Finding Public Car Auctions

by Don Elliott on January 4, 2012

An alternative place to shop for a used car is at an auto auction. Most auto auctions are closed to private individuals. These dealer-only auto auctions rely on large volume, pre-arranged financing, and experienced buyers for their business model. Those of us that only buy a car every once in a while get in the way of the efficient wholesale auto auction process.

There are car auctions that choose to specialize in open auto auction sales, changing their model to be more accommodating to public buyers and sellers. Often, these auto auctions are open to the public because their consignors require their vehicles be sold in an open sale. Most vehicles owned by government agencies have to be offered to all types of buyers, including private individuals.

Public auto auctions market to a relatively small area. Finding an auto auction in your area that welcomes public buyers will require a little research. One good place to start is the National Association of Public Auto Auctions (  NAPAA member auto auctions represent some of better-known public auto auctions.

As mentioned above, public auto auctions often sell vehicles for government agencies. They are usually required to advertise the car auction event day and time along with a list of vehicles to be offered for sale in newspaper classified ads. Most car auctions also have a website to accommodate the advertising requirement.

An additional source of cars at public auto auctions is from charity organizations like Goodwill or The National Kidney Foundation. These not-for-profit organizations rely on public auto auctions to sell their donated vehicles. Some cars are donated because they are worn out. Other cars can provide a great used car value for a buyer with some mechanical ability. Again, car auctions are required to advertise to the general public to get the donated cars for consignment at their car auctions.

Some closed wholesale car auctions and salvage dealer auto auctions gain consignment from institutions that require their cars be sold to the public. These auto auctions, not usually available to private individuals, offer special car auction sale days or auto auction lanes where public buyers are welcome. Check auto auction websites for days and times where vehicles are offered for public buyers. Call the auto auction directly to get on the mailing list for special car auctions where the public is welcome.

At any auto auction, check the auto auction’s requirements for bidding before auction sale day. A deposit is usually required along with some understanding about your method of payment. If you are the successful bidder, you will be required to pay within 48 hours or less.

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