how to get a dealer license for car auctions in 2023

How To Get A Dealer License For Car Auctions


Car auctions can offer huge savings compared to retail prices, but are typically only open to licensed auto dealers. Savvy entrepreneurs and car enthusiasts are increasingly getting their own dealer licenses to gain access.

In this guide, we’ll cover the benefits of having a dealer license along with the step-by-step process of obtaining one to start bidding at car auctions across America.

Why Get a Dealer License for Auctions?

Here are some of the main benefits of getting licensed as an auto dealer for auction access:

  • Buy vehicles at wholesale prices well below retail market value
  • Source inventory for an independent dealership or auto export business
  • Find rare, classic, and exotic vehicles not available to the public
  • Resell purchased vehicles for quick profit as a side business
  • Get access to dealer-only perks like warranties and financing offers
  • Enjoy the thrill of competing and winning auctions for dream cars
  • Build connections with major auto auction houses
  • Participate in exciting dealer-only events and networking

In addition to great savings, a dealer license also conveys an insider status and opens up a world of opportunities not available to regular consumers.

Why Get A Dealer License For Auctions?
Why Get a Dealer License for Auctions?

Process For License

Research State Requirements

  • Dealer licensing requirements vary by state. Research the specific license types,fees, and processes required in your state. Typical licenses include wholesale motor vehicle dealer, used motor vehicle dealer, and auto dismantler licenses.

Submit License Application

  • Complete the required dealer license application for your state. This usually includes business information, personal background/financial information, licensing fees, and a surety bond.

Meet the Minimum Requirements

  • States require proof that you will operate a legitimate dealership business. This may mean providing photos of your business space, a business plan, operating hours, and proof of proper zoning.

Obtain Garagekeepers Liability Insurance

  • Most states require dealers to carry garage insurance to cover vehicles in their possession. Obtain this before applying.

Pass Background Checks

  • You will undergo background checks for any criminal history or past infractions as a dealer. Significant issues may result in a rejected application.

Prove Financial Stability

  • Be prepared to provide tax returns, bank account statements, credit reports, and other finance records showing you have sufficient capital to operate the business.

Complete Educational Courses

  • Some states require completion of dealer education courses prior to licensing, covering laws and regulations.

Pay Licensing Fees

  • Dealer license fees vary greatly by state, from a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars annually, not including bond fees.

Wait for Approval

  • The review period can take 4-8 weeks. If approved, you will receive your dealer license documents.

Obtain an Auction Access Package

  • Contact car auctions to purchase an access package and register to attend auctions and bid. Provide your dealer license number.

Understanding the Different Types of Dealer Licenses

There are several classes of dealer licenses, each with specific privileges:

  • New car franchise dealer – Sells current model year new vehicles.
  • Used vehicle dealer – Sells non-current model year used vehicles.
  • Wholesale auto auction dealer – Buys and sells at auctions only.
  • Broker dealer – Facilitates sales between parties for a fee.
  • Auto exporter dealer – Buys vehicles to export internationally.

The used car and wholesale auto auction licenses offer the most auction access for those not running a full dealership. State requirements vary.

Understanding The Different Types Of Dealer Licenses
Understanding the Different Types of Dealer Licenses

Steps to Obtaining a Dealer License

While specific requirements fluctuate by state, the general process for getting licensed as an auto dealer is:

Research state licensing regulations – Determine license classes, fees, bonding requirements, facilities criteria, and other regulations for your state.
Prepare a business plan – Highlight your intended dealer activities, projected inventory, facilities, staffing, and capital investment. Secure a surety bond – Obtain a dealer bond for the minimum amount dictated by your state. This insures against potential business violations.

  • Get proper zoning approvals – Make sure your planned dealer location meets local zoning requirements and obtain approvals.
  • Apply for your state tax ID number – Register your dealership as a business entity with the state revenue department.
  • Submit dealer license application – Send all required documents and fees to the state DMV dealer licensing board.
  • Pass background checks – All personnel may need to pass criminal background checks.
  • Get inspected – If required, pass facilities inspection by the licensing board. Some states waive this for wholesale auction licenses.

Open a dealer business bank account – This separate account is needed to run dealer operations legally.
Register with auction houses – Submit your new license and required documents to the auctions you wish to access.

This process can take 2-6 months depending on the state. Hiring a dealer license consultant can expedite the process.

Key Steps for Maintaining a Dealer License

Once approved, remaining in good standing requires:

  • Renewing your license annually by the state deadline.
  • Paying all relevant state taxes and fees on time.
  • Maintaining the minimum business facilities requirements.
  • Retaining proper garage liability insurance coverage.
  • Following the state’s advertising and sales regulations.
  • Keeping accurate bookkeeping records.
  • Reporting all vehicles bought and sold as required.

Violating any of these could result in fines or license suspension. Stay up to date on all regulations.

Key Steps For Maintaining A Dealer License
Key Steps for Maintaining a Dealer License

How Much Does a Dealer License Cost?

Typical dealer license costs include:

  • Application fee – $100 to $500 depending on the state.
  • License fee – $300 to $1500 annually.
  • Surety bond – Around $50,000 minimum in most states.
  • Garage liability insurance – $2,000+ per year.
  • Facilities – At least a small office and some dealer signage.
  • State taxes – Vary based on sales volumes.
  • Optional consultants – $2000+ to handle the licensing process.

In total, plan for around $10,000 – $15,000 in start-up costs depending on requirements in your state. Ongoing annual costs are around a few thousand in license renewal fees and taxes.

How Much Does a Dealer License Cost?

Do I Need a Physical Dealership Location?

Some states allow wholesale auto auction licenses to be run from a home office or virtual address with no physical facilities. But most require at least a basic office that meets zoning requirements, along with visible signage. Many auto auctioneers simply rent inexpensive storage space or share space with a body shop.

What Training is Required for a Dealer License?
Most states do not require formal training, but completing voluntary dealer education demonstrates professionalism. The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA) offers accredited courses and certification that can give your dealer license application a competitive edge during state review.

Maximizing the Benefits of Bidding at Auctions

Once approved for auto auctions, success requires:

  • Attending auctions consistently to build relationships
  • Learning auction bidding processes and strategies
  • Tracking auction price trends to optimize bids
  • Inspecting vehicles thoroughly before bidding
  • Using vehicle history reports to uncover issues
  • Knowing your max price limits for purchases
  • Arranging financing and insurance ahead of time

With preparation and research, buying at dealer-only auctions can prove extremely lucrative – opening up a world of inventory at wholesale prices.

A Dealer License Unlocks the Power of Auctions

Gaining access to car auctions through obtaining a professional auto dealer license provides amazing opportunities for enthusiasts and budding entrepreneurs alike. The application process involves dedication and planning, but the payoff of bidding at exclusive dealer-only auctions is well worth the effort for serious buyers. Do your due diligence to get licensed, and a world of wholesale inventory at your fingertips awaits!


Q: How much inventory am I required to carry with a dealer license?
A: Requirements vary, but most states require at least 5-10 vehicles for a used car dealer license. Some waive inventory rules for auto auction licenses.

Q: Can I buy and sell cars from my home with a dealer license?
A: In most states, no. Some type of commercial location and zoning approval is required to operate as a licensed dealer.

Q: Is a dealer license required to export cars internationally?
A: Yes, an auto exporter license is required to legally buy vehicles in the U.S. for export out of the country.

Q: Can I participate in online auctions like Copart without a license?
A: No, most major online auction platforms still require a valid dealer license to bid.

Q: How long does it take to get approved for a dealer license?
A: The process usually takes 2-6 months depending on the state. Hiring a dealer licensing consultant can expedite the process.


Obtaining a dealer license enables average consumers to access the same wholesale auctions used by major car dealerships. While the licensing process involves time, fees, and regulatory requirements, the payoff is huge in terms of buying inventory well below market value. Proper preparation, training, and working with experienced auction brokers helps maximize success. With a dealer license and the right strategies, the potential profits from flipping vehicles bought at auction can be quite substantial for auto entrepreneurs.

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