Classic Car Auctions A Beginners Guide

To those who’ve never experienced it, the thought of a busy auction hall, full of savvy dealers and experts, is one to be feared. But you can grab a great deal – certainly a better one than on the open market – if you’re switched on and do your homework.


Do a dry run

If you’ve never been before, the best way to get a feel for an auction is by going to a few – without buying anything. Go along, get an idea of the setup, what goes on and when, where you need to go on the day to register, if you don’t do it before, and so on. But remember it’s just a dry run – don’t get sucked into buying something you don’t want.

Research your prices and fees

Once you’ve been along to a couple of auctions to get a feel for how they work, you should feel ready to go to one ‘for real’. Most auction houses publish catalogues – in print and online – well in advance of sales, so it’s easy to see what’s on offer. Many sales are specific to a certain type of vehicle, too, so you can target one that suits you.

If you are looking for a specific car then research its value ahead of the day. Prices rise and fall quickly, so make sure that you’re up to date.

Auctions are undoubtedly a place to bag a bargain, but make sure that you check the fees involved as well – such as buyers’ fees, consignment fees and VAT – as they can all add a fair whack to the final price. Also check out what documents and identification you might need and whether you need to register in advance to buy.

On the day

If it’s your first auction then get there early to make sure you’ve got plenty of time to seek out the car, or cars, that you’ve got your eye on to inspect in detail. 

There won’t normally be a chance to test drive, but you will have an opportunity to carry out your own pre-sale inspection and most auctions will offer their own inspections. In any event, make sure you have a very good look at your potential purchase both inside and out.

Make sure you start it as well, listening out for any strange noises and, as you would when buying any car, check for white or blue smoke from the exhaust – always a bad sign. Again, as you would when buying any car, check bodywork for rust, dents, bad welds and the like.

Get it checked – this is something you can do beforehand if you have the vehicle’s details – using a company like HPI. Each car will have a description – check this carefully for any caveats or extra terms and conditions, as well as anything else that might be a cause for concern, such as the car being classified as a write-off, for example.

Time to bid

When it’s time to get down to business, each car will be driven into the auction room in the order of the auction catalogue or list. This is your final chance to listen to your potential purchase’s engine note – or your first if you haven’t had a chance before the sale.

When the bidding starts you’ll need to be 100 per cent switched on. Bids start low, usually, but can rise quickly. All that’s needed to bid is a clear and decisive raise of the hand – eye contact with the auctioneer is good, too.

As is usual at all auctions, the gavel will fall when the highest price is reached. If there are a lot of cars to get through this can happen very quickly – so stay alert. If you’re the top bidder then you’ll need to pay a deposit – usually around 20 per cent or at least £500 – straight away, so make sure you’ve got cash or cleared funds in your bank account.

And full payment, including the auctioneer’s fee, will need to be made before you can take your newly acquired classic away, so make sure you’ve got this in place.

Plan ahead for if you come out on top

You’ve done the hard work and that classic is now yours, but did you plan ahead to make sure it’s road-ready to drive away? This is the stuff that you’d need to do in any car-buying situation – how will you get it home?

If you’re driving it away, it’ll need to be taxed, have an MOT and be insured for you to drive it.

Where to start?

To get yourself going, try these auctioneers:

Classic Car auctions



Silverstone Auctions


Historics at Brooklands

British Car Auctions

And don’t forget to check out our cars for sale section as well.

+ More