Sunday, 24 October 2010

Is the public car auction the place to start your used car search?

Now that we have looked at where the used car auction has come from, let's see what they are like today. Most auction centres have a number of vendors in each sale. These include franchise dealer, lease and finance companies, smaller, independent dealers, and private individuals.
It is important to gain as much information about the vehicle you are interested in as possible, and this should start way before you actually attend an auction. Get to know the standard spec of your preferred model, what options are available, and realistic market values. You should know how much you would pay privately, and at a dealer, because in the current unsettled climate, it is not at all uncommon to see desirable vehicles achieve well over retail price. One of the biggest factors causing this is the fact that most major auction companies now have an online facility, so you are no longer just bidding against the other people in the hall, but also dealers up and down the country.
Also, due to the weak pound and weak market, there is a very strong export market, and you will see many used cars being bought to be shipped straight out of the country.
The other information you should try to gather is whether your chosen vehicle has any know common faults. No matter how well a car is built, it is comprised of several thousand components. Sometimes engines have serious design faults, others may be prone to certain component failures. These are not always major, so it pays to know what to look for.
A VW specialist I deal with recently bought a MkV Golf, and found it needed an ABS sensor. Didn't sound like a big deal to me, until he told me that it wasn't as simple as just replacing the sensor, and actually cost him £800, and that's TRADE! So even us "experts" can make mistakes!
On top of this, when buying at auction, the sales are not covered by the Sale of Goods Act. In short, this means that unless a vehicle has been declared as having "No Major Mechanical Faults", a buyer has absolutely NO comeback should a fault be found after the hammer has fallen. Indeed, the majority of cars passing through the auction will be "Sold As Seen".
So it helps to have a little knowledge, also to be able to spot mechanical and bodywork issues. The trouble is, until the car is just about to pass through the hall, it is locked. When the driver gets in it to run it through, there is a very narrow window within which you can check for warning lights, listen to the engine, and check under the bonnet, usually while the car is moving!
Once upon a time, there would be sufficient margin to absorb some unforeseen costs, but the retail influence at the auction means that the prices are much closer to retail. In practice, then for the novice, it often turns out that the auction bargain can end up costing the same as, if not more than the nicely valeted example with warranty on the dealer's forecourt!
Next time, we will be looking at the auction process itself, bidding, and how to pick the gems and avoid the horrors.


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