If you need a car but only have a few thousand dollars to spend, buying a car through an impound auction may be your best bet. In some cases, cars sold from an impound lot can be bought for as low as 10 percent of the book value. Cars that are impounded and unclaimed for a period of time, sometimes only 15 days, can be legally auctioned by a police department.
Contact local law enforcement agencies and ask for information about impounded car auctions. Check with police agencies at multiple levels of government, including municipal and county, as they each may have separate impound auction programs. You can also find advertisements for car impound auctions or sales in the legal notices section of local publications.
Ask the law enforcement agency coordinating the auction for a list of cars and any other inventory that will be sold at auction. Reference a used car value guidebook, such as the Kelley Blue Book, to determine the fair retail value any impounded cars being auctioned. You can also check the CARFAX vehicle history or search online for recent sales of similar cars to get a better idea of the vehicle's fair market price.
Find out the payment rules that must be followed if you enter a winning bid. Some departments require auction winners to pay in cash or pay an additional surchage that can raise the price by as much as 20 percent.
Attend the impound auction on the day posted in the published legal notice; you can also contact the police department handling the auction and ask for the exact date, time and place of the auction. Impound lot auctions are typically held monthly or every couple of months for larger police departments while smaller communities may only have one such auction per year.
Enter a top bid for a car that is being auctioned to win the purchasing rights to that vehicle. Follow all agency guidelines pertaining to payment to legally buy the car's title.
Many websites display sales listings for impounded cars from law enforcement agencies across the country. Although this increases the number of available listings to browse, you'll have little to no chance of seeing the car before the sale. Some sites require a membership fee to access impound sales databases.