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Buying a cheap used van at auction can be exciting, but it's also a pretty stressful environment for those that are unfamiliar. Used van auctions take place in sale rooms but are increasingly moving online, so choose the format that suits you best. Read our useful tips for purchasing a van at auction.

Do your van buying research

Before attending the auction, do your research on the type of van you want to buy. This includes the make, model, age, and condition of the van. You should also research the typical selling price for similar vans in your local area and across the country. That way you can set a realistic budget. If possible, attend a few auctions before buying to get a feel for how they work.

It's also important to pick the right auction. Most van auctions sell hundreds of vehicles at a time. They will range from small vans and car-derived vans, to sized medium vans and large vans. There will also be chassis cabs and bodied vehicles as well. Larger auctions are where you're most likely to find a good selection of more specialist light commercial vehicles like a cheap Luton van or cheap dropside tipper.

Sometimes there will be sales for specific models too. These usually happen when a big fleet is de-fleeting a batch of vehicles. BT or Tesco or Royal Mail might have a load of vans they need to get rid of. Rather than sell 1000 in one go and risk damaging the residual value by flooding the market, they might send 25 or even 50 to a specific sale. This greatly increases your chances making winning a winning bid and snapping one up.

Check auctions houses big and small. There might be a sale just around the corner from you that you never knew existed.

Set a budget

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of bidding on a van, but it's important to remember your budget and stick to it. What starts out as a bargain price can quickly escalate, and before you know it, you've overspent.

This is where the research is key. If you know what similar vans are selling for at local dealerships you'll know if you're getting a cheap used van or not.

Remember you're in a room, or an online sale, where there will be professional buyers. These people know the market and know what is a good price. You'll have to outbid them to get the van, but don't be tempted to dig deeper than you can afford. Dealers know the trade and retails prices of each model so grabbing a mega bargain is unlikely. What you might do is save a few hundred compared to the dealer prices you've seen. Remember though, that you're buying blind and there's no warranty. So think long and hard.

Don't be afraid to walk away from a deal if the price isn't right. There are plenty of vans out there, and you're sure to find one that fits your budget and needs.

Inspect the van - bring a mechanic if you can

This is where being in the saleroom has its benefits. Online auctions are really convenient, but a real life auction allows you to look over the vehicles in the yard before hand.

Before bidding, inspect the van thoroughly. Check for any signs of damage, rust, or wear and tear. It's not likely you'll be able to take the van for a test drive to ensure that it is in good working order, but the van will have to be started up to drive it into the sale room. If you can, watch it when it first starts up and listen and look carefully as it is driven in. Look out for blue smoke and listen for any clunks, rattles or hissing. It's also a good idea to look at the ground from where the vehicle has just come from. You don't want to be bidding on anything that's leaking oil or other fluids.

Keep in mind that at an auction, you won’t have the same opportunity to inspect the van as you would if you were buying from a dealership, so it’s important to be as thorough as possible. Take someone who is knowledgeable.

When the bidding begins, set your limit and stick to it

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to set a budget and stick to it.

Auctions are a fast paced environment. The auction lot you are considering will come up sooner than you think. The bidding will also go quickly. The auctioneer will know what sort of money the vehicle is going to attract, so it will start at a decent price. There may be some bids already on his book - made by buyers who can't make the sale.

Decide on the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the van and don’t exceed it. Remember that there will always be other auctions and other vans available, so don’t get caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Pay attention to the bidding

During the auction, pay close attention to the bidding. Make note of who is bidding and how much they are willing to pay. This is true for all the lots in the auction. You'll quickly spot the dealers if you keep your eyes open for 15 minutes and pay close attention to who is winning. It might be that one particular dealer is buying everything that day. You may well come up against them during bidding for your van. If they've got deep pockets that day, it might be that you will just have to resign yourself to going home empty handed.

Watching the other bidding activity will also give you an idea of what the van and others are worth. It will help you decide on whether or not you should continue bidding. Don’t be afraid to drop out of the bidding if the price goes higher than your budget.

Got a smartphone? Use it!

Smartphones are great at auctions for two reasons. The first one being that it often means you don't even have to be in the room - although if you've read the rest of the article you'll see some of the benefits of being there in person.

Most of the large van auction centres have an online bidding platform, similar to eBay. You simply register your details and you can watch the auction unfold, usually with a main camera view of the auction lane. This will allow you to see the van being driven into the auction. There will also be several pictures along with other details like servicing or MoT information.

If you're in the room, keeping your smartphone handy during the auction can also let you quickly identify other vans that might be of interest.

Just like bidding from the comfort of your own home you'll have the fact at your fingertips. You can compare prices for similar vans and make an informed decision.

It's not just about the hammer price

Another thing to be aware of at auction is that it's not just about the number you end on when the hammer falls. There are a lot of other additional costs to consider. These include paying the auction house, any transport costs and the insurance. All of which will have to be sorted pretty quickly after the sale ends.

That means that when you're buying a van at auction, it's important to consider the total cost of ownership. This includes the purchase price, as well as any additional fees, such as:

It's also important to factor in the cost of running the van, such as:

Congratulations, you're a winner!

Assuming it all went to plan, you are now the owner of a brand new, used van!

But, you'll have to act quickly once you win the auction. You will typically have to pay a deposit immediately. You will also have have to arrange transportation for the van if you've come in your own vehicle.

Auction houses have differing policies on how long you can keep your new purchase on site. Typically there might be a 48 hour window, but after that you'll have to start paying storage fees and these can be very expensive.

Make sure you insure your vehicle as soon as possible and you'll also need to arrange road tax. If the vehicle is without an MoT you'll have to book one if you plan to drive the van on public roads and take it straight to the test centre.

If in doubt, get the van collected or hire a trailer - both costs you should consider before heading down the auction route.

With these tips in mind, you can successfully buy a van at auction and potentially save money on your purchase. Good luck.

Can I buy a van at auction?

Yes, and buying a van at auction is quick and easy. Simply register witht the auction house - either in person or online - and place a bid. If you win an auction you will pay the agreed price plus fees. Vans bought at auction can usually be driven away on the same day.

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