Guide to Selling Your Car at Auction

How to sell your car at Auction

Guide to auction selling your car for a high price


Very few car owners consider selling their car at auction. But in certain circumstances, an auction sale can be a very prompt and profitable way of moving on your old car.

In this article I show when it’s a good time to sell your car at auction.

sell a car at auction

The pros of an auction sale

  • Can sell your car quickly
  • Can get paid within a day or two
  • Can sell the vehicle for more than you expected – more on this in a moment


Selling a car at auction – The Cons

  • May not sell your car
  • May not get any bids at all
  • Will be without your car for the duration
  • Need to pay the auction house to enter your vehicle whether you sell it or not
  • Car could get damaged at auction
  • Car will be “privately entered” which is a detriment to car dealers (in most cases but not all)

When does an auction sale work for you?

Since 2005 there is a steady rise in private motorists buying their next used car at auction. Compare this to the 1980’s and 90’s where auction houses were mainly full of car dealers.

It’s great to see private motorists trying to sift a bargain.

The result is auction car prices rising and rising.

Pockets of dealers are going nuts at the diminishing prospect of uncovering used cars to sell for profit from an auction. More buyers mean rising prices that squeeze dealer margins.

Private motorists are happy to pay more than trade but a little under retail.

If you sell your car at auction there is an increased possibility of doing so for some good money.


The icing on a car auction cake

The number one hindrance to selling your car at auction is the ‘privately entered’ label that comes with entry.

Private vehicles are not part of the fleet groups such as Motability, Lloyds or Inchcape.

Unlike fleet sales, car dealers tend to ignore private entries because car history tends to be erroneous.

Dealers know many privately entered cars are at auction because they have mechanical problems or major mechanical faults. Often, it’s dealers who enter cars into the private section of an auction to cash out of a problem vehicle.

Group vehicles tend to be one company owner from new with full, contracted service history printouts, spare keys etc.

But, as auctions fill with more and more private buyers, privately entered cars have new opportunities to sell for high prices.

Private buyers do not tend to know a privately entered vehicle from a fleet one.


Even dealers can buy private entered

There are exceptions to every rule and some car dealers will take a punt on a private car at auction. It all depends on the vehicle in question.


2017 Hyundai 2.0 petrol saloon that’s beige in colour, 89,000 miles, with limited service history. This car will hardly ever be noticed by car dealers because it’s undesirable (difficult to resell)

Why is it undesirable?

  • Big petrol engine which can be harder to sell
  • High mileage and more likely to have faults/mechanical problems
  • Colour is a little niche
  • A saloon is also more difficult to sell
  • Lacks a good service history
  • Hyundai’s don’t tend to hold their value


We can agree, there is little about the Hyundai that would have a dealer want to buy it?


Here’s a second example:

2017 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI Diesel Estate 5 Door, metallic black, 53,000 miles, full service history, spare keys, leather interior, sports pack and only 1 previous owner from new

This car is extremely desirable


  • Volkswagen Passat which is a popular make and model that holds its value well
  • Diesel’s are still great for the economy and easy to sell
  • Diesel estate which makes it even more desirable
  • Metallic black is one of the best-selling colours
  • Good low mileage
  • Great service history
  • Added sports pack with extras


We can agree, a dealer will find this car extremely desirable because it is easy to sell.

This kind of vehicle (and some others like it) will get plenty of attention from dealers and private buyers.

I know your question…

“If the car is so desirable wouldn’t it be better to sell privately?”


When to sell cars at auction

Again, car type, make and model mean almost everything when it comes to auction selling. As the private buyer ratio continues to build, some types of car are doing extraordinarily well in the ring. The Volkswagen Passat mentioned above is one such car that tends to rocket in price at auction.


More than retail?

Over the last 20 years, I have seen some privately entered vehicles within the ‘desirability criteria’ fetch more than retail prices.


  • More than they fetch on Autotrader.
  • Even more than franchised dealers may be able to sell for whilst including main dealer extras like extended warranties and free car insurance.


Auction fees are involved and need to be accounted for before entering a car. However, for desirable cars, the fees will pale in significance to the hefty prices that can be fetched.

Irreplaceable cars?

A desirable car is also an irreplaceable one. It’s a loose way of describing a car that is hard to source, holds its value well and sells like hotcakes.

If your car is desirable or irreplaceable, selling at auction is the surest way to fetch top money.

Generally, the car needs to be under 80,000 miles.


Determine if your car is irreplaceable

No hard or fast rules but here are some guidelines of a desirable motor:


  • German cars including Audi, VW, Mercedes (especially high spec or sports models and estates)
  • Estates (used diesel are still doing well)
  • Small, 5 door hatchbacks with high specification
  • Special edition cars like a Seat Leon Cupra or VW Golf GT
  • Range Rovers
  • Particularly low mileage cars


This broad list is based more on my experience than anything else. Please, don’t email me and ask if your car type is good for auction. These requests are filling my email inbox.

map of where to sell your car at auction in the United Kingdom

British Car Auctions (BCA) and Manheim are the UK’s top national auction centres. You might find local, privately owned ones too, but they are unlikely to bring the type of price that justifies selling a car at auction.

Every success to you,


Marcus Rockey
Used Car Guy

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