First Time At a Car Auction

Selling cars at an auction is foreign to me. Where I live in Singapore, we rely almost solely on buying cars privately or from used car dealerships. Among the auctions there is always the impression that ‘something must be wrong with the car’, perhaps a very strong Asian mindset that if one’s car is re-possessed or confiscated, the car itself also contains some qualities of its owner.

Being in the UK and watching shows like Wheeler Dealers on how easy it really is to pick up a car from an auction, I eagerly went down to one near my place to engulf myself in the atmosphere. I wasn’t specifically looking for a car per se, but then that is usually the case for people browsing at auctions, isn’t it? The unbridled freedom of being able to just walk into an auction warehouse and looking at every single car up for grabs, without having a pushy salesman following you around: that is the prime appeal of an auction for me.

The downside is that auctions are also where you can’t actually test drive a car you are about to bid for before buying it. Consequently, this puts the heavy burden of risk on the buyer. Often, these cars are sold with no warranties and no guarantees – ‘sold as seen’ – and hence their lower prices. Nonetheless, after winning a bid the bidder has about an hour to view the car properly and to dispute his bid if any information was misrepresented. I don’t know if this is a risk I am willing to take, and it seems that most people at the auction today had the same view too.

Sales were lacklustre and the auctioneer frequently started his bids in jest, mocking the audience for not knowing the true value of the cars sold. Fact of the matter is, if nobody from the audience actually places a bid, then the price is surely set too high? It seemed like many of the cars which didn’t get sold had reserve prices set at way higher than what people expected. Hence, there was very little of an exchange that was supposed to happen in auctions. Throughout the whole time of the auction when I was there, only one car got sold, indicated by the knock of the hammer on the table.

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic experience seeing cars being priced at the cost of a mediocre television or a washing machine. Mind you, some of these cars are as young as 4 years old and look like they would be genuinely good cars for the family to last for a long time. Some of the bids were increasing in as small as 10 pounds (16 USD), which was simply pocket change for a purchase that is usually the next biggest expense after a house. A real eye-opener, this, and a reminder for me to savour the cheap car prices in the UK before my time here is up. Just thinking about the latest Certificate of Entitlement (a certificate to drive a car for ten years in Singapore) prices – 45,600USD the last time I checked –  is making me shudder. Thank goodness there are still countries like the UK and the United States where cars are sensibly priced.


Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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  1. $45,600 to buy a ten-year certificate just to make you eligible to then buy and own a car? Wow.

    I have a 1994 BMW 540i with over 200,000 miles on it that still runs perfectly (and looks great, too) that I keep around for grins, and I pay the annual state registration fee of $82.00, and the insurance on it is around $210.00 annually (that’s with 4000 miles a year and only liability). I’m starting to feel kind of fortunate reading about the fees in Singapore.

  2. Yes, and after ten years you have to invest in another certificate again. The price changes according to demand and the government controls the supply. Yeehaw!

    Very nice BMW, that’s something we can’t do in Singapore very viably unfortunately, we’re also slapped with 150% road tax on cars older than ten years old. People usually scrap their cars at 10 years which is a massive waste.

  3. Auctions look like they are pretty fun with many good deals to be had. Too bad in Singapore there are no open auctions for cars like in the UK. The only ones Ive been to locally are more for repo vehicles (i.e trashed to the ends of the earth and back). COE sucks. In Singapore, if you are not a millionaire you can forget about owning a car, period. The government is also in the midst of introducing a GPS based tax system which is effectively an invasion of privacy but thats another story…..

    PS: Hi James, long time no see. Just happened to come across your article when I was doing a little research on a particular white E34 for sale and oh BTW just to let you know, COE here is on the up again despite the already stratospheric levels!

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