Buying a car at a live auction adds a certain excitement to your vehicular purchase. While it's often just as exciting making the rounds to your local dealer and hunting down your ideal ride, an auction adds an element of the unknown and that underlying sense of competition amongst you and your fellow auction goers. While the concept of an auction process is not entirely complex, many of us shy away from the excitement -- it can be quite intense at times. But, don't dismiss the idea entirely -- you'd be cutting yourself out of a great automotive market.

There are several points you should keep in mind if you do decide to purchase at auction -- specifically what rules and regulations apply to specific types of auctions -- so read on and get ready to bid.

Government Auction

Government auctions offer buyers the potential to bid on vehicles with unique histories, and are open to the public with registration available for free. Following a near-identical format to typical auctions, government auctions are held in about 40 locations across the U.S. and are open to the public.

A bidder can expect to see two types of vehicles at a government auction: 1) Government-seized property (taken by police and law enforcement agencies, the IRS, as well as customs and; 2) Car and trucks used by various government services. While a Bonnie and Clyde special is unlikely to be moving across the auction block, the condition of these seized vehicles can vary significantly and you should be wary of the cars you see up for bid.

Government service vehicles are sold by the United States General Services Administration (GSA) after their leases end, and they can range from full-sized pickup trucks and police cars to commercial passenger buses. As opposed to vehicle seizure auctions, cars and trucks sold by the GSA are generally well-maintained and in good shape. However, take into consideration that former police cars and ambulances have certainly seen some stressful days serving the public. As a final note, keep in mind that buying a vehicle at a government auction is equivalent to an as-is purchase in a store, and you must be prepared for any flaws or damages the cars may come with.

Estate Auction

Estate auctions are organized by auction companies representing one client instead of numerous consignments. Often connected to settling assets relating to an individual's death or financial hardship, estate auctions are often just fancy garage sales for people moving.

You must keep in mind that not every estate auction is going to have a Jay Leno-type car collection to unload, however it is possible to come across some real automotive gems when you least expect it. With that said, you're limited to one or two chances to prevail in the bidding war that will inevitably ensue. Since estate auctions are one-off opportunities to sell merchandise, this factor could work in a buyer's favor. Not only are these auctions usually undiscovered by other potential bidders, it is also likely that the condition of the vehicles featured in the auction will be much better than those sold at various other auctions.

Online Auction

More efficient and far-reaching than conventional auctions, online auctions are strongly embraced by mainstream consumers these days -- hey, who doesn't want to buy a car from the comfort of their own home? While there's many online auctions selling automobiles, eBay Motors quickly rose as a front-running alternative for used car classifieds. With just a scroll and click of a mouse, bidders can view ranges of vehicles, from early '90s Chevy Cavaliers to a classic Chevrolet Corvette. There is no limit to the make or year of cars available online; you just have to be willing to lend the time and effort to perusing through the entire lot to find what you want.

Another major advantage of buying a vehicle in an online auction like eBay Motors is that bidding is free and there are no additional costs or commissions to the buyer. The only fees are paid by the seller, totaling $90, which are the lowest fees of any auction we came across.

Because online auctions are so simple and straightforward, anyone can get in on the action, and it's that fact alone that can make this type of bidding so problematic. Misrepresentations -- such as the seller trying to pass off a lemon as a great buy or failing to list an accidented vehicle -- have left numerous bidders with a sour taste in their mouth. And While eBay Motors provides some protection coverage from fraud, you might want to opt for a prior inspection of the vehicle that may save you headaches in the future.

Classic/luxury Car Auction

Standing on the upper strata of the auction society, classic/luxury car auctions deal prominently with desirable, collector cars of higher quality. While pre-war classic vehicles and supercars were always the main focus at these auctions, baby boomer crowds have made muscle cars a popular draw as well. Unlike the other auctions which sell vehicles below market value, these auctions can actually establish higher market prices for some of the cars featured.

A bidder will pay close attention to every detail before they pay top dollar, and every buyer is looking for a top-quality car to match the price tag. Beyond physical appearance and mechanical worthiness, bidders search for available paperwork including maintenance records and even original dealer invoices to ensure the car's value. Classic/luxury car auctions are open to the public, but serious bidders are required to pay a registration fee. As well, in order to register for some major auctions, bidders may also need to provide proof regarding finances, such as a Bank Letter of Guarantee.

Barrett-Jackson, along with Russo and Steele, are two premium, annual classic and exotic car auction events that have elite bidders scrambling to attend in Scottsdale, Arizona. Both auctions have remarkably positive reputations of selling top-notch vehicles to their bidders. And Barrett-Jackson uniquely offers 40 hours of live, prime-time television coverage on the Speed Channel as well. This added media attention requires Barrett-Jackson to turn down thousands of potential vehicle entries each year to fit into their multi-day schedule. Unfortunately for many of us, we could only drool last year as a sole surviving 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake was snatched for $5 million, including the 10% buyer's commission, at a Barrett-Jackson auction.

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!

Definitely an emotionally-charged activity, auctions will entice bidders to relax their consumer senses and let their gut take over. Keep in mind, the ones who truly triumph through the auction process will always retain their purchasing savvy and know when enough is enough. Make sure to show up early at the auction, and inspecting the vehicle or vehicles of interest is key to any purchase -- you don't always get the best look at the car when it's sitting up on display during the auction. Determining the market value of the car, weigh out any additional expenses for repairs and possible taxes that may have to be spent after the purchase. For all auctions, treat the experience like you would a typical used-car buy, but make sure to have some fun with it too.

As you attend your chosen auction, you are ready to look the auctioneer in the eyes and belt out your bid with confidence.

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