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How to buy a used van at an auction - our top tips

Top tips to help you grab a bargain when buying a used van at an auction...

Van auction

Buying in the room at an auction is one of the most exhilarating ways to buy a cheap used van, but don’t get caught up in the moment as it’s easy to get over-excited and pay over the odds.

Here are some tips for buying a van at auction.

Do you research

Hopefully you’ll have a pretty good idea of the sort of van you want to buy before you walk through the doors - because, if not, the choice could be daunting.

Van auctions sell hundreds of vans at a time, ranging from small car-derived vans, medium and large vans and chassis and bespoke bodied vehicles too. You’ll find there is a huge amount of choice on offer.

However, if you have a specific vehicle in mind it is worth checking around to see if there are sales consisting of particular models. These will likely have come from a large fleet owner de-fleeting its current vehicles and will therefore have multiple vans that are very similar, which is great for increasing your chances of winning the bidding on one.

There are several large auction houses that operate massive van sales across the country but there are also much smaller auctions that might have something more local to you. These are also where you are more likely to find something a bit more specialist, particularly if you’re after a cheap Luton van, cheap dropside tipper or chassis cab.

Check their websites for listings and catalogues or give them a call about van auction sales that they might run less frequently than their car auctions.

Set a budget

Always have a price in mind that you are willing to pay for your van, but more importantly remember to stick to it rigidly. What starts out as a bargain price might quickly creep up and as you get wrapped up in the bidding your judgement could get the better of you.

We’d recommend doing some serious homework. The best benchmark is knowing what sort of money you’ll be paying for a similar vehicle at a local dealer, where you will likely get some sort of guarantee and the chance to test drive the van. Don’t be tempted to pay over the odds for something when you know you can get better elsewhere.

It’s more than likely that dealers who know the trade and retails prices of each model will also be in the room, so grabbing a real bargain always going to be unlikely, but picking up something for less than forecourt prices is definitely still possible.

You don’t have to be a mechanic, but it might help

While some people might think that buying from an auction is like buying completely blind that’s not strictly the case. Most auctions are drive-through, which means that the van will drive on to the auction block and drive away again. This gives you a great chance to see the vehicle in action.

Listen out for any unusual noises – knocking, grinding, clunking – and look out for any smoke as it pulls away. Unless you’re confident with your spanners, steer well clear of anything that seems out of the ordinary.

Before the auction starts there will also be a dedicated viewing time where you can look over the vehicle at close quarters .Check timings to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity as this is your time to inspect the goods properly.

Check the overall condition of the bodywork and interior, what life is left in the tyres (as well as looking out for any uneven wear towards the edges that could indicate steering or suspension issues) and, if you have the expertise, do have a rummage under the bonnet to check for signs of any oil leaks, split pipes, frayed wiring or other problems.

Look at the whole cost

Snapping up a bargain is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they come to bid at auctions, but there are other factors besides the hammer price that you must remember to account for when you start raising your hand.

The first is the buyer’s premium. This is a small fee, either a flat rate or a percentage-based amount, that you will pay on top of the hammer price – usually in the region of 8-12%.

If you can’t take the vehicle away as soon as the sale finishes you will likely be given a small grace period to remove it from the premises, but after that you’ll have to start paying storage fees on the vehicle. These are usually reasonable but can mount up quickly.

Also, don’t forget to factor in the VAT on top of the auction price and other costs as well.

You will need to register with the auction house before you are able to start bidding, which will likely involve showing some form of ID (usually a driving license). They’ll also want to take a bond or deposit, which could range from bank details with proof of funds to an amount taken as security. This will be refundable if you don’t buy, but is to ensure that you are serious about committing to the bids you make in the auction hall.

If you’re successful in your bidding, don’t forget to arrange insurance to allow you to drive the van away, as well as vehicle road tax. If a van does not have a valid MoT certificate you will have to make arrangements to have the vehicle transported on a trailer or pre-book an MoT appointment, which you must then drive it to directly.

Use technology

You don’t have to turn up in person these days to buy at auction: many of the main van auction centres offer an online bidding platform. 

You’ll still see the van drive into the camera view but you’ll also see the full listing – often with several pictures and any servicing or MoT information that is available.

Bidding from the comfort of your own home enables you to make the most of the information at your fingertips and compare prices for similar vans on the internet much more easily than if you were there in person.

If you are attending the van auction, make sure you’ve charged your smartphone so that you can research any surprise listings that crop up which might take your interest.

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