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Insider's Guide To: Buying A Classic Car Abroad

Buying a classic car at auction in a foreign country is not very different from buying in the UK. There are the obvious challenges the auction may be held in a foreign language you don’t speak and the amounts being bid will be in the local currency.

However, given the international nature of many larger classic car auctions now, most list the bid prices in the local currency and Sterling and Dollars as they are the most common currencies for trading classics. As for language, a lot of auction companies will make the effort to provide a translator or you could arrange for a phone or commission bid to guard against any language problems.

To be sure you are not bidding over your maximum, it’s wide to have a calculator to hand or use the one on your smartphone to make any quick currency conversions if the price is not shown in Sterling. Be mindful that currency rates vary from day to day, so small fluctuations in the price you pay could appear as you settle your account with the auction firm.

More than language or currency, you should make yourself aware of what fees and commissions will be charged by an auction firm. Some companies outside of the UK ask for little or no upfront seller’s fee to encourage cars into the auction ring, but the commissions for the buyer and seller can be higher than in the UK as the auction company makes its profit in this way.

Buyers might also be asked to pay a registration fee where in the UK you usually just register as a bidder. In the USA, for example, bidders also often have to pay a deposit by credit card or arrange a letter of credit from their bank. This is to discourage impulse bidding and make sure that anyone who is a registered bidder has the funds to buy the car they want to buy. Some auction companies in the USA will also let you pay the bidder’s deposit in cash on the day, which you can reclaim if you don’t buy a car or use to pay part of the car’s sale price.

Again in the USA, where many European buyers look to buy cars from, auction companies are very familiar with phone bids. These bids are often referred to as absentee bids and usually require a much higher deposit from the bidder to avoid a buyer becoming carried away and thinking they can avoid paying by hanging up the phone. Auctions in the USA are also usually much faster paced, with agents from the auction company mixing with the bidders to encourage more bids or do deals with cars that don’t reach their reserve price. For some bidders, this can be quite intimidating but auction companies will be happy to explain the system to you.

Most other countries have broadly similar systems to the UK, so you just need to be certain about what costs you will have to pay over and above the final sale price. This may include a local version of the UK’s VAT or administration costs to register the car to a foreign national.

Buying a classic car from a reputable auction company abroad should mean they have endeavoured to make sure the car is legal and able to be sold without the risk of outstanding finance, serious faults or it being stolen. Even so, it’s worth checking the car’s documentation yourself to be certain.

After making a winning bid, you will still have to arrange insurance for the car to either drive it away or keep it safe while you arrange shipping back to the UK. This is best organised in advance and UK-based insurance firms and brokers will be able to advise about the requirements for specific countries.


By Al Suttie

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