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Online Auto Auctions: Tips and Traps

There are a lot of different strategies you can use to gain an advantage with online auto auctions.  Online auto auctions not only offer a great way to save money on a used car but the ability to do so without sacrificing quality.  Plus, you don’t have to waste time haggling with dealerships who are trying to create as much of a mark-up as possible.  Along with traditional auction tips, online auto auctions have a few unique caveats which can either be used to your advantage or severely trip you up.

Five Online Auto Auction Tips

1. Take Time to Understand the Different Auction Formats

One of the most important tips about online auto auctions is take the necessary time needed to really understand all of the different auction formats.  Some online auctions sites offer only a single auction format while others may offer several.  Your overall bidding strategy can change dramatically based upon how the auction operates.  For example, if you are attending a live online auction then you will be bidding on one car at a time.  Once you win a car you like then you are done for the day.  On the other hand, if you have to bid before the auction begins then you need to set a maximum bid on multiple vehicles simultaneously which could mean you risk winning multiple vehicles.

2. Always Research the Cars You Are Bidding On

This tip is true for all types of auto auctions but is particularly important when the auction takes place online.  Since you do not have the ability to physically see and hear the car before bidding on it, the vehicle history is the best way to get a sense of how durable and reliable it will be.  Most auction sites will tell you the basic operating information, such as whether or not it starts and/or drives but that isn’t enough to get the whole story.  Just because it starts, doesn’t mean it starts easily.  Just because it drives, doesn’t mean it is necessarily road worthy.

3. Find a Balance between Price and Value

Since online auto auction sites typically feature much lower winning bids than live auctions, you gain a greater opportunity to maximize the value you get from your purchase while minimizing the amount of money you spend.  Most people turn to online auctions in the first place because they want to save money and pay as little for a car as possible.  Unfortunately, focusing on the price alone may mean you will miss out on a great deal for only a few hundred extra bucks.  Always compare the cost of the vehicle with the actual value to maximize your potential savings.

4.  Early is Always Better than Late

While you should visit the auto auction website a few days early to get comfortable with the format and functionality, it is just as important to sign in early on the day of the auction.  Nothing is worse than missing out on a great deal solely because of a technical malfunction.  By logging in early, you will give yourself more than enough time to make sure everything is operating properly.  Plus, the extra time will give you a few moments to relax and double check your target vehicles before bidding.

5. If There Are Multiple Auction Blocks Then Pay Extra Attention

Some online auctions actually use multiple auction blocks at the same time.  If this is the case, then you really need to focus on the auction listing.  It is easy to get caught up watching the action on one auction block, only to miss out on a great opportunity to land one of the cars you were going to target. 

Four Online Auto Auction Traps

1. Don’t Get Emotionally Invested

This is true at all auto auctions, but is particularly important to remember during online auctions.  Since you can’t see who is bidding against you or accurately the gauge the mood of other bidders, it is easy to get attached to a particular car.  This is especially true if you have been bidding on it from the beginning.  The more you bid on a vehicle, the more you will feel invested in winning it.  Don’t get so emotionally invested that you end up bidding more than your initial bid ceiling.  You created your bid ceiling when you were not emotionally involved at all, so it should be used to guide your bidding practices.

2. Don’t Forget the Extra Fees

Just like at an auction house, online auction sites typically have some type of additional fee which will be added onto your total.  This is most often in the form of a service fee.  The fee is normally a set percentage of your total bid.  Depending on how you will be receiving your vehicle, there may be towing or shipping costs to consider as well. 

3. Never Assume the Keys Are Included

One of the most common traps people fall into is bidding on a vehicle that doesn’t have the keys.  If the source of the vehicle has the keys, they will be included.  On the other hand, if they don’t have the keys, they are under no obligation to obtain them for you.  This is particularly important to remember when bidding on repossessed vehicles.

4. Don’t Bid on Too Many Vehicles in Advance

If you are using an auction format which requires you to place bids before the auction begins then make sure you are not bidding on too many vehicles in advance.  There is always a risk that you will win multiple vehicles.  Some sites allow you to purchase only the one’s you want and the rest will be shifted to the second highest bidder.  On other sites, you will be obligated to pay for every vehicle you are the winning bidder of.

Everyone approaches online auto auctions differently and there are a lot of effective strategies that you can use.  The key is to follow the fundamental tips that will keep you focused and bidding smart while avoiding the common traps that others are likely to fall into.

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