How Do Car Auctions Work?

April 29, 2022

Team ACV




How Do Car Auctions Work?

ACV facts & figures

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Used cars in a car auction

Often, the rush of bidding can be enticing or even distracting. No matter if you’re a car enthusiast, a new car dealer, or just new to online auctions, the frenzy is real. That’s why understanding the auction process is critical to helping you maximize your profits. 

Knowing how to prepare and evaluate inventory at car auctions is crucial to getting the best deal for your money. Our tips and tricks will set you up for success on auction day.  

Registration and Preparation

Each auction platform has a slightly different registration process. Luckily, the requirements are similar across the board. 

Online Auctions: With online car auctions, the registration process is quick and easy. In recent years, online auctions have been the go-to for both their accessibility and ease of use. Easy access is one of the top reasons why dealers should use online auctions. In some instances, registration for an online auction can be as simple as signing up for an account. 

Private or dealer auctions often need proof of license and registration. You’ll want to have the following information handy:  

  • Business contact information 
  • Business location information on dealership class and size
  • Dealer license and registration information
  • Your payment method: ACH (routing #), debit card information, or dealership floor plan details

Live Auctions: Like online auctions, live auctions sites will have requirements to register. You can expect them to ask for:

  • Dealer license and registration information
  • Signature of an auction contract or a consent form outlining auction fees and terms
  • Payment information: Many in-person auctions accept ACH, debit card, and floor plans. Some auctions also accept checks or even credit cards with a down payment.

Many auctions require an entry fee or a small down payment to make sure you have the money to back your bid. Be on the lookout for hidden fees and check reviews to make sure you're shopping at a reputable auction. At ACV Auctions, you can expect transparent pricing, no hidden fees, and clear buyer’s premiums. 

Types of Auctions

Whether you’re buying auction cars online or in person, there are tons of different car auctions to choose from. With so many types of auctions, it’s little surprise people are always asking, “How does a car auction work?”

So far, we’ve discussed the differences between an online and a live auction, but there is also a range of auction categories. Here are a few of the different vehicle auction types you might hear about:

  • Classic car auctions
  • Dealer auctions
  • Ex-Government auctions
  • Estate auctions
  • Repo auctions
  • Salvage auctions (also called insurance auctions)
  • Wholesale auctions

No wonder there is never just one solution to how to buy a car at auction! Depending on what type of vehicle you are looking for and why, many of these auction types could be right for you. 

Many auctions will let you bid on motorcycles, decommissioned police cars, and more. Like all auctions, it’s good to take a cautious approach. While many auction offerings might seem like new vehicles, looks aren’t everything. 

For example, salvage auction cars will all have salvage titles. This means an insurance company paid out on the vehicle because of damage or theft. A salvage title can make a car hard to insure, especially if you are moving the car from state to state. So if you don’t know exactly what to look out for in a used car, make sure to consult an expert before auction day. 

Auto Auction Success: Tip and Tricks 

Now that your past wondering how a car auction works, it’s time for the lowdown on auction tips. 

1. Check the Run List: Take a peek at the run list. Whether online or in-person, the run list gives you a preview of the cars dealers have up for sale.

2. Make a list: While you're looking, write down cars that interest you. This will help you focus on the types of vehicles you want to bid on. Check the VIN so you can look at vehicle history reports like Carfax and learn whatever you can about the car’s current condition. ACV Auctions even has its own built-in Carfax and Market Reports for your convenience. 

3. Set a Price Ceiling: Now that you’re almost ready to bid, it’s time to set your price ceiling. This is the magic number you don’t want to go past. It will help you stay on budget so you can make a profit. 

4. Track Auction Times:  Make sure you know when your car is up for auction. In person, there may be different lanes, and you’ll need to know where to go. Online auctions are going twenty-four-seven. So you’ll need to be by your computer or phone to bid. 

5. Place a Proxy Bid: If you can’t be online, ACV has a convenient proxy bid setting. Just set a price ceiling and ACV’s Marketplace bids for you. Remember that most auctions are bid to buy. That means if you have the highest bid, you pay. So, be sure before you place a proxy bid.

6. Ignore outdated advice: When the bidding starts, don’t get too focused on common strategies like last-minute bidding. Sneaking in an offer at the last second can be fun, but it doesn’t mean you get the best deal. Many auctions now extend time at the end of the auction if a new bid comes in. This gives everyone a fair chance to place a competing bid. It can still be easy to get caught up in the moment, so make sure to stick to your price ceiling.  

7. Check ended auctions: This is where cars will be if they didn’t meet their reserve price.  Sellers are usually motivated to make a deal if a car didn’t sell. Ended auctions can be a great starting place for online auctions when you are getting your feet wet. 

The same tactic can work at live auctions. Check in at the end of the day to snag a great deal. Private sellers probably won’t want to go through the hassle of auctioning the car another day.   

Don’t forget you can also sell cars! This is especially important if you have a dealership or a dealer’s license with inventory sitting on your lot. Auctions are great for finding amazing deals, but they can also help you move cars that aren’t selling at your dealership. 

Wrapping Up the Car Auction Experience

If your bid(s) are accepted, then it’s time to get your car(s) back to your dealership. You’ll need to complete payment, transfer the title, and arrange for transport.  

If you use ACV Auctions, checkout is stress-free and we help manage title transfers for you. You can even choose to use your own transport or easily add ACV Transportation.  

Now That You Know How Auto Auctions Work - It’s Time to Get Bidding!

Now that you understand how car auctions work, it’s time to get in on the action! At ACV, hundreds of online dealer auctions are happening daily. A simple sign-up process, and you’ll be bidding in no time.