FOR many people weekends mean only one thing: car boot sales.

Getting up at the crack of dawn to pack your car and drive to a field or car park to set up shop from your own boot is a popular pastime across the UK.

From these photographs of car boot sales in the Bradford district years gone by, apart from the cars and the fashions, not much has changed. The layout and system appear exactly the same.

To the uninitiated, car boot sales many seem like an easy way to make a fast buck. But this is not the case. Anyone contemplating a sale needs to first sort out their belongings - what you want to keep and what you want to sell.

This can be very time consuming, involving frequent forays into the loft or garage. Next, you have to pack the car, taking great care in order to maximise the amount of space available.

If you are lucky enough to have a private drive or garage this can be done the night before, but for anyone restricted to on-street parking it can involve a very early start and much tiptoeing around so as not to wake the neighbours as you load your vehicle.

The majority of car boot sales begin early, from around 5am, when serious traders arrive to sniff out the best pickings. It can be quite disconcerting as they descend upon your car and stare through the windows when you pull up to unpack.

The actual boot of the car is rarely used to display goods for sale - most sellers arrange them onto folding trestle tables, blankets, sheets of tarpaulin, or all three. Clothes rails are also used.

In urban areas, large car parks are usually the location for car boot sales, as seen here in days gone by, in Simes Street, to the rear of the Oastler Shopping Centre and Market and at Forster Square.

Schools are often used as venues, as the 1991 example from Beckfoot Grammar shows. The photograph captures the appeal of car boot sales as places to buy anything and everything. Here, goods ranging from pictures, to ornaments, books, clothes, electrical items and a giant teddy bear can be seen.

It has been said that Father Harry Clarke, a Catholic priest from Stockport, introduced the car boot sale to the UK as a charity fundraiser, after seeing a similar event or trunk fair in Canada while on holiday there in the early 1970s. However, no original source for this has been verified and the story continues to circulate.

Car boot sales are good for the planet - they are a way of attracting a large group of people in one place to recycle useful but unwanted domestic items that otherwise might have been thrown away. As the saying goes ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’

Sellers typically pay a small fee for their pitch. For shoppers, entry can be free, or sometimes a small admission charge is made.

Car boot sales generally take place in the warmer, drier spring and summer months. However, in a growing trend, indoor boot sales - as seen in the 1985 photograph - and all year hard-standing outdoor boot sales are increasingly popular in some parts of the UK.

Car boot sales are also part of life in areas of Australia, and have a growing presence in mainland Europe.

Not all pitches sell random domestic items. Some are taken by more specialised traders selling items such as DIY products or pet food. The picture taken on 1991, at Bingley, features a stall selling sacks of peat, fertiliser and general garden products.

Others devote stalls to home-made cakes, honey and jam, or home-grown vegetables.

Other businesses have profited on the back of car boot sales, such as mobile fast food vans and coffee outlets, fairground rides and ice cream sellers.

Buyers are not advised to buy electrical items at car boot sales. Guarantees are rarely sought or given and can rarely be tested at the sale site. Although tracing a seller can be difficult, in the UK they are still obliged to abide by the Trade Descriptions Act.

While car boot sales have not changed over the years, neither have the reasons most of us go along - to grab a bargain, and maybe find hidden treasure that could be worth far more.

Over the years, there have been many notable finds by keen-eyed members of the public, which have been bought for a pittance then sold for thousands.

Last month a diamond ring which was bought at a car boot sale for £10 was sold for £656,750 at auction.

The cushion-shaped jewel was expected to fetch up to £350,000 when it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London, but in the end it was snapped up for close to twice that amount.

Named the ‘Tenner’ diamond, the ring was originally purchased in the 1980s from a car boot sale.

The ‘exceptionally sized’ stone was presumed not to be real because 19th-century diamonds were not cut to show off their brilliance like today’s gems. The owner, unaware of its value, wore it for decades, while doing everything from the shopping to the chores.

Last year a London taxi driver sold a painting he had haggled down from £60 to £40 at a car boot sale, for £92,250.

The work of art hung on a wall in his house for years before he decided to sell it while redecorating. He took the painting to an auction house who confirmed it was actually from the 19th century, and depicted an Indian town scene.

Often, items produced on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow have been unearthed at from car boot sales, and are revalued by experts from a few pounds to hundreds or even thousands.

A vase, that was bought for £1 from a car boot sale in Dumfries, was dumped in the attic after the plant it had been housing had died.

When the Antiques Roadshow rolled into town, the owner was slightly intrigued and went along only to find that their boot sale bargain was actually a 1929 Feuilles Fougeres piece by the renowned French designer and major Art Nouveau icon Rene Lalique. It fetched £32,450.

Sellers are becoming more astute, but, as the above examples show, items are still going to slip through the net. It is that thought that makes trawling through other people's possessions exciting.