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How to buy a car on auction

October 2015

For a first-time bidder, the idea of buying a car at an auction can be daunting and scary. WesBank gave us these tips for negotiating your first auction.

Familiarise yourself with auctions before you buy
If youíve never been to an auction, it is a good idea to attend as an observer first to get a sense of how things work. If you are not planning on bidding on a vehicle, there are no costs involved and you donít need to register. 

Understand the registration process
To attend an auction as a buyer youíll need to register and you may need to pay a deposit. This deposit will be deducted from the cost of the vehicle you purchase or it will be refunded if you leave without buying anything. 

Prepare your paperwork
Make sure you take the following documentation with you: 

  • ID document
  • Driverís licence
  • Proof of residence (not more than three months old) 
  • If you are buying on finance, your last three payslips or bank statements from the last three months 


Inspect the cars the day before the auction

Auction houses allow buyers to view the vehicles up for sale the day before the auction. Make good use of this time to inspect the cars you are interested in. 

Take a car expert with you
If youíre not a car fundi, take an expert with you. He or she will be able to help you spot a good deal and check for signs of accident damage and potential mechanical problems. Remember, cars sold on auction are sold as is (voetstoots), and you will have no recourse if you discover any problems once you have signed on the dotted line. 

As much as you wonít be allowed to test drive the vehicles at the auction, ignition keys will be available. Start the engines of the cars you inspect as this might help you detect possible mechanical problems. 

Verify the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
Some manufacturers keep a record of a carís service and maintenance history and in some cases even its accident history. If possible, send the carís VIN number (you will find it on the licence disc) to a dealer and ask them to run it through their system. 

Remember, you canít test drive the car before you buy it, so use every means possible to find out what you can about it. 

Know what the car is worth before you bid
This is where a car expert will be of great assistance. You should also check online what similar vehicles retail for. 

Get pre-approved if you buy on finance
If you intend to buy on finance, it is a good idea to be pre-approved for the amount you want to spend. This means youíll avoid waiting for finance approval at the auction, which streamlines the process. Regardless, the finance process works the same as it would at a dealership, so be sure to take along all your paperwork. 

Factor in VAT and other costs
When calculating how much you are willing to spend on a car you must factor in VAT, which is not included in the listed price, as well as any other potential costs like roadworthiness testing or admin fees. Avoid nasty surprises and read the auction houseís terms and conditions carefully to find out what extra costs you need to be aware of. 

Give yourself a few options
Remember, youíre not the only one eyeing the perfect car, so try not to pin your hopes on just one vehicle. If possible, identify more than one car to bid on, just in case you arenít lucky enough to buy your first choice. 

Stick to your budget
Itís very easy to get caught up in the bidding process and spend more than your budget. If you reach your limit, stop bidding! 

Last but certainly not least, remember that staff members will be available to assist you with any queries you might have about the vehicles as well as the auction process. Ask for help if you need it and happy bidding!

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