Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Top 10 Things To Look For When Buying At Auction

So, I've talked a little about looking over the car you are considering buying, but what should you look for? Well, as we already know, your time is limited, so a full inspection is impossible, but there are some quick checks that will identify some of the more serious issues you might find at auction.
1.MOT. Check the length of the MOT. If it is very short, or expired, be careful. Although it is normal for people to dispose of cars just before services MOT's etc are due, it may be there because it has failed.
2. Bodywork. Although it takes years of practice to master, it is important to look for BAD body repairs. It is highly unlikely you will buy any used car these days that hasn't had a bumper scuff or stone chip repaired, but poor paintwork will seriously harm your vehicle's value later on. It might also alert you to more major damage. Try to look at the panels from all four corners, as well as straight on. Space will impede this, but you are looking for misaligned panels, filler and colour differences. Look at the gaps between panels to see if they are even, and look down each side of the car to see any panels that might stick out. Look along the "swage" lines that go down the sides of the car to see if they are straight. If they are wobbly, chances are the panel is full of filler. If you spot bad bodywork, your next step will depend on your level of knowledge. Chances are, if you're reading this, it won't be that great, so it's probably best to leave it alone. It can be very difficult to estimate paintwork without being able to get underneath the car. Also be aware that on many cars now, wing mirrors can be fortunes to replace, so be cautious of damaged mirror casings.
It is also possible that a car at auction with this kind of repair may have had serious damage. Don't forget, a car will only be registered on VCAR if an insurance company has decided not to repair it. This means that self-repaired vehicles and ones that have been done by the insurers will not show up on any HPI-type registers.
3. Tyres. A simple, brief check can save you a fair few quid here. Check by sight and feel across the full width of each tyre to make sure they have decent tread.
4. Glass. Check the windscreen headlights and rear light clusters for damage. All can cause a car to fail an MOT, and can be costly to replace.
5 Interior. Look for bad rips in the cloth, or leather, worn steering wheels, and damaged or cracked dashboards.
6. Warning lights. Many vehicles turn up at car auctions with instrument displays that look like Christmas Trees! Yellow Engine lights, or often the glow plug light on diesels are usually emissions-related and caused by a faulty sensor. Although they are unlikely to be a major problem, they will need to be diagnosed, and the faulty sensor replaced. Not usually a big deal, but a Lambda Sensor on a Mondeo is £20, the same sensor on a Corsa is £60. I found out to my cost the other day that a coil for a VW Polo is £120 + VAT! It is also worth noting that these problems are not always straightforward to find, even with diagnostic equipment. Airbag lights again are usually caused by a sensor, but it is possible they are indicating something more serious. Any red lights, particularly engine lights mean the car's computer believes it has a serious engine fault. It's not always right, but it's risky to ignore it! ABS lights can be as simple as a sensor, but can be very expensive!
7. Head Gasket Failure. Every time I visit a car auction, I see LOADS of cars with this problem. The trouble with this is the cost of fixing it. A cylinder head gasket itself costs a few pounds, but if it fails, it can cause serious damage, and because it is way down the engine, the labour to fit it can run into hundreds of pounds. There are many ways a head gasket leak might show itself: the most common are mixing of oil and water. Take off the oil filler cap, look inside the cap and into the filler neck. It should look like oil. If it's creamy, there's a fair chance there's water in there. Take out the dipstick - look for more cream on the end. A little froth on the filler cap can be condensation, but if it's on the dipstick, she's in a bad way! Look in the coolant expansion tank ( if the engine's cool ). The coolant should be clean, usually, pink, orange, or blue. If it's dark, get some on your finger's. If it feels oily, there's probably oil in there! When the car starts, watch the coolant bottle. If it starts bubbling, it's pressurising, which is exhaust gas escaping into the cooling system. Finally, check the exhaust. White smoke is bad news.
8. Leaks. Again, difficult at a car auction, but if possible, check underneath for signs of oil or other leaks. As a rule, the further down the engine they are, the more expensive to fix. Again, look at the exhaust fumes, anything thick or dark coloured can indicate problems.
9. Noise. Listen to the engine, does it sound noisy, rattly, or uneven? Any untoward noise could indicate serious trouble.
10. Talk to the driver. Whilst the drivers at car auctions are not qualified experts, they get in and out of 100's of cars every day. Ask if the clutch and gearbox feels ok. As I say, not conclusive, but if the driver thinks it feels dodgy, it's probably not 100%

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but avoiding the above will at least minimise your chances of buying a scrapper!

See you next time!

As Featured On EzineArticles


  1. Hi Neil,

    I've just read a few of your posts and they're really useful. Mannheim's are offering online bidding for their auctions, what on Earth is that about?!? If it wasn't difficult enough when you can see the cars yourself!

    Do you think that you could look at this in one of your posts?

    Thanks and great work,


  2. OK, Neil, I just checked on Mannheim's site and it's only for the trade but it'd still make a good article.




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