Best online car auctions to buy a car

Best online car auctions to buy a car


Are you considering buying a vehicle online from a car auction in the United States? You’re not in the minority. Attitudes towards buying cars online have changed dramatically over the last twelve months. Until recently, customers had few options for buying cars online, and a visit to a dealership was still a requirement to complete the transaction.

Last year, online sales spiked to never-before-seen levels, which is why we’ve decided to write this in-depth article. Keep reading, and you’ll find all you need to know about buying a car online and the best websites to visit. 

What types of online car auctions are there?

In the world of online car auctions, there are basically two kinds: those that are open to the public (Public Car Auctions) and dealer-only car auctions. These are generally open only to licensed car dealers. Let’s look a little closer at them both.

Dealer-only car auctions

A dealer’s auto auction is for used cars, and only a licensed dealer gets access to the wholesale auction’s inventory. Licensed dealers use them to liquidate unwanted, used vehicles, and it’s also a good way for them to locate other good deals and buy and sell more used cars. 

Open to public car auctions

To attend and buy cars at public car auctions, you don’t have to be a licensed dealer. Online car auctions for the public are a primary outlet for financial services firms who need to dispose of off-lease cars, for rentals and other companies to sell off their aging fleets. This type of online auction site is also popular with car dealerships who have trade-ins and unwanted inventory to get rid of.

The inventory at these auctions comes from several sources, for example, repossessed bank auction cars, wholesale cars, flood junkers, insurance vehicles, retailers, and sometimes, high-end sports cars and SUVs.  

Free public auto auctions also include:

  • Government and police car auctions: This type of auction typically includes county and city vehicles such as police cruisers, buses, utility vehicles, and more. You can also find the police selling impound cars that have been confiscated because of traffic violations or crimes.    

What are the benefits of buying a car online?

Benefits of buying a car at online auto auction

Thanks to the internet, buying a car online can now be haggle- and hassle-free. But these aren’t the only benefits of shopping at an online public auto auction.

Greater selection

With just a couple of clicks on your laptop, you’ll have access to thousands of cars for sale on the internet. These might be online car auctions near me, the best online auctions in another state, or even another country. 

You’re not constrained by what’s available on a dealer’s lot at the time you visit. In contrast, you’re able to browse selections from many diverse sources and get precisely what you want. 

This is especially good if you use a site that checks inventory from many different dealerships. Buying online is an excellent place to start if you want to choose from a broader range of available vehicles.    

Shop on your own time

If you shop online, you don’t have to worry about dealership hours or days open. Shop for your dream car by visiting car bidding sites online, whatever time of the day or night. Compared to visiting many different dealers looking for a car, used car auctions online save lots of time and hassle.  

Less stressful

You can ship with ease when you’re shopping for a car online. There’s no pressure to sign a contract or clinch a deal when you shop at the best car auctions. 

Better prices

Better prices are one of the most significant advantages of shopping at online car auction sites. Online car-selling sites don’t have the same overhead costs that a traditional dealer would have. This fact allows them to sell vehicles at less of a markup. 

You’ll find cars priced much more competitively, which has to be good news for the consumer. 

Streamlined buying process

One benefit that’s often overlooked is that buying a car online can be done very quickly. Compare it to the long and often tedious process of test driving a car, negotiating prices, and finalizing the purchase, and buying a vehicle online comes out on top. It’s a speedy transaction. 

Less pressure from a salesman

One of the most onerous parts of buying a car at a dealership is having to deal with pushy salespeople. They desperately want to get you to close on a vehicle and can be very aggressive and intimidating. 

You can eliminate the problem when you buy online. You’re able to make decisions at your own pace from the comfort of your home.   

What happens at an online car auction?

What happens at an online car auction

Online car auctions come in various guises, but what happens is always the same. People visiting one of the many online car auction sites might be individuals looking for a hot deal or car dealers looking for new inventory. Whether you’re looking for the latest Tesla model, a project car, or a cheap run around for your kid to take to college, the chances are you’ll find something of interest.

When you sell a car at an online auction site, it’s not guaranteed that you will sell it. If the specified minimum price is too high, as a seller, you might not receive any bids. This means you won’t sell your car. If the minimum price is set too low, the vehicle might be sold at a price well below its real value.

If you want to buy a car, you log onto an online car auction site. On the first page you visit, you’ll find a menu and search bar. You can choose to put in the specifics of the vehicles you’re looking for, for example, a Chevy Silverado. Type the name into the auto auction search bar and hit enter. The site will immediately generate a list of all the relevant auction vehicles for sale.

If you’re not sure what you want to buy, you have the option of visiting the general listing page. On this page, you’ll find a range of categories, such as classics, repossessions, exotics, hybrids, hot items, and much more. 

Once you find a car, you’ll see the current bid and decide whether or not you want to place a bid of your own. Input your maximum bid, and the website automatically bids for you. You don’t have to sit around waiting for the auction to run its course. The website will notify you if you’ve won or not.      

If you need help deciding on the initial price you want to bid for a car at auction, the best dealer and public car auctions have experts who will examine and evaluate the vehicle and make a full report. If you like the car and the report they give you, you can go ahead and buy the car directly. Many online car auctions also handle the whole sale process for you. 

The rules of engagement at local car auctions are very straightforward. You find a car you like, do your research, set your maximum bid, you bid, and you buy. 

How can I buy a car at auction?

You have two options if you want to buy a car at an online auto auction. If you like the idea of bidding against others for a good deal, you buy a car by live bidding or pre-bidding. On the other hand, if you’ve decided on a fixed maximum budget, you use the “buy now” option. 

Bidding on auction vehicles

Sometimes, you’ll find an online auto auction site operating a pre-bidding system. You place a maximum bid, and if it’s the highest of the pre-bidding round, you’re able to take part in the live bidding sale. With live bidding, if your bid is the highest and meets the seller's reserve, you are the winner. 

If the seller’s reserve price is lower than your maximum bid and no one outbids you during the live sale, you can win the vehicle for less than your maximum bid. 

“Buy now” auction vehicles

It’s possible to shortcut the bidding part of a sale and directly buy your car using the “buy now” option. You can purchase your dream vehicle at the indicated price with a couple of clicks. 

How to get into car auctions?

It’s easy to get into an online public auto auction in the USA. You visit the site and take a look around. 

Can I buy a car at auction without a dealer license?

A dealer’s auto auction is not quite so easy because you need a dealer license to purchase a car, but there are ways around this. The most obvious is to get licensed as an automotive dealer in your state. If you haven’t got the time or don’t want the hassle, you could work with a dealer who has an active license. Ask them to bid for you to purchase a car. 

What is an auction reserve?

An auction reserve is the minimum price the seller is willing to accept for an item. A seller at an online auto auction is only obligated to sell an item if the bid amount meets or exceeds their reserve price. The reserve price protects an item’s owner from having to part with their car for less money than they want to.   

What does no reserve mean at an auto auction?

In a no-reserve auction, the item must sell if someone bids on it promptly. For sellers, one of the most significant benefits of a no-reserve auction is that it can draw in a larger number of bidders looking for a deal. There are no minimum bids, and the seller can’t reject or decline any bid. 

How long do car auctions last?

A car auction can last anything from a few minutes or a couple of hours to a week or more. It all depends on what the seller wants and whether the vehicle achieves the minimum or reserve price. 

How to buy salvage cars?

One of the best places to look for a salvage car is to visit an online auction site. Salvage cars for sale in the USA are vehicles that have been written off by an insurance company. Sometimes these are wrecked used cars that have mild to severe damage, have been repaired or rebuilt, or are registered in DMV as salvage-titled cars

Why do cars go to auction?

There are a variety of reasons why a car might end up at an auction house. Here are a few of them:

  • If a car has stayed too long at a dealer’s lot, they might decide to auction it off to recoup some of the money they’ve invested in the car.
  • If the car’s original owner fails to meet their payments, the vehicle might be repossessed and auctioned off by the financial institution to recover the money. 
  • Some cars end up in an auction because the owner wants to trade it in for a new one. 
  • When a car suffers damage from weather conditions or accidents, an insurance company can put the car up for auction to recoup some of what they paid out. 

The best online auto auctions

There are many online auction sites to choose from. We’ve narrowed it down to our top thirteen favorites and put them on a list for your convenience. 


Copart offers up-for-sale non-repairable, clean title, and salvage cars. You’ll find cars, trucks, classic cars, motorcycles, industrial vehicles, and more. Founded in 1982, Copart sells more than two million vehicles every year and has more than 200 locations in the US and a presence in 11 other countries.

Here’s what some of their customers have to say about them:

  • “I had a great experience everyone was respectful and helpful.”
  • “Really happy about my first experience using Copart. Great customer service and easy to find what I was looking for”
  • “I really enjoyed working with Copart. The staff are friendly, and the process was pretty easy. Would definitely work with Copart again.”

You’ll find plenty more reviews at Trustpilot

ACV Auctions


This is a free online car auctions site that promises full transparency about the vehicles they sell with industry-leading condition reports. Auctions last just 20 minutes, and you get access to thousands of dealers. 

To overcome the problem of vehicle inspections, this company has developed the Audio Motor Profile. It lets you listen to high-def audio recordings of a car’s engine, so you know exactly what you’re getting.

There’s also a Virtual Lift, which provides high-def pictures of a car’s undercarriage, a seamless title transfer process via the ACV Auction’s app, extended buyer assurance, and 10-day arbitration protection free of charge. 

What have their customers got to say about them? Here are some reviews:

  • “ACV gives us a very easy tool to quickly sell our vehicles, and we’ve done extremely well with that.”
  • “The online format is very simple to use if you haven’t used it. I seriously recommend that you at least take a look at it.”
  • “ACV’s condition reports are so accurate that I know what I’m dealing with before I buy the car.”

Find more customer testimonials at the company’s website.


IAAI is an independent car auction run by Insurance Auto Auctions. Founded in 1982, it has an extensive history of auctioning cars. The site sells salvage vehicles and offers insurance auctions too. Other options include total loss, fleet lease, recovered theft, and dealer trade-ins. 

Visit this site, and you have several options:

  • IAA Online: An online auction with more than 190 branches and live auctioneers
  • ISS Timed Auctions: Individual auctions for vehicles
  • ISS Buy Now: Purchase a vehicle immediately
  • IAA Online Exclusive: A series of auctions on specific types of cars
  • ISS Screen Sale: You make your bids on a screen at an IAA branch

Auto Auction Mall

Auto Auction Mall is a dealer-only auction site, but it does allow people without a dealer’s license to bid on vehicles. The site has a vast selection of salvage, used, and pre-owned cars. There are more than 200,000 live auctions taking place at any given time. 

Cars are listed at wholesale prices, but you must make a security deposit of 10%. Membership is free, but you pay a fee of $299 after winning a car. 

What have their customers got to say? Here are a few examples:

  • “Great experience buying a truck. Peter was awesome and explained everything. Thanks, Auto Auction Mall.”
  • “The car is great, and they were very helpful! Give them a try you'll like it.”
  • “I've bought two vehicles, and I'm happy to say that there are good vehicles and service.”

Find more customer testimonials here


Register with Auto BidMaster for free, and you’ll also get access to Copart’s inventory. Salvage vehicles are on offer at very affordable prices, and there are more than 162,000 vehicles available. Stock is refreshed daily and weekly, so you’ll always find new vehicles no matter how often you log in.

Here are a few examples of what customers have to say:

  • “Autobidmaster has an excellent support team. They hold the hands of their clients and walk them through the process from online car bidding to the ultimate delivery of the vehicles.
  • “Very good. Second to none.”
  • “I just want to say THANK YOU to AutoBidMaster for making my experience perfect. Everything about this service is great. My car is on the way, and I couldn't be happier. Again Thank you!!!.”

For more reviews, visit the reviews section of the AutoBidMaster website. 

eBay Motors

No list of auction sites would be complete without mentioning eBay Motors. It’s a subsidiary of the world’s largest online auction site, eBay. eBay Motors connects buyers of all types with sellers offering vehicles of all kinds, including cars, motorcycles, and SUVs. 

There are two types of sellers: private and dealerships. As well as vehicles, you can also purchase parts and accessories.   


Visit this site, and you can locate and access many different car auctions around the United States and across the world. Primarily, this site is for dealer consignments, off-lease vehicles, fleet, and vehicle rentals. You wouldn’t usually find salvage vehicles, but they do turn up from time to time.

The inventory on this auction site is a little lower than some of those on our list. There are around 100,000, but a new inventory of vehicles is available for sale every day. You don’t need a dealer license to bid on vehicles ranging from electric cars and sedans to ATVs and motorcycles. is a subsidiary of Manheim and is a membership-only car auction site. On it, you’ll find a wide range of vehicles on offer, including 4x4 trucks, salvage, totaled, and inoperable vehicles. 

Regular specials are available to members, including the 10k and Under Sale. The only downside is that you must be a dealership/licensed dealer to sign up and become a member. 


This auction website is strictly for as-is vehicles, often selling for as much as 75% off the retail price. To get started on the platform, you need to register. SalvageBid offers a free membership that allows you to bid only during preliminary bids. You can only purchase one vehicle on the free plan. Upgrade to the Premium plan for $200 a year, and it unlocks every auction and feature on the website. To take part in live car auctions, you have to upgrade to the Premium plan. 

Purple Wave

Purple Wave is home to thousands of vehicles, including cars, trucks, tractors, semi-trucks, trailers, and even construction equipment. Are you looking for something special? You’re likely to find it on the Purple Wave platform. 

Once you’ve registered, it’s free to access the platform, and there are no further fees. However, there is a 10% buyer’s premium added at the end of every purchase price which you must pay along with your invoice. 

Cranky Ape

After registration, dealers and non-dealers can bid on one of the many vehicles being auctioned. There is a $50 fee for first-time users, but this drops to $45 each year after that. 

With Cranky Ape, you can set an absentee bid and let the website bid on your behalf up to the max. Buy Now privileges are also available, which means you can skip the online auction and purchase directly. 


Manheim is one of the more refined online auction sites because it provides high-quality vehicles dealers might be looking for. Undesired trade-ins, power sport vehicles, recreational vehicles, boats, and more regularly feature on the inventory. 

As well as running car auctions, Manheim also offers a range of other services, including reconditioning vehicles for resale.  

Here are a few more online car auction companies you might be interested in: 

If you’re looking for a cheap run around and don’t want to participate in an auction, there are plenty of other car buying and selling sites you can visit. For those looking for something a little more unique, check out the most popular classic car auctions in the USA.  

Get in touch with us here at SGT Auto Transport when you want to ship your latest purchase home safely and securely. We offer a range of auto transport services that won’t break the bank. Call (864) 546-5038 and speak with our shipping advisors or use our Live Chat.

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