Guide to police car auctions

If you’re looking to make a significant saving when purchasing a vehicle, or seeking a new experience beyond conventional methods of car buying, then police car auctions might be of interest to you.

Comprising cars from a variety of different circumstances, these auctioned vehicles are often in a far better condition and represent much better value than many people are aware. Indeed, there are now auto traders and dealers with online sites that specialise specifically in cars bought at police auctions.

Not only can you potentially make a good saving, but police car auctions can also offer a wide range of vehicles to choose from. Many police auctions include vehicles that were once part of failed finance deals and, with a diverse range of cars for which people acquire hire purchase (HP) agreements, you’ll have an equally varied pool to pick from.

If you’re keen to learn more about these auctions and how you might benefit, then read on for a comprehensive guide that aims to answer all your questions.

What is a police car auction?

The term ‘police car auction’ covers a variety of auctions that usually involve vehicles seized by the authorities. These auctions are indistinguishable alongside other used car auctions, aside from the fact that everything being sold has been seized by insurance companies, bailiffs, banks and the police themselves.

The vehicles under the hammer at an auction of this kind can include not only cars, but bikes, motorhomes and vans, along with many others. All these seized vehicles will be examined for value, appropriately listed and auctioned off to the highest bidder, exactly like a regular auction.

In some of these car auctions, the vehicles up for sale may also be part of an unwanted surplus of police vehicles. These are sometimes auctioned in lots and sold in quantity to used car traders. In many cases, these police vehicles have been retired and replaced with a new fleet. One of the advantages of purchasing an ex-police car at auction is that it will have been properly serviced and maintained by qualified professionals.

Why would a car be on the police car auction site?

Cars can be listed on auction sites as police seized vehicles for a diverse number of reasons. Surprisingly, only a minority of the cars up for sale have been directly involved in a crime. Quite often, the cars up for auction are the subject of outstanding payments on a finance agreement. When those involved in such deals fail to meet their commitment, the car on finance is repossessed.

Auctioned cars on finance deals are often in excellent condition for two reasons. Firstly, it’s usually a stipulation of the agreement that the car is regularly serviced and secondly, many people fail to fulfil their commitments in the first few months of owning the car. This means that when the vehicle is repossessed and auctioned it’s often still in great shape.

In some cases, the vehicles being sold at a police car auction have been impounded by the authorities after towing. This might be due to the car’s owner being incapable of paying fines or refusing to make collection. Vehicles are sometimes left abandoned on streets and at industrial sites in good working order and are simply picked up by the authorities and then sold at auction. Afterall, it’s impossible for the police to impound vehicles forever with limited capacity available. To free up the necessary space, these impounded vehicles are sold at auction either online or at a physical auction house.

How do police car auctions work?

When a vehicle is seized by the police, they’re given a thorough examination by a qualified expert to work out their worth before auction. Make, model and age will all be considered, and the car will be tested for any mechanical problems. Any structural and surface damage to the vehicle will be noted, such as dents or missing paintwork, and these defects will be deducted from the overall value. When this examination is complete, a guide price will be put on the vehicle for auction and a detailed description will be written for interested bidders to read.

The seized vehicles will then be listed and sold at an auction house, advertised specifically as a police auction and sold to the highest bidder on the day.

How to buy cars from police auctions

Police auctions follow the same format as regular car auctions, with vehicles brought out to view by the audience. The auctioneer hosting the sale will invite bids from those gathered and the price will rise until only the highest bidder remains. If the reserve price on the police-seized car has been met, then the vehicle will be sold to that individual.

When purchasing a car that was police seized, it’s advised that you pay attention to three specific areas of interest, although these are also good practice at any auction:

Run a HPI vehicle history check on the car you’re keen to bid on to make sure it doesn’t have any outstanding finance attached to it in the form of an HPI marker. Typically, this information will be offered to bidders in the detailed description offered by the auction house, but it’s always worth making sure. A vehicle history check will also identify any criminal activity the car’s related to, including whether it was ever reported lost or stolen, along with other information.

In matters of finance, if you purchase a vehicle with outstanding payments attached that’s been repossessed, then the finance passes to you. This means you could be liable to settle any outstanding payments as the registered keeper of the car.

Checking the service history of a police-seized car before purchase is also essential for bidders. Many people assume that if someone has been unable to maintain their monthly car payments, they’re unlikely to have spent money on regular and professional servicing and maintenance. This is often far from the truth as many HP and Personal Contract Plan agreements demand drivers keep up with a schedule of proper servicing. If you’re still concerned, examine the police auctioned car’s description and check when its MOT expires.

Many car buyers at auction will be looking for a logbook or V5C registration document. Again, this will be listed in the vehicle description and sometimes copies of the document may be enclosed in a folder inside the car for you to read if you arrive early on auction day. If your chosen car doesn’t have a logbook, don’t worry, you can write to the DVLA for a replacement for a fee of £25.

Where are police car auctions held?

Police car auctions usually take place at the same auction houses that host regular cars auctions. However, an auction event that specifically lists cars of this kind will be titled as a police auction at both the auction house and on its online site. Police car auctions can also be held online through organisations who specialise in auction-style selling.

These auctions are held up and down the country, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one happening in proximity to your location.

How to find police car auctions

Auto traders and dealers alike are acutely aware of the advantages of picking up ex-police and police-seized cars at these niche auctions. There are even some who specialise in trading in these vehicles. Tracking these auctions down, while not impossible, can sometimes be a little trickier than tracing everyday auctions. Many of the auction houses that work with the police to auction these vehicles are smaller organisations, which means they may not appear at the top of your online search.

You’ll discover that many police forces also offer information on upcoming auctions online, which is another place well worth checking. You can also contact them by email and make enquiries on the latest auctions coming up and where they’re held.

You may see websites online that offer a service that specifically deal in locating police car auctions for drivers looking to attend. While this can be an option worth considering, it may involve you signing up to the company’s site. If you find a fee attached to such a service, it’s worth avoiding as this is unnecessary.

When is the next police car auction?

Once you’ve located the auction houses that deal in police seized vehicles, make sure you keep an eye on the auction listings. These are typically released monthly, so you’ll have plenty of time to find an auction taking place near you if you’d like to attend. Always check police websites too for any updates on upcoming auctions. Regional and local newspapers can also be a valuable source of information on auctions taking place soon.