Buyer Beware – 4 Things to Check at Collector Car Auctions

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I attended five collector car auctions during “automotive week” in Scottsdale, AZ. recently which included:


This is the big event and by far the largest with over 2,000 vehicles and ran from Tuesday through Sunday. A week’s pass just to attend was $150 and if you wanted to bid, there was an extra charge. Also, a letter of credit from your bank and other paper work is also needed if you intend to bid. Bidders are allowed to sit closer to the action.


This auction, held on the grounds of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, was small but a class act. Very high-quality vehicles, mostly antiques and European high-performance vehicles were presented. I saw a 1966 racing Ferrari sell for 8.55 million dollars. The auction house usually gets 10 percent from the buyer and 8 percent from the seller, which means that the auction house had an income of about one millions dollars from the sale of this one vehicle.

Gooding and Company

Held at the Scottsdale Fashion Mall area, this smaller but high-quality auction had many rare and high-dollar vehicles. My favorite was a 1936 Auburn 852 SC Boat Tail Speedster. The estimated auction price was also very nice at $700,000-$850,000.

RM Auction

Held on the grounds of the Biltmore Resort in Scottsdale, this was another high-class auction with mostly expensive and rare high-quality vehicles, with some at or near $100,000 to over $1,000,000 for several.

Russo and Steels

Held in tents near the Barrett-Jackson auction site, this auction was smaller than Barrett-Jackson and had mostly what I would call “affordable” vehicles from about $1,000 to over $100,000.

Experts Check

I saw several people inspecting vehicles for bidders especially at the high-end auctions. These vehicle-specific experts were then able to provide advice to their clients so that they could bid knowing everything there was about the vehicle. Some of the things that I saw collector car advisers inspecting in Scottsdale during automotive week included:

1. Paint

People using a paint thickness gauge on all painted surfaces. I asked one person who was checking a rare and high-valued Porsche what he found and he told me that he had already found out that the hood had been repainted. A repainted hood would have a thicker paint layer than if it were not repainted unless it was stripped down to bare metal and then totally refinished which takes a lot more time. He was checking further to see if he could determine if there were other “issues” that could affect the price that the bidder may be willing to spend.

2. Lights

Checking closely for flaws, such as one custom Mustang I saw at the Barrett-Jackson auction, it appeared that the parking lights were simply glued in instead of using a gasket and mechanical fasteners.

3. Trim and Molding

I saw paint on the rubber weather stripping around the front windshield and around the rear window. This meant that the car, in this case a Ferrari at the Gooding and Company auction, was repainted by simply using masking tape to seal around where paint is not to be sprayed instead of removing all of the chrome and glass and then painting the vehicle and re-installing all for the windows and chrome.

4. Under the Car

At the Barrett-Jackson auction, I saw some exhaust systems welded to the frame or to the rear bumper instead of using rubber “hangers” to support the exhaust pipes. By not using rubber hangers, engine and exhaust noises are transmitted directly to the frame of the vehicle.

Collector Car Auctions

The bottom line is attending these well know collector car auctions is an awesome experience and well worth the trip for any automotive enthusiast. However, if you intend to purchase your “dream car” at any auction, be sure to have it checked out by a professional and always remember “buyer beware.”

James Halderman
James Halderman is the author of 15 textbooks for Automotive Technology. His automotive experience comes from a diverse background which includes being a flat-rate technician, a repair shop owner, and a professor of automotive technology at a premiere community college for more than 20 years.