How to Buy A Motorhome From An Auction

(Revised and updated for Autumn 2021)

Is it safe to buy a motorhome from an auction? What checks do I need to carry out before making a bid? Why would a motorhome be sold at an auction, instead of a retail price?

If you’re thinking of buying a motorhome from an auction and have questions like these — you’re not alone. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about motorhome auctions and bidding. And how to get the best deal and safely.

So let’s jump right in:

Section 1

Who Sells Their Motorhomes at an Auction?

Some people are suspicious of motorhomes sold at auctions. They naturally think there must be a catch. Well, there can be. But you can also get a great deal at auctions, too. You just need to understand how motorhome auctions work. 

The first thing to understand is that auctions aren’t just dumping grounds for old motorhomes. I would estimate that around 80-90% of all motorhomes sold at auctions are actually bought from within the motorhome trade. To me this says a lot. Because if other motorhome dealers are willing to buy at auctions to then sell on to customers, surely they can’t all be bad. 

But if this is the case, then why do other motorhome dealers even bother auctioning off their models in the first place? Actually, there are quite a few reasons why:

  • In some situations it can be cost-effective for a dealer to auction a motorhome off. Some dealerships use what are known as ‘stocking plans’ (a type of finance) to buy their motorhomes. In order to stock a vehicle under a stocking plan, dealers usually need to pay 10% towards the total cost and a finance company will pay the rest.

    Most motorhomes are only allowed to sit on a stocking plan for 6 months. After that, the dealer has to pay the full amount to completely buy the model. A lot of the time, and especially if it is a higher-end motorhome (which can be valued upwards from £40,000+) this can cost the dealer a lot of money. So the dealer often has to make a choice. They can front the full cost to buy the motorhome, or then can put it through the auction to trade it on. 
  • Some dealers auction motorhomes because they don’t tend to have much luck with those particular models. That isn’t to say those models are bad. It just means that the dealer doesn’t tend to sell them well, personally. This could be down to a variety of factors and if you look at different dealerships you will find that many of them have fairly uniform stock in terms of price ranges and makes.

    Dealers find what works with them and tend to stick with that catalogue. For example, some dealerships will only sell motorhomes under £30,000. Some prefer European-manufactured models. Others like to sell British-manufactured, or premium models only. So if they find themselves with a model that is out of sorts with the rest of their stock, they’ll potentially enter it into an auction. 
  • If a dealer has multiple motorhomes of the same make and model, they will get rid of a few to diversify their stock. Again, this does not mean that the stock they’re auctioning off is low-quality. It just means that they would rather their money be spent on a variety of models. Rather than having three of the exact same motorhomes on their showroom floor. 
  • Some dealers buy purely to sell in the auctions. In many instances, these motorhomes will be of an extremely high quality. and customers will often find themselves in a bidding war with other dealers in order to get their hands on them. But not always. Inevitably, some of the stock will be sub-optimal. As always, remember to do your own checks before bidding, to seal a happy purchase.
  • If a dealer personally doesn’t want to stock it, they’ll get rid. Everybody has different tastes and if a dealer doesn’t see the appeal of a certain model they’ll auction it off to a dealer who will. Again, the issue here is more of personal taste rather than of low quality.

Section 2

Repossessed Motorhomes

Most motorhomes at auction houses are sold by motorhome dealers to other dealerships for various reasons (described above). But auctions are also places where people can get their hands on repossessed motorhomes for sale.  

A big company that features in motorhome repossession auctions is Black Horse. I am often asked about Black Horse motorhome auctions so I want to talk a little more about them. They normally auction off their vehicles for two reasons.

  • The motorhomes have been repossessed from a previous owner. Note that these motorhomes are not checked when they are repossessed from their previous owner. They are only put in the auction to try and claw back some of the money owed. So be sure to give a repossessed motorhome a good checking over before making a bid.

Just because a motorhome has been repossessed and dumped in an auction house, that doesn’t mean it is bad. For example, we recently saw a nearly new repossessed Auto-Trail Chieftain go through an auction. The entire back end had been turned into a canteen, and it was eventually sold at £20,000 less than it was worth. It wasn’t until after it was sold that anyone questioned the condition. That’s just one example, but there are many instances where I’ve seen some near-perfect repossessed motorhomes go through. But as always, make your checks.

  • They have been rejected by a customer or dealer for some reason. This is the type of sale that almost everyone thinks of — and fears — when they think of motorhome auction selling. Models in this situation are usually nearly new and may or may not come with any remaining manufacturer’s warranty.

With the proper checks, you won’t have to worry about buying poor-quality repossessed campers for sale. Inspect the motorhome thoroughly and remember, one person’s reject may be another person’s bargain.

How Do I Buy a Repossessed Motorhome?

The most obvious way is to buy via a repo reseller. Black Horse is just one example of a company that sells repossessed motorhomes at auctions. You can do this in person or at an online auction marketplace. You could also visit a motorhome dealer, who may have purchased a repossessed model at an auction and fixed it for sale already (and this may give you more options for financing and warranties).

Another unique way to find some new camper repossession sales is to ask your bank or credit union if you can take a look at their repossession list. If you find a model you like, you should be able to finance it through the bank or credit union directly, often with very low (or even 0%) interest rates. The only downside is the bank won’t have spent any money making the motorhome repossessions for sale presentable beforehand — unlike a motorhome dealer, who will get it nice and ready to sell. So you will have to spend your own money to clean or fix it up.

Are Black Horse motorhomes the only safe models to buy from auctions?

Recently, at a motorhome auction in Nottingham, a private buyer asked me a question that I have heard many times: “Is it safe to buy a motorhome from the auction and is it true that the Black Horse motorhomes are the only safe ones to buy?”

The buyer told me he had been reading online (mostly on forums) that Black Horse were the only quality motorhomes available, and that the rest were all trade motorhomes that motorhome dealers didn’t want to retail. 

I can say from experience that there are plenty of motorhome gems to be found at auctions, irrespective of whether they’re from Black Horse or not. In fact, most motorhomes that are auctioned off are bought by other motorhome dealers who then go on to sell them to customers. You just need to get to the auction early, have a good look at the models you’re interested in, do the right checks and set your price. So be sensible, but keep an open mind. And if you see a model you like, go for it!

Section 3

Checking a Motorhome Before Bidding

If you are serious about purchasing a motorhome from an auction, you’ll need to get to the venue nice and early. This is so that you can have a good, close look at the models that interest you and set your price. Get there early enough, and you’ll likely have 1-2 hours to really check out the quality of the motorhomes for auction. 

I want to make it clear that all motorhomes bought from an auction are strictly sold as seen. So, as with anything you buy, whether it’s from an auction, a private seller, or a dealer — it’s crucial that you carry out the correct checks before making any financial commitments.

The correct checks include:

  • A HPI check — ‘Hire Purchase Investigation’ checks are basic vehicle checks designed to make sure the motorhome you’re interested in doesn’t have a dodgy history. A HPI check will make sure the vehicle isn’t already on finance elsewhere, hasn’t been written off from an insurance claim or stolen, and has the correct mileage.

Some auctions, such as British Car Auctions, automatically carry out HPI checks on everything auctioned off under their roof. But not all auctions do this. If you aren’t sure if a model has had an HPI check, request to see one. Or you can check it yourself online — the only information you’ll need to do so is the registration number.

  • Intuition check — use your intuition and your gut. Get a feel for the models as you are examining them.  Obviously, none of the motorhomes will be hooked up and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to switch on the gas, but generally you can have a good look through things. Inspect the engine bay, look underneath and keep an ear out for any rattling. Start the engine and look for puffs of unburnt fuel.

More time inspecting will also help you to develop a little bit of a buffer zone — where you will realise you can afford to do a little bit of work (if such work needs doing) to get it back in service. If there is some wear and tear it could still be worth purchasing. But if there is excessive wear and tear, that could indicate that it has been in an accident in the past.

  • The commission rates — these will be different depending on who is hosting the auction. After the hammer has dropped, the commission will be added to the final sale price. British Car Auctions’ buyers fees work on a sliding scale. And John Pye auctions work on a percentage. When you set your limit make sure the commission is factored in.
  • The ‘buyer’s premium’ — There may or may not be a buyer’s premium, which is essentially a percentage figure over and above the bidding price.
  • The particular ‘rules’ of each auction you attend. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the guidelines of that particular auction. Every auction will have slightly different rules and regulations — it’s up to you to know them before attending and making a bid.
  • See if the auction is selling with a motorhome warranty. Some auctions sell their models with a trial that protects buyers from the dangers of ‘sold-as-seen’ and helps to determine any faults. But some do not. So check!
  • Make sure you can afford the repair costs if repairs are needed. If it’ll cost you money to repair a motorhome, ask yourself is it really worth it? Is it worth the final bidding price if repairs still need to be made on top? Try to tally up the ‘cost-to-change’ price of the model, instead of just how much it’s going for in the auction room.

A Note on British Car Auctions

As one of the biggest providers of recreational vehicle auctions in the UK, a special mention of British Car Auctions is worth including here. 

If you are buying from BCA, then they will have already carried out a HPI check, so you will be guaranteed full title. You will also be made aware of any insurance claims against the motorhome before purchasing. Also, no vehicles can be sold with finance outstanding at the auctions. 

In case you’re curious, all BCA motorhomes are listed online. You can  view the current BCA listings here — and new motorhomes are being listed all the time.

Section 4

Motorhome and Campervan Auction Tips and Tricks

  • Go to a few auctions first so you know what you’re dealing with. Before you bid on anything. Experience what it’s like to be at an auction. Get comfortable, learn your prices, and pay attention. Get the auction list and make a note of what each model is going for.
  • Practice listening to fast-talking auctioneers. Auctioneers talk very fast. They will quickly ramble through the motorhome’s total loss declaration along with any faults it may have. So you’ll have to listen very carefully so that you don’t miss anything. (Another reason why it’s best to attend a few auctions as an observer first, so that you can get used to the speed of the auctioneer’s voice.)
  • Always set your limit. It will take a few campervan auctions to get a feel for knowing what the right limit is — but you will learn.

Remember that prices change daily, and if there are more private buyers in the room, the more you are likely to end up in an escalating bidding war with them. Dealers and other professionals buying from within the trade know intricately a vehicle’s worth and won’t pay over the odds. But private buyer’s don’t necessarily have the same experience. Meaning you could end up paying more than the vehicle is worth.

  • Draw up a shortlist of ‘must haves’. This is to stop you from being tempted by other auction motorhomes for sale that you weren’t looking for. Prepare a readymade list that you think you need and separate this from your ‘would-be-nice’ list. Otherwise, you might end up purchasing an unsuitable “bargain”.
  • Don’t be intimidated. People often get excited during the bidding process — and end up essentially shouting their bids. Not all of them, mind you. But some of them. But just because someone has shouted their bid and it’s higher than yours, that doesn’t mean you’ve already lost the deal. It’s also equally important that you don’t counter too hard without thinking clearly. Stick to your limit.
  • Bid Late. Start your bidding late if the current bids are well below your set limit.
  • You can buy a warranty from various warranty companies after making a purchase. Just like you would after purchasing from a dealer. In my experience it is worth the peace of mind to get the top package, even if this costs more money.

Remember that if the model you’re bidding on is too old, or too high in mileage, then a warranty may be pricier, and harder to maintain.

  • Try contacting the main seller for more info. Most of the vehicles at camper auctions are being sold off by dealers for whatever reason, and most of the buyers are other dealers.

If the model you’re after is being sold by a motorhome dealer, try to find their number and give them a call. It should either be on a sticker in the rear window or on the license plate, or scribbled in the service book. Ring the dealership and ask for the service department, and tell them the registration number of the motorhome you like. They may well have the details available, such as the service history, and they should be happy to help. Ask them about recent repairs, accident reports, and why it ended up at auction in the first place.

How to Make a Bid

To make your first bid hold up your auction catalogue. This will catch the auctioneer’s eye and he or she will remember you. After that, for subsequent bids, you’ll usually just need to nod. Remember that sometimes people get very excited and shout out their bids.

Section 5

What to Expect at a Motorhome Auction

If you’ve never been to a recreational vehicle auction before, you’ll still probably have an idea of how the process works.

In the most simple terms, you register as a bidder, then bid on whatever it is you want, and if you win you just sign the necessary documents and pay up.

There are many places and organisations where motorhome auctions take place. British Car Auctions, Silverstone Auctions, and Manheim Remarketing are the big ones. But there are also plenty of independent local car auctions, which may have a few models for sale.

At the big auctions, you should receive a catalogue with colour photos and important details about all of the listed motorhomes, including the make and model and maybe even a little information about its history.

Every auction will have its own rules, guidelines, and processes for bidding on and finalising a bid. For example, some auctions use different coloured lights to signal that the bidding process has been paused.

When the bidding process starts it might finish up quicker than you think. That may be because commission bids will have already been received and processed before the auction, and the pros are really good at handling real-time telephone bids.

If you successfully outbid everyone else in the room you’ll have to pay VAT on top of the price, and maybe even some extras (such as a buyer’s premium). Make sure you know what the total cost will be and factor it into your price limit.

My Motorhome Auctions Video

If you’re interested, I talk about motorhome auctions (among other things) in this video on my way to a BCA auction in Nottingham. It’s episode 2 of my ‘motorhome diaries’ vlog series. Check it out:

Motorhome Auctions Online

There are always plenty of online auctions going on, and they might have bidding capabilities that will differ from in-person bidding processes. As usual, before you e-attend, make sure you understand all the rules, terms, and steps.

Another thing to look into is the website hosting the auction itself, and what people are saying about it online. There might also be more information about the selling process for motorhomes elsewhere on the website, too. 

The downside with motorhome auctions online is you can’t check out the models for yourself, in the flesh. So it’s worth reiterating the ‘Buyer Beware’ aspect of buying from auctions even more so here. Remember that you’re buying ‘sold-as-seen’ with all the current faults. A successful bid will enter you into a legally binding contract on the terms that the seller has set. But also remember that you can get a good deal at auctions. Proceed with caution.

Looking to buy a new recreational vehicle without worrying about a bad deal? Then we can help.

If you follow the tips in this guide closely, you’ll master the auction environment — and may even land yourself a real bargain.

On the other hand if you’re looking for a less stressful way to confidently buy a motorhome — we can help.

We’re always getting in motorhomes and campervans and fixing them up so they’re virtually brand new. You won’t have to deal with any hidden fees or sneaky charges, and all of our models are tested with habitation checks and damp checks and more. So quality is always guaranteed.

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A Note from the Author — Shane Malpass

I have been attending motorhome auctions since I was about 10 years old. Now that I am in my thirties, I class myself as well schooled in the process of both selling and buying at motorhome auctions.

So if you want to simply sell your motorhome and move on, or are looking to upgrade to a newer model — we’re here to make you happy and keep you satisfied. Your opinions matter to us. Just check out our five-star TrustPilot reviews!

You can give me a call directly on 07879 816463. In the meantime, find out more about me here and follow our YouTube channel for all the latest motorhome reviews, tips, and tricks.

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