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Where to Find State & Federal Vehicles at Auction

Where to Find State & Federal Vehicles at Auction

State and federal car auctions offer some of the lowest prices you’ll find anywhere on used cars. You might hear about car dealer auctions, but chances are you can’t get in unless you’re a registered car dealer.

However, government bid sales are an entirely different beast. Held by local, state, and federal authorities, these auctions are open to the public. 

Before you look for the nearest government auction, though, you’ll want to get the inside scoop. And we’ve got it.

Let’s go!

Why Are Vehicles Sold at State and Federal Auctions?

Government car auctions happen regularly to clear out inventory the government holds. These vehicles could be retired police cars, ambulances, or part of a state government fleet. Besides legitimate purchases, vehicles become government property through more nefarious means. 

Let’s imagine the FBI takes down a massive drug ring and takes all its assets into possession. These assets most likely include drugs, money, guns, and vehicles. And while the government is happy to take the cash and weapons, the cars are another story. 

Frequently, the government tries to recoup costs by auctioning off the vehicles, even at a massive loss. 

It’s not always that flashy. Vehicles seized in tax settlements, as part of restitution agreements, and other legal processes make their way to auction. However they get there, government auctions give individuals access to potentially high-quality vehicles at low prices. 

Back view of buyer showing auction paddle with number five to auctioneer during auction
Both state and federal auctions sell vehicles for a fraction of their original price.

What Kinds of Vehicles Are Sold at State and Federal Auctions?

Every state and federal agency has replacement requirements built into their acquisition practices. That means that a three- to five-year-old fleet vehicle might sell at a fraction of the cost. 

You’ll likely find a wide range of vehicles up for purchase at a government auction. These include mundane items like everyday cars to more exciting things like police SUVs. You can also usually find ambulances, trailers, and minivans. Beyond that, you’ll find sports cars, humvees, vintage cars, and the rare supercar up for auction. 

What Are the Benefits of Buying a Vehicle at Government Auctions?

Several benefits of buying a vehicle at a government auction can make them attractive. 

The most obvious is the low price of entry into the market. In most auctions, the price starts well below market price, sometimes as low as $200. Most bidders drop out when the price increases, so the last bidder in the game gets the vehicle at their final bid price. 

Government vehicles are also more reliable than those maintained by your average person. The maintenance log for the car stays with it, so you can easily see when and what mechanics repaired over the vehicle’s life. Most government agencies replace at 25,000-40,000 miles, so you’re getting a relatively new automobile as well. 

And at government auctions, you have to pay for your purchase in full at the end of the auction. That means no car payments! You’re sitting pretty if you get your dream car at a rock-bottom price with no car payment. 

Pro Tip: Considering buying a used RV? Find out Should You Avoid (or not) a Used RV?

Auction hammer with golden details, a car key next to it and a contract in the background.
There are various websites and platforms you can use to find car auctions near you.

How Can I Find State and Federal Vehicle Auctions?

You’re all set to purchase your next vehicle at a government auction; the benefits are just too good. Now comes the hard part, finding an auction. Things are much more accessible than they used to be when looking to get in on the action. Check out these resources. 

GSA Auctions

GSA Auctions is the most direct route for purchasing from the federal government. The Feds own and operate the site, and all proceeds go directly back to agencies and the US Treasury. 

On the site, you’ll find all sorts of surplus inventory. Cars, trucks, and vans are easy to find. You’ll find some of the more oddball items include farm equipment, aircraft, and mobile homes. All of these items are available for purchase. You’ll just have to arrange transportation of the item if you aren’t local. 

Copart

Starting with one salvage lot in California back in 1982, Copart now owns over 8,000 acres of used inventory. They’re one of the world’s largest liquidators of used government inventory. With sites in eleven countries, you’ll certainly find what you’re looking for. 

You’ll find everything from fleet cars and SUVs to trucks. Beyond that, they have a stock of hybrid and electric vehicles alongside exotics and vintage cars. 

GovPlanet

The Ritchie brothers opened GovPlanet as their online auction portal 17 years ago. Since then, they’ve branched out into several sectors and have a sterling reputation for quality and integrity. They sell everything from military surplus to trucks, excavators, and everyday vehicles.

Their inventory includes cars, trucks, vans, buses, classic cars, and a wide range of military vehicles. You’ll be sure to find exactly what you’re looking for!

Close-up of people holding up number paddles at a car auction
Before the auction begins, set your max budget so you don’t spend over your limit.

Tips for Buying Vehicles in State and Federal Auctions

Check out these essential tips before you decide to show up for a government auction. Like anything else run by the government, there are plenty of rules to follow. For you to have a successful experience, some preparation is in order. 

Know the Rules

Every auction house has its own specific guidelines, but generally, most of the rules are the same. If you win the auction, you’re legally obligated to pay for it at that time, not later. You may not take possession of the vehicle right away, depending on the local rules. But when you do, you’re expected to cart it off from the auction site, running or not.

Some sites also require that you register ahead of time so take the time to do so if necessary. 

Run a VIN Report 

Since you’re bidding on a specific vehicle, most online listings have the vehicle identification number (VIN). This number is unique to each item, and you can track the car’s history. Running a VIN search allows you to see the automobile’s background and if it was involved in accidents or other types of damage. Often these come in the form of a CARFAX report. 

You should take the time to research before you buy. Just like any used car, you could get stuck with a lemon. 

Pro Tip: If you’re on the hunt for a motorhome instead of a standard car, find out Do RVs Have VIN Numbers?

Set a Budget

Any auction is a gamble. And, like gambling, there’s a certain amount of excitement to get caught up in. Setting a budget before you go in means you won’t end up with a $10,000 bill. 

Your research can help you here because you’ll be able to tell if your top price falls too far outside the actual value of the vehicle. If you bid too high, you might pay more than you have to. 

Is Buying a Vehicle Through an Auction Worth It?

For folks who love the thrill of the chase, buying at auction is worth it. The time it takes to research, inspect, bid, and transport a vehicle is substantial and not for everyone. But the savings are worth it if you get the right car. 

If you’re more interested in driving off the lot with your ride, maybe hit up your local dealer – car dealer. Otherwise, you might see your ride listed on the next state or federal auction.

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