Repossessed Car Auctions in the UK: A Guide and List

Going. Going. Gone!

On the hunt for a used car? Repossessed car auctions in the UK can be a great place to nab yourself a bargain. But what goes into buying repossessed cars? What happens at car repossession auctions? And can just anyone go along and bid? 

Here, we explain everything you need to know about repo car auctions in the UK — including how to find one near you. 

What is a repossessed car?

A repossessed car (sometimes called a “repo car” or “seized vehicle”) is one that’s been “taken back” by a lender when the owner has failed to keep up with their car loan repayments. 

Once the finance company has repossessed the vehicle, it will try to sell it as quickly as possible at a specialist car auction to recoup any losses from the default credit agreement. 

Is it a good idea to buy a repossessed car?

It can be! Many of these vehicles are in excellent working order, with little or no cosmetic flaws or structural issues. Some are practically new, with very little mileage on the clock. 

If you’re lucky, buying a repossessed car could see you drive off in a new-ish vehicle at a fraction of the price you’d pay at a dealership.

Can anyone go to car auctions in the UK?

Yes and no. There are hundreds of auctions up and down the UK each month that are open to the general public. In theory, you can turn up at an auction house on the day, find a car you want to buy, and start bidding when its lot is called. 

However, some car auctions are closed to the public, and only registered auto traders or used car dealers can attend and bid. Always double-check that you’re allowed to join an auction before you commit too much time and money to your research. 

Can you buy bank-repossessed cars at auction?

Not directly. Repossessed cars can only be sold at specialist auctions and sold to trade customers only. However, many of these cars do end up being sold at public auctions by used car dealers looking to make a profit on their investment.

Can you buy seized cars from the police in the UK?

Yes, you can. Cars are seized by the police in the UK for a variety of reasons. They may have been involved in a crime, towed and impounded (with the owner unable to pay the fines), or they may be the subject of outstanding finance payments. Unlike bank-repossessed car auctions, police auctions are open to the public

How much cheaper is buying a car at auction? 

It depends on the car and who’s interested. If there’s a lot of competition in the room, the price can climb quickly. But, as a general rule of thumb, cars sold at auction can be around 20% cheaper than if sold at a dealership.

Is buying a repossessed car safe and legal? 

Just like buying any used car, who you buy it from matters. So long as it’s a reputable source, purchasing a seized vehicle should be completely safe and legal.

Most car auction sites will provide all the necessary information, including the mileage and service history, giving you complete peace of mind before you bid. 

But if you’re concerned about the history of the car you want to bid on, you can enter the registration number at the HPI Check website. The report, which costs around £20, will tell you everything you need to know about the car’s past, including: 

  • how many previous owners the vehicle has had; 
  • if it has any outstanding finance; 
  • if it’s been reported as stolen; 
  • and if it’s ever been written off.

How do car auctions work?

1. Before the auction:

Whether it’s an online auction or an in-person event at an auction house, it’s a good idea to do as much research as possible before the big day. Most auction houses will release monthly listings for upcoming auctions, allowing you to read detailed descriptions of the available vehicles. Draw up a budget and try to narrow down your choices before attending.  

And if you’ve never been to a car auction before, you should consider visiting a few as a spectator before taking part. Once the bidding starts, things can become fast and frantic, and it’s easy to get carried away. 

Try to familiarise yourself with the process and atmosphere of an auction house first — that way, when you want to start bidding on cars, you won’t be swept up in the emotion, blowing your budget out of the water in the process. 

It’s also worth noting that if you don’t have in-depth knowledge about cars, bringing someone who does can help you avoid making costly mistakes. Unlike buying a secondhand car from a dealership, you won’t get to test drive the vehicle up for auction.

2. On the day of the auction:

When the auction rolls around, read and re-read the description of the vehicle (or vehicles) you want to bid on. Make sure you have all the information you require, and take note of the car’s reserve price (this is the minimum amount the seller is prepared to accept for the car).

At an auction, the items up for sale are called “lots”. Each lot is called in the order listed in the auction catalogue. The car will be driven into the auction room, at which point, bidding will commence. 

Once the car you want to bid on comes up, raise your hand, numbered paddle, or auction catalogue to place your bid. Bids usually increase by set increments (such as £100 per bid).

If the car reaches its reserve price, it will be sold to the highest bidder. At this point, the auctioneer will bang their gavel, and the car will be considered sold. 

3. If your bid wins:

When the hammer comes down, and you’re the top bidder, all you need to do now is pay the auction house. You’ll have to fork over a deposit of £500 or 20% of the auction price right away (usually whichever is higher). You can then sign the documents and pay the balance by bank transfer, debit, or credit card, officially taking ownership of the car.

Remember: You’ll need to have car insurance sorted before you can drive off with your newly acquired vehicle. Some auction houses will provide short-term cover, but it’s up to you to make sure your car is insured.   

How do online car auctions work?

Generally speaking, online car auctions are pretty similar to in-person auctions, with a few key differences:

  • You’ll need to register with the auction house before you can bid online.
  • Many online car auctions take place over several days or weeks rather than bidding in real-time. 

Of course, you may have the option of joining an in-person auction via an online platform (or by telephone). You’d simply register your bid online or over the phone, which would be read out in the auction house. 

Where to find car auctions in the UK (a shortlist)

The following sites are among the top car auction providers in the UK. Several of them, including Manheim, BCA, and Copart, have auction houses across the country, while they all offer regular online car auctions, too. 

Quickfire summary

Buying a repossessed vehicle at a car auction can be a great way to save money on a used car. But only if you do your research, stick to your budget, and don’t get caught up in the emotion of the auction house. 

Some specialist auctions are only open to registered trade customers, but many are open to the general public. Always double-check you can attend an auction before spending too much time researching a vehicle. 

And don’t forget to make sure you’re fully insured before driving off with your winning lot! Get your car insurance quote here

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