How to Find Car Auctions, Save Big, and Avoid Scams
Government and police auctions are some of the best places to get quality used vehicles for cheap. There are plenty of websites out there that let you search and bid in these auctions, making the whole process a lot easier. Since some of these sites are unreliable or even straight up scams, it’s best to know something about how they work prior to using them. This article will:
- Give you a rundown on what government and police auctions are and how they work.
- Explain the difference between free listing sites and listing sites that require paid memberships.
- Debunk some myths about auctions.
- Explain why certain sites should be avoided.
- Provide you with information about the most reliable auction sites on the web.
(New to AutoTempest? AutoTempest is the #1 rated way to find used cars online. We bring together the most used car listings from around the web to help find the ideal car for you. Find your ideal car now!)
What are government and police auctions?
Legally, government agencies must open any surplus or seized items for sale to the public. That means that whenever the police or customs has seized vehicles, whenever the military has surplus car parts, or whenever a home goes into foreclosure due to loan default, those items and properties are open to be bought at auction by you. Since they must be sold, you can often find quality items, like cars, trucks, and other vehicles, for way less than their usual market price.
How do I find car auctions?
Government and police auctions happen all across the continent, at many different times, and by many different methods. That being said, you do not need to pay to get access to auction listings. Federal, state, and local governments list all their auction information online for free.
GovSales.gov lists auctions from federal agencies. You can find a list of every state’s surplus site here, and you can do a search for auction information on your local government or police department’s website, or contact them directly. Some of these auctions happen online, others you can call in for, and others still you have to be physically present for.
Why would I pay for an auction site’s membership if all auctions are already listed online for free?
The biggest difference between free listing sites and paid membership sites like GovernmentAuctions.org is that the paid sites have ALL the listings in the same place, including contact information for live auctions. They let you search for specific cars by ZIP code and distance you’re willing to travel. The small membership fee can pay off big in saved time and sanity. One reason we specifically recommend GovernmentAuctions.org is that it has a free trial period, so if you only plan to be car shopping for a short period of time, you can get all the benefits of a paid site, for free. It lists auctions for the next month or so, so even with the 3-day trial, you can get a lot of info. Learn more about how to sign up for a free trial below.
Is it actually possible to get a brand new BMW for $5?
Sure it’s possible, but it’s about as possible as that brand new BMW being a robot in disguise and taking you on an epic 3D adventure to fight aliens. Finding vehicles and other items at a fraction of their market price, however, is not just possible - it’s very likely. Since these items are acquired at no cost, like seized items, or at a considerable discount, like surplus items, the agencies selling them just want to get whatever money they can for them. The prices vary from auction to auction, but every one of them will have cars priced way below market value.
What’s the “secret” to getting the best deals from these car auctions?
Sorry to break it to you, but there are no amazing, brilliant, fix-all secrets to getting the best deals, and any site that says otherwise is just trying to coax you into spending money to become a member on their site. Your best friend when looking for deals is your common sense. Use that and research the market value of the vehicle you’re buying, and you’ll be cruising in a quality vehicle in no time, with minimal impact on your wallet. It may be impossible to get a full, independent inspection on an auction vehicle, but it is even more important than usual to get a vehicle history report, the most important step to protect you when buying any used car!
How can I tell if an auction site is unreliable or a scam?
To save you the time of going through such a hassle, we have personally checked the reliability of a number of auction sites by buying memberships, and the only one that we would recommend to you is GovernmentAuctions.org. Most other sites we found, even those recommended by other supposed authorities, turned out to be either a waste of money or an outright scam. Some charged $40 a month to show eBay listings. Others had actually falsified legally-required contact information for their website domains, and were impossible to contact by phone or email. A few were legitimate, but charged too much and offered too little, and none had a free trial.
So, we strongly recommend you stick with GovernmentAuctions.org, which we have personally verified to be a great site. But if you find another site that seems promising and want to check it out, be sure to:
Try contacting them before giving them any money. Having a working phone number doesn’t guarantee a site is good, but not having one is a sure sign to stay away.
Check them out on the Better Business Bureau. I would avoid any company with a rating below A-. (Click here to see the BBB info on GovernmentAuctions.org - an A+)
Where should I look for vehicle auctions?
There is a wide variety of auction sites on the web. The following is a list of some of the best options available to you.
This site probably has the largest amount of vehicle auction listings on the web, searching through auctions in all levels and agencies of government, as well as including some private ones in there too. You can search by proximity to your ZIP code, letting you search by how far you’re willing to travel to pick up your car or have it shipped. (It’s kinda like the AutoTempest of car auctions!) Their membership fee is $18.95/month, but they also have a free 3-day trial that you can try out. As mentioned earlier, you can use those three days to get the info on a bunch of auctions coming up over the next month in your area, so you can get a good group of listings for absolutely free. (We also verified that you can easily cancel the trial, right from their login page, and that you won’t be charged if you do.)
- Largest amount of car listings we’ve found, both live and online
- Easy to use
- Comprehensive search function
- Listings for Canada as well as the US
- Great customer service
- Free 3-day trial
- $18.95/month after your free 3-day trial (unless cancelled)
Check them out now: GovernmentAuctions.org
This is the official site that the federal government uses to sell its surplus and seized goods. It’s free and has a solid amount of listings, but it lacks the ability to search by ZIP code, and the auctions are restricted to federal agencies.
This is a free site that some government agencies use to auction off their surplus and seized items. Although it can be tedious to sift through the garbage at times (they don’t separate their parts and vehicles listings), there is a good amount of quality vehicles on here.
This is another free site that government agencies use to auction items. The site is much easier to use than some of the other sites, but is seriously short on vehicle listings. Note that their vehicle listings can be found under "Motor Pool" and their cars under "Autos".
Believe it or not, the majority of online government vehicle auctions are done over eBay! As I’m sure you know, the AutoTempest car search includes eBay vehicle listings. Use our search page to compare eBay listings to those from other popular automotive classifieds sites.
So now that you know where to look for car auctions, be sure to check out Avoid Buying a Lemon Car – Two Simple But Critical Steps - these two tips are particularly important when buying at a car auction.
You can also check out our full list of car buying advice guides and tools.