Farm auction sites are popping up on the Web. Here's how to bid online.

If you are a bloodhound at local sales, you will still feel the thrill of a great deal at an online auction. We've found some bidding sites that offer unlimited geographical areas to help you unearth that one machine you've been searching for.

Online bidding will give you time to research and place your bid and allow you to make a safe transaction with confidence.

Dealer's choice. John Deere's Remarketing Services recently opened its auction Web site, www.MachineFinderAuction.com. It offers any make or model of used equipment from Deere's certified dealers.

As with other auction sites, when you register as a buyer, current auctions are made available to you based on your zip code. Dealers that submit equipment make their own prices and give a starting bid. If you win the bid, the company's Remarketing Service sends an e-mail to the dealer. The dealer contacts you to handle the transaction and decide on shipping method.

"We provide inspection forms to our dealers, which they complete and make available online," says Bill Holstun, manager, John Deere Remarketing Services. "As a buyer, you can confirm all the information given by calling the seller."

Holstun stresses that you do as much research as possible before your final bid. "We encourage buyers even to go see the machine. Become as prudent a buyer as you can," he adds. "Buying through online auctions can let you do that. You have more time to spend researching, monitoring activity and communicating with the seller, and you have a large geographical area of items available to you. This way, you can find just what you're looking for and make an intelligent bid, instead of an emotional one."

Barry White, president of www.FarmEquipmentAuctions.com, says his company works as a "salesperson" between buyer and seller. "We go out and evaluate the machinery, take pictures and help the sellers and buyers make the transaction, including setting up trucking," White says. "We offer an avenue not only for dealers but also farmers who are selling a large amount of equipment."

The company charges sellers $70 per item listed and takes a 5% commission of the sale. "For individuals wanting to sell a piece of equipment over $1,000, we also have a site [www.OnlineAuctionCenter.com] that charges $25 plus a 11/4% commission," he adds. "On both sites, we guarantee a safe transaction."

The company also will take a trade-in in exchange for "bidding bucks" that you can use for purchasing your next piece of equipment.

Safe bidding. Like other sites, www.MotorAuction.com offers the availability of an escrow service, such as www.iEscrow.com, that becomes the middleman of the transaction. After winning a bid, the buyer pays the escrow service. The seller isn't paid until the buyer has had a chance to inspect the machine and is satisfied with the purchase.

MotorAuction.com also offers a certification program. The buyer or seller can choose to have the machine inspected by an authorized, farm equipment service technician for certification. This site also offers financing and insurance.

Check it out. Some sites offer a buyer's and seller's feedback rating system. Here, you have a chance as a buyer to see the seller's satisfaction record, or vice versa. You also can look up the company and its rating on the Better Business Bureau's site, www.BBBonline.org. The site offers business reports of online companies, including a complaint history. The site also has tips for safe online shopping.

Before you place a bid. Re-search the seller and the auction company as thoroughly as possible. If you are not familiar with the company, request information about its business, including address and phone numbers, so you can contact it if necessary. Be sure you understand the auction company's disclosure, transaction and liability policies.

Most auctions last one to two weeks from opening to ending bid so you have plenty of time to research the piece of machinery you intend to buy. Know its book value and how much you are willing to spend before you place your first bid.