From Salvage to Riches: Secrets to Success at USA State Auto Auctions

In a captivating episode from Season 4 of “Car Masters: Rust to Riches,” car restorers Mark and Shawn embark on a thrilling adventure. Their destination: a local salvage yard, a place where discarded vehicles hold hidden potential. In the California-based show, Mark and Shawn trade their beautifully restored 1957 Chevrolet for an enticing combination: a ‘96 Bonneville Lakester, a classic ‘62 Cadillac, and a generous cash sum.

Beyond the TV series, there are truly limitless possibilities of salvage cars for those with the knowledge and skill. It serves as a vivid illustration of the unbounded potential of the art of restoration, where vintage salvage cars can be transformed from forgotten relics into stunning treasures.

In contrast to local salvage yards, car auctions in the USA have gained tremendous popularity over the last few years, thanks to the proliferation of online auto auctions and reality shows such as Car Masters and Junkyard Wars, where salvage and junk cars are sold through bidding. Car enthusiasts and budget-conscious individuals are now aware and can acquire vehicles at significant discounts and restore them into their dream vehicles.

In the USA, state auto auctions provide a unique opportunity to find good deals on a wide range of vehicles, from luxury cars to budget-friendly options. But how does one navigate this world? In this blog, we’ll share essential tips to help you win bids at state auto auctions in the USA and discuss how to navigate online auto auctions.

Preparing for the Auction

  1. Do Your Research: Before participating in a state auto auction in the USA, research the auction process, rules, and regulations. Familiarize yourself with the auctioneer’s website and understand their terms and conditions.
  2. Set a Budget: Determine how much you will spend at the auction. Having a predefined budget will help you avoid overspending in the heat of the moment.
  3. Inspect the Inventory: Most auto auctions list available vehicles before the event. Take the time to review the list, paying attention to makes and models that interest you. Online auctions usually provide detailed descriptions of the vehicles, including their condition and any known issues. Pay close attention to avoid surprises. They provide valuable insights into the car’s condition, any known issues, and even its history. Does the vehicle have a salvage title? Has it been involved in any accidents? Are there known mechanical or structural problems? These are questions you should be looking to answer through the descriptions. While high-quality images can give you a visual impression of the vehicle, the descriptions provide a deeper layer of information. You might discover important details like whether the car has a clean title, if it runs and drives, or if it requires significant repairs. They might also reveal any custom modifications or upgrades. Additionally, some auctions allow you to inspect the vehicles in person before the auction day.
  4. Get a Vehicle History Report: Obtain a vehicle history report for the cars you’re interested in. This report can provide crucial information about the vehicle’s past, including accidents, title history, etc.
  5. Consider Your Payment Options: Different auctions may have varying payment methods. Some may require cash, while others accept credit cards, cashier’s checks, or financing options. Make sure you have the required payment method in place.

Navigating Online Auto Auctions

  1. Register in Advance: To participate in online auto auctions, you must register on the auction platform. Complete this step well before the auction begins to avoid last-minute issues.
  2. Use Proxy Bidding: Many online salvage car auctions allow for proxy bidding, where you can set your maximum bid in advance. The system will automatically bid on your behalf, increasing your bid incrementally as needed until your limit is reached.
  3. Stay Alert: Online auctions can be fast-paced, and bids can arrive quickly. Stay attentive and responsive during the auction to place timely bids.
  4. Check the Auction’s Closing Rules: Online salvage car auctions have various closing rules. Some may have specific rules regarding reserve prices, where the vehicle will only be sold if the reserve price is met. Others might employ a “soft close” mechanism, where the auction extends by a set time if a bid is placed in the final minutes. Familiarizing yourself with these rules ensures you’re not caught off guard during the critical moments of bidding and maximizes your chances of winning.

Winning Bids at Auto Auctions

  1. Arrive Early: If the auction is in person, arriving early will allow you to assess the competition and familiarize yourself with the atmosphere. For online auctions, log in ahead of time to ensure you’re prepared when the bidding starts.
  2. Set a Limit: Stick to the budget instead of getting caught up in a bidding war. It’s essential to know when to walk away from a vehicle if the price exceeds your predetermined limit.
  3. Understand the Auctioneer: At in-person auctions, auctioneers have a unique and rapid way of speaking. Take the time to understand the auctioneer’s style and the pace at which they conduct the auction. Reputable online auction sites provide video tutorials to explain their rules and procedures to customers.
  4. Be Mindful of Additional Fees: In addition to the winning bid, you may need to pay additional fees, such as buyer’s fees, title transfer fees, and taxes. Factor them into your budget.

Popular Cars to Explore at State Auto Auctions in the USA

For newcomers to the world of state auto auctions, it’s a prudent approach to direct your attention towards well-known and popular car models initially. These models, often recognized for their abundant available parts and straightforward restoration processes, can serve as a conducive entry point. Here are some models to explore:

  1. Honda Civic: It is a reliable and fuel-efficient choice. Salvage state auto auctions may have late-model Civics with repairable damage.
  2. Toyota Camry: The Toyota Camry is known for its durability and resale value. Salvage auctions offer opportunities to buy one at a fraction of its market value.
  3. Ford F-150: The Ford F-150 is one of the best-selling pickup trucks in the United States. Salvage F-150s are common at state auto auctions across the USA and can fetch you a good deal.
  4. Nissan Altima: The Nissan Altima is a popular midsize sedan. Salvage Altima models might need some work, but they are a practical choice.
  5. Chevrolet Silverado: Like the Ford F-150, the Chevrolet Silverado is a sought-after pickup truck. They are frequently available at state auto auctions in the USA and can be a good buy for those on a budget.


Participating in state auto auctions in the USA can be an exciting way to find your dream vehicle at discounted prices. The salvage automotive world is a canvas waiting to be painted. For those who possess the knowledge, skill, and dedication to restore cars, the possibilities are boundless. And for those who don’t, here’s a new world waiting to be unlocked. Each old, rusted vehicle holds the potential for a remarkable transformation, not just in terms of monetary value but in the preservation of automotive history and the rekindling of nostalgia. If salvage cars excite you, register with a reputable auto auction platform and start searching for your next project car!

About the author
From Salvage to Riches: Secrets to Success at USA State Auto Auctions — Bike Hacks