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Buying a car at government auctions may be a good deal, especially for people who can do their own repairs. Some of these vehicles have been abandoned, others are unclaimed tows and others were impounded for evidence in connection with crimes. However, you need to take some steps to protect yourself.


Here are some rules for buying a car at an auction.

Check the cars before the auction. Each is listed by its make and year and is given an auction number that also appears on the windshield of the car. (You can make notes on the list of the car that interests you and then check prevailing prices for such car in the local newspaper want ads or in publications at the library.) Match the auction number on the windshield with the official list. Then check current prices for the same model and make in newspaper ads or the blue book.

Inspect the car by opening the doors and windows, write down the mileage and generally inspect the interior. Inspect the engine compartment for quality of maintenance and check the wires, hoses, motor oil level, and transmission and brake fluid level. Find out the mileage and determine the condition of the interior and tires.

Get an official bidding number from the auctioneers. Bring cash. You must pay full price, plus tax, and all sales are final at this transaction. Make sure that you are buying something that you really need rather than like, since it can't be returned.

At the auction, fill out a form with your name and address to get a bidding number. You must pay during the auction, not afterward.

Don't let competing bids take you beyond your self-imposed price limit. Stick to half the blue book value, and one-third is even safer. This way, you'll be okay even if major repairs are needed.

Get a bill of sale in order to register the vehicle with your state motor vehicle department. If you're from another state, check to see what documents are required to register the car in your state.

Even if the car runs or you can start it with jumper cables, you won' t be able to drive it away without license or insurance. You'll have to have it towed home within a day or two of the auction.

One additional warning: Don't fall for TV or newspaper ads or "900" hotlines offering to tell you when and where auctions are and how to buy. The fees these people charge are very high, and you don't need them. Government sales in your area are always well advertised in your local paper, and some agencies even have mailing lists to notify past customers of upcoming auctions.