Skip to main content

Auctions can be a great place to start when looking for a used car. This is especially true for people who need a vehicle fast and have limited funds readily available to buy a new car. Government auctions are one place you can buy used cars. But there is one particular auction you may want to avoid if possible unless you want a fixer-upper.

What type of cars can you buy at government auctions?

A person at a junk yard, that may want a fixer-upper, looking under the hood of a car.
Mechanics repair vehicles | Getty Images

According to usa gov, buying vehicles, real estate, planes, and other types of property at these auctions is possible. If you’re on the hunt for a used vehicle, there are cars, trucks, SUVs, buses, vans, and alternative fuel vehicles to choose from. 

One option when you’re ready to buy is to look up the physical sales site and check the vehicle before buying. There are auctions available online and on-site.

Most of the vehicles are used by government employees and tend to have low mileage. They are also inspected and detailed before being sold. However, not all government auction vehicles are so well maintained. 

Be wary of these government auctions

When buying a vehicle from the government, it’s essential to check which section of the government is selling it. If it’s the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you might be better off walking away without bothering to get the vehicle unless you’re looking for a fixer-upper. This is because it’s most likely going to come with a lot of issues.

According to usa gov, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies list vehicles for auction at GTB Vehicle Remarketing. These vehicles are for sale ‘as is’ and may need extensive repairs. They must be towed from the site. They should not be considered safe for driving until checked by a licensed mechanic.”

You can find vehicle types at these auctions, including light and medium-duty pickups and vans, SUVs, and various-size sedans. As mentioned on the site, they most likely aren’t going to be in great condition.

These might be the perfect project for someone eager to try their hand at becoming a mechanic or enjoys working on cars, but for the rest of us, it’s probably not a missed opportunity.

If you’re interested in buying one, you can find them on the live auction lane, held throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. There are also proxy bids and internet auctions if location-based auctions won’t work.

Follow these tips before buying a used car unless you want a fixer-upper

It’s always a good idea when buying a used car to look closely at what’s under the hood before you hand over money or sign paperwork. 

Bringing along your own mechanic is recommended. Some sellers may refuse to let a mechanic inspect the vehicle before purchase. In this case, you should ask yourself why.

According to Consumer Reports, there are a few things you can do on your own. The first is to read the window sticker carefully. This is where you’ll find information such as whether the car is sold “as is,” or if there is a warranty. Whatever this sticker says is what the dealer is required by the Federal Trade Commission to follow.

Other areas of the car you need to inspect include checking the exterior for rust, shoddy bodywork, lights that are broken, poorly inflated tires, and cracked windows. The interior should be free of odors, tears in the upholstery, and all equipment on the panel should work properly.

Under the hood is your most pressing concern. The hoses, belts, engine, radiator, and all EV parts should be inspected by a mechanic. Also, don’t forget the undercarriage.

These are all important steps before purchasing your next used car, especially if purchased at an auction when possible.


How to Choose a Reliable Used Car