Government Auto Auctions – How do they work?

by Don Elliott on April 19, 2011

Car auctions that feature government owned vehicles can be a great way to find a good deal on a used car or used truck. Doing your homework before auction sale day is the only way to find the best used car value at any auction, including government auto auctions.

Before the auction

There are a few basic features that apply to most government auto auctions, regardless of the government entity or the state where the vehicles are being sold.

  1. Almost all government auctions are open to the public. In fact, most government sellers are required by statute to offer their cars to public buyers. Auctions are usually very careful to identify the vehicles that are available to public buyers versus other non-government cars that might be available only to licensed car dealers or salvage operators. Ask any auction employee if you are not sure which cars are available to public buyers.
  2. Be sure to register for the auction and obtain your bidder number at the auction house before the sale.
  3. Inspect the vehicle(s) that you would like to buy prior to the auction.  It is a normal practice for auctions to offer a pre-sale inspection period.  In most cases, you will be able to start the car, inspect the mechanical operation of doors, windows, air conditioning and the engine. However, you will not be able to drive the cars during the inspection period.

GSA Fleet Vehicle Sales – Quick Facts

The largest seller of government cars and trucks is the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) (http://autoauctions.gsa.gov/autoauctions). The GSA holds monthly or bi-monthly auctions at 35 car auction locations and sells 35,000 to 40,000 cars per year. Now the facts:

  • All cars, trucks and other vehicles are one-owners, the U. S. Government, and are typically 3-5 year old vehicles.
  • To buy, you have to be 18+ years of age and a licensed driver.
  • GSA auctions are free to attend and have no buyer’s fees associated with the purchase of their used vehicles. However, in some states you may be required to pay sales taxes at the time of the sale.
  • All vehicles are sold “as is”. Once your bid is accepted, you own the car. The GSA has some significant tools to collect the sale price even if you change your mind after your bid is accepted.
  • The GSA accepts several forms of payment including cash, credit cards, cashier’s checks, traveler’s checks, and money orders. Check here – http://autoauctions.gsa.gov/autoauctions/Terms.seam?cid=52552#pmt – for payment details.
  • Figure out your payment plan before you go to the auction. You must be able to take possession of your vehicle at the conclusion of the government auto auction.
  • And, yes, you can take a friend along with you to GSA auctions. Sales are fast-paced. You may need help to inspect the cars and help track them in the auction lanes. Plus, you’ll need help getting your newly acquired government vehicle home after the sale.

The GSA does not sell seized or repo vehicles, state and local government vehicles, U.S. Marshall Service or surplus military vehicles. Many auto auctions collect buyer’s fees when selling these vehicles. Fees, deposits and payment terms vary widely at other government car auctions. It pays to check your local auto auction’s rules and regulations well in advance of the actual auction sale day.

Have you attended an auto auction that has sold government owned vehicles? Add a comment to tell us about your experience.

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