Buying a car at a police auction is a great way to save money, but you may run into a few roadblocks. Cars sold at police auctions may have been impounded due to criminal activity of the previous owner. Sometimes, decommissioned police cars are also sold. Buying one of these vehicles isn't the same as buying one at a regular car auction or a car sales lot, and you may not be able to drive the car out of the lot. Here's what you need to know. 

There may not be any car keys

You likely won't be given a set of car keys when you buy a car at a police auction, especially if the car was seized. There are several ways you can get car keys made for the car. Dealerships can cut keys if you show paperwork that proves you are the owner. However, if the previous owner still has possession of the car key, then he or she may attempt to steal the car simply by using their copy. And for vehicles that were impounded due to criminal activity, this is something that could happen. 

A locksmith can also cut keys, but then you would have the same predicament. Instead, hire a locksmith to change the locks and the ignition switch. That way, you'll have a new set of keys, and the previous owner won't be able to use their keys in the event that the previous owner searches for or recognizes the vehicle. 

The car should be towed to a mechanic

Even though customers are given the opportunity to look over vehicles in police auctions, they usually are not permitted to take the vehicles for test drives, even if there is a set of keys. A locksmith can change the locks and ignition at the lot immediately after you take possession of the vehicle. However, it's still a good idea to have the car towed to a mechanic instead of attempting to drive it right away.

You won't have any idea of what the condition of the engine and drive train are and therefore could risk breaking down or losing control of the vehicle. Schedule a tow truck to be at the auction or connect a car hauler to your vehicle if you would like to transport the vehicle to a mechanic yourself. Ideally, a locksmith can meet you at the mechanic's shop. 

You may need to pay in cash or show proof of an approved loan

When you buy a car from a dealer or a used-car lot, you can either pay for the vehicle in cash or speak with someone in the financing department to set up a loan, depending on the terms and conditions of the auction. However, most police auctions expect payment up front in cash or proof that you have an approved loan. Some, however, only except cash or cashier checks, and that can be a tricky requirement to meet if you have no idea how much the vehicle(s) you are interested in will get sold for. 

If you decide to use cashier checks, get them in increments, since you won't have any way of knowing exactly how much you will need. You'll also need to cover the costs of the title change, registration, paperwork, and other fees before the auction will give you possession of the vehicle.

And don't forget that the locksmith, towing service, and mechanic will also need to get paid for their services. Keep track of what types of payments the auction and each of the services accepts before you spend all of your money in one place and have no way of getting the vehicle out of the lot.