Buying Cars At Estate Auctions – Is It Right For You?

by Don Elliott on August 10, 2011

A newspaper advertisement for an estate auction offered the deceased individual’s car for auction sale. The white 1991 Mazda 929S had only 39,000 miles on it. I always liked the styling of the Mazda 929 and figured this was a chance to find a good used car value.

Estate, farm, and personal property consignment auctions are more like personal sales than a traditional public car auction. Occasionally, there is a very nice car at a very good price. Other times, naïve bidders can drive up the price well beyond market value, particularly when the condition of the car is unknown. Just like a private sale, it pays to do your homework before the sale begins.

Pre-Sale Inspection

Before each auction, there is a period of time to inspect the items being offered for sale. For personal property, the inspection period might be just a few hours before the beginning of the auction. When vehicles are offered for sale, the auction company often allows an earlier check for an interested bidder.

At estate auctions, the auction company can provide important information about the used car or truck. The seller or the estate’s executor will have to provide the title in order to complete the sale. Confirm with the auction company that the title will be available at the time of sale and if there will be a reserve.

Similarly to a regular auto auction, check in and around the car to make sure that it is as advertised. In the case of the Mazda 929, it was important to check the tires were not rotted and the belts and hoses were okay. If the car had not been driven for some time, the gasoline could be bad or the brakes could be rusty. Seat fabric can deteriorate from the sun. The body paint can fade or stain, if not properly maintained. If all these parts check out, get a vehicle history report. Check used car price guides for an idea of bidding prices.

Bidding at the Auction

Vehicles are usually offered at a specific time in the course of a personal property auction. Arrive well before the scheduled auction sale time to get a bid badge and make a final check of the car. Have a top limit in mind before the bidding begins. Remember, most auctions will add on as much as 10% of the sale price as the auction’s fee. Add another 10% for tax, title fees, and for the minimum amount of service work.

These types of auctions mostly sell vehicles “as is.” The auctioneer will disclose everything they know about the car before the bidding begins. When the auctioneer says “sold,” you own the car.

Post-Sale Tasks

You won’t be able to take your new car home until you settle up with the auction. Payment terms should have been presented to you during the pre-sale inspection.

The auctioneer provides a level of protection not included in a private sale. The auctioneer will provide a bill of sale confirming the transaction and will assure the transaction complies with all state and local laws.

In most states, the bill of sale is sufficient to allow you to drive the car home. It will be necessary to go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to pay for the sales tax, title fees, and license plate. Be sure to notify your insurance carrier right away to get coverage.

All used cars sold at personal property auctions will need to be inspected and serviced. The used car will need an oil change, filter change, brakes and tires inspected, and a road test by a qualified auto repair mechanic.

What about that Mazda 929 S? The Kelley Blue Book trade-in value was $1850. I was willing to pay up to $2800 based on comparable retail prices. Unfortunately, no comparison prices were available for a car with only 39,000 miles. Not paying attention to my own advice, I bid up to $3300. The used car eventually sold for $5400. That price was way more than I was willing to pay for a used car with that used car value!

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