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Buyer Tips

What is a Public Auto Auction?

By Mike Richards Updated: 03/04/2020 Posted: 08/19/2019

With auctions becoming more and more popular among private buyers who recognize their benefits, more and more people are asking what car auctions are, and especially what is a live public auto auction. In essence, there are two types of auctions, public and dealer auctions.

What Is a Live Public Auto Auction?

Dealer auctions are usually only open to holders of dealer licenses. However, public auctions are open for anyone and don’t require you to have a dealer’s license to bid and buy cars. The only thing you will have to do is register at the auction desk and pay an entrance fee.

A live public auto auction can be your next destination in the search for a cheap set of wheels, but there are a few things you need to know about auctions in order to have a pleasant experience.

auction house

Going to an Auction

The first thing you have to prepare for is the sheer noise of an auction place. Cars being sold left, right and center, inspected, pushed in line, the auctioneers loudly screaming bids, and the crowds moving around all trying to get a look at a vehicle of their interest. For a beginner, this can be overwhelming.

But when you manage to get over that, the real deal starts. A live public auto auction has a lot to offer. You can find everything from old bangers sold for spare parts all the way to a motorcycle or an occasional classic or even a new car. But the majority of vehicles sold at public auctions are used or salvage vehicles.

Further Reading

  1. Is Copart Open to the Public?
  2. Are there Alternatives to Copart Auction that are Open to the Public?
  3. Everything You Need to Know About Insurance for Salvage Cars
  4. Manheim Dealer auto auction: Tips for Finding the Best Public and Dealer Car Auctions

Salvage Cars


A car with a salvage title can’t be legally driven on the road even if it is in a roadworthy condition. Why it has a salvage title is a different issue and one that you should look further into if you plan on buying one.

Salvage cars have been written off by the insurance companies because they estimated that it is better to pay out the value of the car to the owner than to pay for the repairs of the vehicle. By doing that, the insurance company becomes the owner of the vehicle and usually auctions it off to recover as much cash as they can from it.

Cars can be written off for a number of reasons, such as damage sustained in an accident, or damaged by flooding. Even acts of vandalism can see the car get totaled. And if the car gets stolen and recovered after it was written off, it is given a salvage title. Sometimes the last two categories are the best to go for because, other than cosmetic damage, these cars are in good nick.

Police and Government Cars

Another type of car you could buy at public auto auctions, specifically those organized by the authorities, are cars that have served the police or other departments. These will have higher mileage but are a good option since all these cars have been properly maintained throughout their life.

Going Online

You can attend online auctions too. One of the main benefits is that you can conveniently buy a car from the comfort of your own home. But there’s more. If you go through online auctions from Auto Auction Mall, for a small fee, even dealer auctions, which are closed to the public, become open for you.

Now you get to browse the inventories of auctions houses that sell brand new vehicles and near new vehicles just coming off lease at significantly reduced prices.

Example Current Live Auctions