Getting a car from a police auction is a great way to buy a good car at a cheap price. Where else can you get to low bid on a Cadillac or a Mercedes? Cars displayed at police car auctions are either decommissioned units, repossessed, impounded or government seized-vehicles from drug raids, drunken driving and criminal cases.
Police auctions used to be a gray, serious place where people go to to bid for middle-aged vehicles, but that is true no longer. There are days when dependable gems get mixed with the standard fare that attract a big influx of bidders. This kind of appearance and possibility makes police auctions a rewarding place to hunt for a good car.
Some tips when participating at a police auction:
Come early. Police auctions normally open at around 7 a.m. Getting there before anyone else can give you more time to look at the cars and peer under the hoods. If you have more time to check the lot, you can narrow your choices down to a few good ones and not feel harried or pressured once the crowds start coming in.
Check the cars. It will do you well if you could check for dents, scratches, disalignment, leaks, rust, excessive mileage and the like, so you could make an educated guess about the car’s mechanics and drive-worthiness. Remember that you’re not allowed to start these vehicles, so you might as well check as many cars as possible before placing your bid.
Arm yourself with info. Bring your blue book and have access to Carfax, so you could check the car’s history. If you don’t know much about cars, bring a trusted friend or mechanic to help you decide.
What to watch out for:
Remember that these vehicles were either seized or decommissioned, so don’t expect any maintenance work done. If you’re lucky enough to get one in good condition, you might just be saddled with a little repair work here and there, but if you’re an uneducated and uninformed buyer, you might just get a car worth far less than its sale value. Cars at police auctions are sold ‘as is’, which means you can’t start or test drive them at all.
Cars with a past rarely outrun their history, so it’s wise to check. You’ll want to know why the car got there in the first place. Not all cars are ‘DWLS’ (driving with license suspended). Get the car’s vehicle identification numbers and check its history report through CarFax. It’s best to know what you’ll be handling than regret it later on.
Don’t be carried away by the promise of dirt-cheap cars at police auctions. Sure, you could still get some cars at bargain prices especially decommissioned or impounded vehicles, but if you are an uninformed buyer, be careful. If the car is attractive enough, you could be locked in a bidding war with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable buyer. Even if you won the bid, you could end up paying more than the car’s market value.
Another thing that you should remember is the buyer’s premium that you’ll need to pay, usually 5 to 10% of the car’s value. It’s best if you could buy the car at less than its blue book trade-in value. If you pay higher, you have a lot to lose. Remember that you might also need to work on the car a little bit, since a lot of them haven’t been maintained.