught in a bidding war. If you do, walk away. Fish in the sea and all that. It can also be helpful to watch a few auctions end to see how and when people bid. Bearing these tips and tricks in mind, you should have no trouble at all finding a great vehicle for yourself online. Happy bidding.

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