Some tips for buying a vehicle at a public auction are to always check the VIN number, pull the dipsticks, keep an eye on other bidders and to remember that there are no guarantees with auction purchases. Another important tip is to research used car values beforehand.
VIN numbers should be located at the base of the windshield and are often found on stickers attached to doors and trunk lids. If VIN numbers do not match up, the car could have been rebuilt as the result of an accident. Clear and clean-looking fluids on the dipsticks is indicative of a well-maintained vehicle. Watching other bidders can provide insight into the demand of certain vehicles. It's also smart to beware of bidders who seem to be purposely pushing the price up on every item. Popular Mechanics recommends attending a few auctions as an observer before bidding on anything.
Auction purchases are typically "as-is," meaning that a person has little to no recourse if he discovers problems with the vehicle. It is imperative to learn about the going rates of certain vehicles and to decide ahead of time how much to spend. This can also help buyers to avoid being taken advantage of or paying more than something is actually worth.