Car auctions: What you need to know

Where Can I Find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters (digits and capital letters) that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle. A VIN displays the car's unique features, specifications and manufacturer.

The VIN can be found in a couple of places including on the car's registration label (1), on the compliance plate in the engine bay (2) or on the passenger side windshield (3), or on one of the door posts (where the door latches when it is closed) (4). See the image below:

Look for the VIN in these other locations:

  • Insurance card/Insurance policy
  • Vehicle title and registration certificate


Auctions are fast-paced events that invite impulse decisions and encourage battles of the riches. We've all seen a depiction in some form or another, and on television especially, it's always full of drama, suspense and plot twists.

However, in real life, things can be quite different. While auctions do rely on near split-second decisions, they're more relaxed, less manipulative and definitely don't (or shouldn't) include any bloodshed. When you're looking to buy a used car, an auction can be a brilliant alternative way to find one, skipping the long hours of online searches and traipsing out across the state to test drive them.

Why buy at an auction?

There are many reasons why one would turn towards an auction when looking for a used car to buy. The main reasons are diversity and price. You can find a wider range of cars for your perusal and possibly at a cheaper price than buying from a used car dealership or a private seller.

What do I need to know before going to an auction?

- Do your homework

Anytime you are looking at a used car, research is a must. You have to know the general price range of a car in the model you're after to make sure you aren't over-bidding for something worth less.

Some auction companies may supply a list of cars up for sale before the actual auction happens. This helps interested buyers know the lay of the options and if it is worth going to.

If you've set your sights upon a car, get the VIN number and check out its past with a CarHistory report. This can save you from spending money on a car that's had possible odometer rollback or has been written off.

This also helps you make an informed decision about going above your budget if you know the car is worth it. Some cars at auctions may still be registered or have warranties - both of which can bump up the value of a vehicle, or a lack thereof could set you back a few hundred dollars.

- Set out a game plan

So, you've got a budget, and possibly even a backup one. What happens if a similar car of the same marque is up for grabs? Preparing for other outcomes can prevent you from making rash decisions.

It's important to keep your cool at an auction as they can be fast-paced and full of intimidating people in suits that are just looking at cars as an investment.

If you don't get the car you were after, there are always plenty of other fish in the sea. Buying a car should never be a rushed decision, so don't be afraid to hold back and take your time.

You may find a real gem of a car at an auction.You may find a real gem of a car at an auction.

View a sample report >