15 Tips to Help You When Buying a Classic Car

An in depth guide to help you when buying a classic car. 15 Tips to Help You When Buying a Classic Car drivrzone.com

Many people are fascinated by classic cars. If this is you and you want to get started buying them, there are a few things that you should know. Let’s take a closer look.

Focus on Value & Quality

One mistake people tend to make when buying a classic car is to buy the highest priced one they can afford. The focus here shouldn’t be on price, but rather on value and quality. Not too many people can afford to make the mistake of buying a bad car. The cost of getting repairs, the time lost, the profound disappointment and misery are all things that you should avoid. The truth of the matter is that a good price almost never wins over a bad car. In the long run, it is nearly always cheaper and a better decision in the long run to purchase the best car that you can actually afford at the moment. That being said, higher prices are not always synonymous with value and quality.

Pay Close Attention

Another mistake people might make is not facing the knowledge that there can be a massive difference in things like value and quality from one prospective purchase to the next. Because of this, they might also not have the knowledge they need to be able to evaluate the differences. Some might call differences of this nature quality attributes. With classic cars, its almost never a case of oranges to oranges when it comes to comparing two cars. Cars that can be nearly identical to look at can have minimal to massive differences that make a difference when it comes to value and quality. It is critical that if you are going to buy a classic car, you know the significance of value and quality attributes. There isn’t a substitute for knowledge, and this typically comes with experience.

Don’t Buy Just Any Old Thing

You need to understand that if you want to end up with a great car, you have to start with one. People might think that if they spend enough time and throw enough money at it, they can turn any old car into one that is quality. In many cases though, no matter how much money you spend on it, some cars will simply never be more than glorified junk. Alternatively, a car that has good bones can definitely be resurrected, but that is rarely profitable. Typically, the money and time that are involved will far exceed most peoples’ estimates. For that reason, if you choose this path. You can expect to be financially upside down when it comes to your dream car. On the other hand, there are thousands of other things that you can invest in that are way riskier and they will never give you the feeling that comes with classic cars. Just keep in mind that if you start with a good car, you will end up with a good car.

Be Realistic

Patience isn’t just a virtue, it is critical when you are searching for the ideal classic car. You also need to remember that as much pleasure as can be had from owning a vehicle that is half a century old, it is still a man-made machine and as such, can experience issues at any given time. Many first time, and even a few classic car veterans will have expectations for that new oldie that are simply not realistic. Some cars might trump others in a variety of categories, but none of them can meet expectations that are simply unrealistic. Get educated with a concentration on the type of vehicle that you are interested in. You might even consider joining a car club and getting to know a few of the owners. Pick their brains about their experiences and how they chose their cars. This is a hobby that is filled with amazing people who will do whatever they can in order to help you find the car you have been dreaming about.

Know Your Market

The last few years have seen the economy tank, and as a result, prices for classic cars have also dropped. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, but typically, most classic cars can be purchased for much less than what they were priced just a few years ago. Many people might just need the money more than they need the vehicle, which means that right now, it is a buyer’s market. Having knowledge about the market can help you in spotting a good deal before other people can.

Your classic car shouldn’t be viewed as an investment. Unless the car is incredibly rare, part of a limited run, has  matching numbers on the transmission and engine, still has all of the original components and interior, had a frame off type of restoration, or some other feature that makes it stand out. It more than likely isn’t any sort of investment. Even if it did meet one or more of those criteria, it still might not be an investment. However, that doesn’t mean that you should give it up. Most classic cars tend to hold their value and can give you many years of memories and enjoyment. A classic car should be bought to drive, not to try to make money from it.

Gain Some Experience

If you don’t have the experience, don’t buy a classic car just to fix it up. Even if you do know what you are doing, you will typically be better off if you buy one that is complete. Many people buy a classic car with the idea that it is an investment, and with a little bit of money and elbow grease, it will be worth more than what they put into it. This rarely happens. Replacement parts might not be too expensive, but the costs are like pennies… they add up quickly. You also need to remember that since the economy took a turn for the worse, the prices of many of these cars also dropped, while the parts for replacement stayed at the same cost. Also, the costs for things like shipping and raw materials have also increased. If this is your hobby and you have the know-how, go ahead and do it. Just don’t expect the cost to be less than that of a complete car that already runs.

Be Patient

You might already know the price range for the target years that you are interested in. You might even find a deal that you think is just too good to miss out on, so you pull the trigger. Maybe, you even find one during the off season, right before the holidays, when classic cars are less expensive since they typically won’t be driven in snowy conditions, and at the time of year when most people need a bit of money. However, you can still find good deals when it isn’t the off season. You just need to know exactly what you are looking for and have a bit of patience. There are quite a few great classic cars that you can find in the under $10,000 range. All you need is a bit of knowledge and patience, and you will find the car of your dreams.

Be Flexible

The car you eventually find might not be your ideal car. Remember that when you buy a classic car, the experience is different than when you buy a new one from the dealership. It might not have the right options, engine, and color, etc. There are quite a few less classic cars out there, and unless you can pay through the nose and have much free time, you might need to learn how to be a little flexible when it comes to your requirements.

Remember Money Talks

When you are going to purchase a classic car, you will more than likely need to have cash on hand for the deal. Many people just aren’t comfortable taking a check for a purchase like this. Also, if you have a specific amount of cash that you can spend, you will have a firm floor when it comes time to negotiate. Don’t be afraid to try to negotiate too. Sometimes you might be surprised to find out just how much you can save when you negotiate.

Be Respective & Professional During Negotiations

Take the car for a spin and talk to the owner. You might start by telling him what you have in your pocket and if he isn’t happy with that, simply wish him luck on the sale and turn around to leave. Most people want to get as much as they can when they sell their classic cars, but they also may have been trying to liquidate it for a long time due to one factor or another. You never know what they will take unless you ask.

Always Request the Help of Experienced People

It is helpful have a mechanic or other knowledgeable person on hand. Old cars aren’t covered by Carfax. This means that you need to know what you should look for. If you don’t have a mechanic with you, when you go for your test drive, drive straight to your mechanic and have it looked over.

Be Prepared to Sink Some Cash Into Your New (Old) Car

Be ready to sink some cash into it. The car you buy might need a bit of work before it is ready to be on the roads. Make sure that this amount isn’t prohibitive. Know before you start just how much you can put into it. With a worst-case scenario, you might be shelling out for a tranny or an engine and have to spend a few thousand. Hopefully, you will find one that doesn’t need that much work. You might even be able to get away with just a tune up, cleaning the carb, changing a few bushings, etc. There may still be a few things that you can improve, but the initial goal should be to get it ready for the road.

Be Prepared to Invest Your Time

Classic cars are, well, old. There will be little things that break, there might be others that need a bit of frequent adjusting too. Be ready to do a bit of troubleshooting and to get grease on your hands once in a while. You might want to purchase a Chilton Guide or some other type of maintenance manual, spend a bit of time in forums online, or use any other references available in order to keep your car in good shape.

Be Prepared to Sacrifice Some of Your Creature Comforts

Your vehicle will more than likely have a carburetor as opposed to the automatic fuel injection that you are probably used to. It might also take a bit of time to warm up the engine before you just take off, especially during the colder months. The air conditioning and radio might also be very different from what you are used to – if they work at all. None of these things are massive issues, but they might take a bit of getting used to. Oh, power steering might also not be an option. Other things that can be different or missing include the seats and seatbelts, airbags, mileage, etc.

Enjoy It

Classic cars can be fun. Their purpose is to be driven and to be enjoyed. You can join that classic car club as an owner, participate in the occasional classic car show, or just tool around town. Enjoy the looks and comments that are inevitable. Be ready to talk to people and answer questions about the car.


  1. MensJournal.com – 10 Tips on Buying Classic Cars
  2. StateFarm.com – What to Know When Buying Your Dream Classic Car
  3. AskMen.com – 10 Rules for Buying a Classic Car
  4. ThrillList.com – How to Buy a Classic Car Without Going Broke