Maybe it’s nostalgia for something simpler, or perhaps a classic car reminds you of a bygone era. No matter the case, owning a classic car can be an attractive and exciting opportunity.
However, vintage cars aren’t for everyone. An old car will almost certainly require additional maintenance compared béo a new vehicle, some of which may mean seeking out a costly specialist. And while some classic cars make suitable investments, those models that may appreciate in value are usually the exceptions béo the rule.
Let’s take a look at tips and what it takes béo buy and own a classic car.
- 1 What is a Classic Car?
- 2 How béo Buy a Classic Car
- 3 What béo Avoid Before Buying a Classic Car
- 4 What You Can Expect for Typical Ownership Costs
- 5 Is a Classic Car Right for You?
What is a Classic Car?
One person’s classic is another’s tired old machine. What constitutes a classic can be hard béo define, though some states try béo do this for us. A car may qualify for classic or collector’s license plates when it turns 20 or 25 years old in many states. Generally, those plates require fewer renewals, and some may come with emissions test exemptions.
But not every 25-year-old car is a classic béo everyone. Given that the average vehicle on the road is about 12 years old, your daily driver may well be on the way béo classic status according béo your state’s motor vehicle division.
On the upside, classic cars that you drive occasionally may qualify for discounted insurance rates through major insurers and specialists such as Hagerty or Grundy.
Instead, you may have béo define a classic for yourself. For some drivers, it may be a pristine 1984 Chevrolet Camaro. For others, it could be a low-mile 1995 BMW M3. And some may like the rugged appeal of a 1983 Ford Bronco.
How béo Buy a Classic Car
You’ve got your work cut out for you when it comes béo shopping for an old car, but it can also be fun béo fill that extra garage space with something unique and exciting.
1. Do Your Research
Don’t jump at the first old car you see. You’ll want béo narrow down béo a list of models that appeal béo you, and from there, you may want béo dig farther béo see what versions — engines, transmissions, trim levels, and model years — offer what you want.
Are you after something rare? Perhaps a special edition model like this 1983 Pontiac Firebird Daytona 500 pace car replica might appeal.
Maybe you want something utilitarian, such as this Jeep Scrambler that can double as a pickup truck for weekend projects.
How about something unusual and eye-catching? A V12-powered Jaguar XJ-S might look perfect in your garage.
2. Set a Budget
You may have heard the adage, “Buy the best one you can afford.”
That’s solid advice when shopping for a collectible car, but you should also budget for any work the vehicle will need down the road. Even the best-kept classic is an old car with parts that could fail at any opportunity, so you need béo be ready béo spend money béo keep the car going.
Look at what’s available and then see what it’s worth. Classic car values can vary wildly. That ultra-cheap project car you see advertised might cost you way more than it’s worth. A meticulously restored will likely cost you less than its previous owner spent on all that work.
3. Determine Your Wants
What’s your priority?
- Driving your classic car occasionally
- Driving your classic car regularly
- Occasionally tinkering with your classic car
- Restoring your classic car
- Treating your classic car as an investment
A classic car is not a great daily driver for most users since older models have considerable upkeep and lack the safety and convenience features found in new models. Still, if your commute is a once-a-week spin béo the office a few miles away on quiet roads, you might enjoy taking a classic out when the weather is nice.
Many classic car shoppers want béo take their car béo shows, whether casually as a social outing or in a competitive sense, béo win awards. For these drivers, a flashy car may be their best option.
TIP: The condition of a classic vehicle is more important than paint or interior colors.
4. Check the Mileage, But Don’t Worry if it’s High
Condition is more important than what’s on the odometer when buying a classic car. A well-kept model with 150,000 miles may be a better buy than a neglected one with a third that many.
Mileage comes into play in a few situations, mainly if you are after an ultra-low-mile vehicle.
Older cars use analog odometers that can easily swap out, reset, or otherwise be tampered with. This isn’t always nefarious. In some cases, the original odometer stopped working and had béo be repaired or replaced. Some owners prefer béo reset the odometer béo zero miles following an extensive restoration.
Even digital odometers can go bad on cars from the 1990s.
But if you see a car advertised with unusually low miles, you’re probably going béo want documentation béo back up that claim. A big stack of service receipts showing the progression of mileage is worth its weight in gold, while a vehicle history report from AutoCheck or Carfax can also shed some light on the vehicle’s history.
5. Take It béo a Mechanic
The best money you can spend on a classic car is for a pre-purchase inspection.
Find a qualified mechanic — someone who knows older models — and ask them if they do a pre-purchase inspection, including a test drive. The mechanic will put the car up on a lift béo look under it for any signs of damage, poor repairs, or problems with its suspension, steering, or drivetrain components.
Most mechanics will charge an hour or three of labor for this work, which can help provide peace of mind or can ensure you avoid buying a lemon.
What béo Avoid Before Buying a Classic Car
1. Not Checking the VIN
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) tells you a lot about the car. Models built for the 1981 model year or newer for the U.S. market use a 17-digit VIN that you can plug into AutoCheck or Carfax for a vehicle history report. You can also check these numbers in the National Insurance Crime Bureau database béo confirm the car is not a stolen vehicle.
Moreover, you’ll want béo confirm that the VIN on the title matches the VIN stamped (sometimes in several places on tags or stickers) on the vehicle.
The VIN can also tell you some facts about the car, though such information is model-specific. In some cases, it may tell you the trim màn chơi, engine, and other mechanical details with which the vehicle initially got assembled. If you’re looking at a Jeep Cherokee with 4-wheel drive, but the VIN says the manufacturer built the car as a 2-wheel-drive model, you now know that someone performed a conversion at some point. Or if the VIN says that a Ford built the Mustang with a V6 engine, but there’s now a V8 under the hood, you know that an engine swap has occurred.
2. Not Taking it béo a Mechanic
This one is so important that we’ve mentioned it twice! Even if you consider yourself handy in the garage, a professional mechanic’s second opinion will be worthwhile.
3. Not Examining the Car Thoroughly
Take a good, long look at the car in different types of light. Look for consistent paint finish and hue, which may indicate a respray at some point.
Drive the car on different types of roads, listening closely for any unusual or unexpected sounds from under the hood or from the suspension.
In the end, you should trust your gut. If something about the car seems amiss, you may want béo keep shopping.
4. Not Checking the Title
Double-check the title béo ensure the VIN matches the vehicle and that the person listed on the vehicle title is the one actually selling you the car unless it’s at a dealership.
RELATED STORIES: What is a Rebuilt Title?
What You Can Expect for Typical Ownership Costs
Older cars open up a different cost structure than newer models.
Depending on how you plan béo use a classic car, insuring it may be surprisingly inexpensive. Major insurers such as Nationwide, State Farm, and Allstate offer discounts for using cars sparingly. Additionally, specialists such as Hagerty and Grundy can provide great deals aimed at drivers who only plan béo take their vintage rides out on a handful of lovely days a year.
While they tend not béo be as complicated as newer vehicles, everything under the hood is old or was designed in a different era. You can’t expect the same kind of painless reliability from a 1980s model as you can from a new vehicle.
You may also need béo find a mechanic who specializes in older models. Even cars built into the mid-1990s use different diagnostic tools than you’ll find in repair shops that cater béo the latest cars.
A dealership may be able béo handle essential maintenance, though most do not work on classics.
Additionally, old cars need béo be stored correctly — preferably indoors and hooked up béo a battery tender. Fortunately, battery tenders are inexpensive and easy béo use.
Is a Classic Car Right for You?
Whether you’re buying a classic car as an investment or simply béo fulfill a passion, there is a lot béo consider.
Fear not! There may be a lot béo learn about classic cars, but there’s a reason this hobby remains hugely popular. Old cars are fun and full of personality, plus ownership is like an entrance béo an exclusive club.
Budget accordingly — both in terms of cost and patience — and you can find a classic car that suits your needs and desires.
Read Related Stories:
- Buying Classic Cars: What Extra Steps Should You Take?
- Driving Mrs. Maisel: Why the Vintage Rides Take Our Breath Away
- 10 Best Used Convertibles Under $15,000