How to Buy Cars at an Online Auto Auction

By  //  November 30, 2022

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Buying a new vehicle can be exciting, but it can be frustrating when you drive from lot to lot looking for the right vehicle. Consider using online auto auctions to find your next car.

You will find all types of online auto auctions like insurance auto auctions such as SCA Auctions. When you shop for cars straight from insurance auto auctions, you can find a large selection of salvage vehicles for sale.

Register for an Account

Once you find an online auction you want to use, you have to register for an account. You might find two types of accounts: free and premium. A free account may not have the same benefits as a paid account, but it will allow you to bid.

Additional benefits of a paid account may include no limit on the cars you can bid on or allow you to bid in a live auction. There may be lower transaction fees, too.

When you sign up for an account, you may need to give them a credit card and a refundable deposit before you can bid. You will also need to upload your identification. 

Depending on the site you are using, your bid may be limited by the amount of your deposit. For instance, SCA Auctions limits your bid to $6,600 with a $1,000 deposit. If you want to spend more, you can increase your deposit.

If the car auction is a dealer-only auction, you will be required to present a dealer license.

Search for a Car

Using the search feature on the website, you can find cars that meet your search parameters like year, model, and make, as well as damage type, odometer readings, and body style.

The inventory list gives you important information about the car like how many cylinders it has, what fuel it uses, the engine type, and any damages it has. There may be a vehicle history report available. Because there are so many vehicles to choose from at an online auction, you might want to add cars you like to a watchlist.

How to Bid

If your membership does not allow live bidding, then you may be able to pre-bid on the vehicle you want. Pre-bidding lets you set a maximum bid for the vehicle before the start of the auction, and an automated system will bid for you until the end of the auction or your maximum bid is reached.

To bid on live auctions, if your membership allows, find the auction you are interested in and join it. You may have to wait through several cars to get to the one you want, so be patient.

When your auction starts, use the Bid button to start bidding on the car. It helps to use the auto-bid feature, so you do not need to keep hitting the Bid button.

Reserve Prices

Some auctions will have a reserve price that must be met before the car is sold. Reserves are used in car auctions when the vehicle for sale may not sell for the total the seller wants.

In some cases, the vehicle could sell for much more than the reserve. If the reserve is not met by the end of the auction, then the auction is over, and the car does not sell.

Buy It Now or Make an Offer

If possible, you might be able to search for only Buy It Now vehicles. The Make an Offer feature, if available, will let you make an offer to the seller, and if it is accepted, you can buy the vehicle.


When you win an auction or a Buy It Now, you will get instructions on how to pay for your new vehicle.

There will be other fees besides the winning bid that can include a transaction fee based on your membership, doc fees from the state you live in or the state the sale is in, the sales tax that your state may charge, and other auction fees.

After the sale, the vehicle needs to be transported to your home. You will need to check with the site you are using to find out how long you have to get the vehicle off of their auction lot. It is a good idea to have transportation costs and schedules set up before shopping for auction cars.

Now that you know how to buy online, here are a few auto auction sites with cars for sale:

SCA Auctions

SCA Auctions, an IAAI partner, is an online site open to the public and does not require you to have a car dealer license to buy.

They offer over 300,000 salvage vehicles for sale that include cars, trucks, industrial equipment, and SUVs at more than 150 live online auctions weekly. The auctions run Monday through Friday; see their calendar for the latest schedule.


Manheim began in 1945 in Manheim, PA, and is a Cox Enterprises auction. They were ahead of their time when in 1996 they gave dealers access to online inventories, calendars, and markets. Over 65,000 dealers use Manheim Online today. You do need a dealer license to bid.

Skipco Auto Auction

Skipco Auto Auction has been a premier Ohio public auto auction since 1978. You do not need a dealer license to bid and buy at Skipco. They started on a small field, but now have a 12,000-square-foot facility where they run four lanes every week. You will find cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, RVs, and campers up for auction.

Mecum Auctions

Mecum Auctions are offered in numerous cities like Kissimmee, FL; Harrisburg, PA; Monterey, CA and Dallas, TX. Mecum Auctions started in 1988 on a Rockford, IL kitchen table by Dana Mecum and a few helpers. Today, they are number one when it comes to selling collector cars and motorcycles.

 IAAI, Direct Auto, and Capital offer auction cars for sale where you can buy online as well.