The internet age has allowed finding the car of your dreams to become a markedly easier and more convenient process than ever before. No longer are motorcycle and automotive enthusiasts limited to the available offerings in their local classified sections, with a number of big websites that now offer specialty vehicle auction services that cater to an immense array of vehicles from all genres and eras. And of those companies, the biggest is undoubtedly Bring a Trailer.
Despite the site’s popularity and the wealth of vehicles available through its auctions, a surprising number of gear heads have at best, a tenuous grasp on how to actually purchase a vehicle on BaT, much less how to navigate the finer points and features offered by BaT. So, to help make this incredible automotive resource accessible to a larger number of people, we’ve pieced together this definitive guide to how to buy a car on Bring a Trailer.
What Makes Bring a Trailer Unique
Unlike eBay Motors, BaT attracts a much more passionate readership and customer base. Furthermore, the sheer volume of visitors the site attracts allows for an incredibly diverse selection of vehicles that are being sold. From modern hypercars to vintage cafe racers, to rugged off-road 4x4s, and practically everything in between; if it has character, you can probably find it for sale on BaT.
Co-founded in early 2007 by Randy Nonnenberg and Gentry Underwood, Bring a Trailer — or “BaT” as it’s often referred to online — has become a market leader in domestic automotive (and motorcycle) auction realm. The site has managed to attract a dedicated fanbase that’s primarily comprised of die-hard motoring enthusiasts. And with well-over 3,000,000 monthly visitors logging on to peruse, buy, or sell, BaT has become one of the country’s best resources for finding that special set of wheels.
To do anything other than simply looking at vehicles on BaT — such as bidding, contacting a seller, etc — you need to create an account. BaT has two different types of accounts: the first only requires that an email address be entered, and it allows you to reach out to sellers, comment on auctions (or blog posts), and sign up for email alerts. To actually bid on a vehicle you’’ need to set up an account in which you list a valid credit card.
Creating an account will also give you a public member page. You can view your listing, commenting, or bidding history on your member page. You can also see other user’s BaT history — and they you — on their member page, too. If there’s a particular make or model that you’re in the market for, BaT allows users to set up custom notifications and alerts. By simply clicking the “Notify Me when one is listed” button (which is available on any given model page) you’ll receive email updates on that specific model. If you want to keep tabs on an ongoing auction, you can use the “WATCH” button on the top of an auction listing to get email updates as an auction progresses. On the general auctions page, you can also view all of the auctions that you’re currently watching by clicking on the “Watched” button towards the top of the page.
The Bidding Process
Once you’ve set up an account and listed a valid credit card on file, you can start bidding. This part of the process is extremely easy and intuitive. You simply click on the “Bid” button and enter the amount you wish to bid, and viola. When you bid on a vehicle on BaT, your bid is verified via a hold being placed on your credit card for 5% of the bid amount. When the auction ends, that 5% hold amount is returned to the accounts of those who didn’t win the car or motorcycle. And though that 5% is refunded right away, it typically takes a few days for said money to reappear in your account.
Once the highest bidder wins, it’s their responsibility to organize shipping, or whatever services are needed. No shipping costs are covered by BaT or the seller. For an added fee, BaT does offer several supplementary services to its basic auction business that includes shipping and a white-glove service. BaT also has a list of recommended shipping vendors on its site if you need assistance locating help in that department.
BaT also has a commonly-utilized system in place to prevent what is often referred to as “sniping” — the act of putting in a bid at the very last second, thereby not allowing other bidders a chance to bid higher. On BaT, toward the tail-end of an auction (the final two minutes), each bid placed will extend the auction’s timer by two minutes, giving the rest of the bidders an opportunity to bid higher (or walk away).
Fees & Reserves
Like most auction companies, each vehicle sold on BaT is offered with or without a reserve. This is a minimum amount that the seller will accept. If a vehicle fails to reach — or “meet” — a seller’s reserve it won’t be sold and the top bidder’s has the 5% fee waived. In this situation, BaT will also put the highest bidder in contact with the seller in hopes of an agreement being reached between both parties. Sellers also have the ability to lower their reserve amount at any point. While BaT doesn’t reveal a vehicle’s reserve price, it does show if the vehicle has a reserve or not on the auction page’s listing title.
In addition to the final sale price, BaT charges a 5% fee — though said fee has a $250 minimum and anything that sells for over $100K has its fee capped at $5K. The winning bidder has their 5% deposit turned into BaT’s 5% fee.
Contacting The Seller & Vehicle Inspection
BaT’s “Contact Seller” button allows interested parties to reach out to the seller to ask any questions or receive clarification on something. The “Contact Seller” feature can also be used to set up an in-person inspection or a test-drive of the vehicle.
BaT is well-aware that buying a vehicle is a fairly unique process that requires far more close-inspection and due-diligence than the average purchase. For this reason, BaT listings feature dozens of photos of each vehicle, showing close-up details of parts, components, and finishes. Each listing also boasts an extensive written description. Examining both the photos and written descriptions closely is an absolute must. It’s also never a bad idea to read through the comment section, as the sheer number of commenters can often contribute valuable facts, opinions, and insights. The party selling the vehicle — which is encouraged by BaT to engage with commentators and answer questions — can also be reached via the comment section of an auction page.
Post Auction Process
Once a successful bidder wins an auction, BaT will give the buyer and seller each others’ contact information. Contacting the seller of a vehicle can only be done through BaT. This is done by BaT so buyers and sellers don’t simply go around them, thereby robbing BaT of its fee.
And, while arranging international shipping is obviously markedly more difficult than coordinating a domestic delivery, international bidders are welcome to partake in BaT auctions, so long as they have a valid credit card on file. International bidding does obviously make it substantially harder to arrange an in-person appointment to inspect or test-drive a vehicle.
Warnings, Disclaimers, & Tips
And, while you can choose to roll the dice and purchase anything from a basketcase to a museum-quality vehicle from the internet sight unseen, it’s always a good idea to go the extra mile and really research the vehicle in question. This means running a VIN check, reaching out to the seller — which can be done via the black “Contact Seller Button” — to ask questions, or even scheduling a time to go physically inspect and test drive the thing. Despite the popularity of BaT, the reality is that it offers relatively little in the way of recourse for buyers in cases of fraudulent activity or scams. It’s vital to do your homework, communicate with the seller, get concrete information, and not simply send a four, five, or six-figure check across the country to a complete stranger. As a rule of thumb, just use common sense and trust your gut.
It’s important to know that BaT does NOT offer a post-auction inspection. The bidder is responsible for knowing what they’re bidding on, poring over the photos and written description, reaching out to the seller, and scheduling an appointment to see and test out a vehicle. BaT does, however, urge sellers to send the winning bidder a photocopy of the title and bill of sale prior to the buyer making final payment — which BaT recommends doing via a wire transfer.
Hit The Auctions
Though the prospect of making such a significant purchase over the internet may seem daunting and intimidating, the reality is using BaT is remarkably simple, intuitive, and straight-forward. By shying away from BaT, you’re cutting yourself off from a resource that provides access to a virtually endless parade of dream cars. So, now that you’ve fully wrapped your head around how to operate and navigate the site, why not dive in and get to bidding.