For many, the thought of attending a classic car auction is rather daunting. The more time I spend working at them, the easier I can spot the auction newbies, or as I like to call them – Auction Virgins. I guess just because it’s a familiar environment for me, I take it for granted that everyone knows and understands the auction process. How very rude of me !

So lets take it one step at a time, I’ll hold your hand all the way through.


All auction houses will require you to register before bidding – they will need basic information –  full name, address, telephone number and email. It is normal to be asked for two forms of ID when registering and some auction houses will want you to pay a deposit on a card before bidding which is completely refundable if you don’t make a purchase. At the registration stage you will be issued with a paddle/bidding number. This is unique to you.


To gain access to the auction you will need to purchase a catalogue – they range in price and quality. You may have viewed their online catalogue and made a note of vehicles of interest, but you will still need to purchase a hard copy.


Each lot is allocated a number. You would be surprised how many times I have been asked “ Do the lots run in numerical order?”

The answer is yes. If there are 200 lots in an auction, it will start at lot 1 and run numerically to lot 200. Simple.

This does not mean that they will be displayed in order though – so be prepared to have a good search round for the lots you’re planning on bidding on.


Please don’t rock up to the auction and ask for a test drive. That is not going to happen, except under very special circumstances. Some venues now offer the facility of ramping a car up so that it can be inspected but more often than not, you will be viewing a static vehicle. Try it for size, get in it, make sure it fits you. You may think this is basic advice, but believe me, I have seen people buy cars that they cannot get in to. If it runs, ask to hear it running! And if possible, ask to speak to the consigner, they will have dealt with the vendor and may have nuggets of info not specified in the catalogue description.


The cars history pack will be easily available for you to view. If they don’t have an allocated history section just ask one of the team for the pack. Make sure you give yourself enough time to go through the history folder, check invoices and receipts for any work that has been done. If it is described in the catalogue as having service history, check that it is present and that the mileage corresponds . A simple and free MOT history search on GOV.UK will also show a mileage history.

This may sound daft, but ensure the invoices, etc relate to the correct car. It has been known, especially with vehicles from large collections, that the wrong invoices find their way into the wrong folders!

If it is sold with a V5 make sure they have it and check any relevant information on it. For example, if you are thinking of buying the vehicle for its registration, check the V5 to ensure it has a transferable plate. Check imported lots have the relevant paperwork declaring that all duties have been paid.

Check. Check. Check. And satisfy yourself that the vehicle is as described. Once you have made a bid there is no going back!

Guide price

Most lots will have a guide price, this price is generally reflected by the reserve price, so bids will need to get close to or within the guide price for the lot to be sold. This is not a hard and fast rule so it’s sometimes worth putting a cheeky bid in! If a lot is sold without reserve then it is exactly what it says on the tin!


Every auction house charges commission, it is their bread and butter, the way they make a living, so don’t hold it against them. Rates vary and are plus VAT. This is where punters get confused, the VAT is on the commission only and not the price of the vehicle. Here’s an example;

Hammer price –  £10,000

Commission @ 10% = £1000

VAT on commission @ 20% = £200

Total to pay £11,200

Make sure you factor in the commission charges when making a bid.


There are 4 ways to bid – but let’s talk about bidding in the room as that’s why we are here.

So you’ve checked out the motor and you’re sure that this is the one for you. Good start.

Make sure you are in good view of the auctioneer and simply raise your paddle when you would like to bid. The bidding will be in set increments, your bid will be for the next increment unless you or the auctioneer say otherwise. If you are the successful bidder at the fall of the hammer and the lot is sold, then congratulations!

If at the fall of the hammer the lot is provisionally sold this means that the reserve has not been met. The bid will be offered to the vendor by the auction house negotiator and hopefully a deal will be done, this may take some time and you may need to increase your offer, so don’t expect an answer straight away.

I’ll talk about other ways to bid another time.

Winning Bid

Congratulations! You won the bidding war and are now the proud owner of a beige Reliant Scimitar GTE. Before you rush down to the pub to celebrate get yourself over to the payment counter. Many auction houses will insist on a deposit on winning the lot, with the balance payable within 48 hours. There will be a cash limit and some do not accept credit cards. Check their website in advance so that you are prepared.

The V5 change of ownership will be processed by the auction house and you should receive your new one direct from the DVLA. Any other paperwork/history, and the car of course, will be given to you once full payment has been made.

Attending a live auction should be good fun so enjoy it, if you’re unsure of anything while you are there just ask. Auction staff are a friendly bunch, honest!

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