Classic Car Buying Checklist

There is something about classic cars that makes them so special in the eyes of their admirers. Maybe it’s the bold designs of the past that make everyone turn their heads or the raw connection between the driver and the machine. Also, it might be the care, passion, and dedication every classic owner bestows on their vehicle that makes everyone want to join the club.

When looking at them from a purely objective standpoint, the only difference between a classic and a modern vehicle is the vast difference in mechanical complexity.

However, this is not the case. While it is true that classics are generally straightforward to inspect, the market value, price of parts, and cost of repairs are what make the purchase so arduous. 

In this article, we will take you through the steps of buying a classic car without breaking your budget.

Price

The scarcity of classics has made it difficult to estimate their actual price. Unlike modern vehicles that constantly depreciate, classics move in the opposite direction. As a result of their increasing value, they are an exciting weekend vehicle and often a stable investment. 

One of the main problems with buying a classic vehicle is overspending. Unless the model you want is difficult to find in an acceptable condition, you shouldn’t pay anything more than the average market value. To determine the value, you will have to review every private seller listing, classic car dealership offer and research previous auction sale prices. 

Buying a classic is a slow process. If the model you are searching for has some private listings, review them at least twice a day. See what is not selling, and what sells instantly. That will give you a good idea of how much you should spend. 

Condition

As you likely already know, classic cars are rare. However, those in excellent condition are nearly impossible to find. To properly understand how condition reflects on the price, you need to know the condition scores:

  • Condition 1: Immaculate, flawless, and showroom quality car.
  • Condition 2: Great car with minimal flaws, low mileage, and no repairs needed. 
  • Condition 3: Good, used car with signs of wear appropriate for its age. No rust or major repairs are necessary.
  • Condition 4: Worn, rusty car that needs attention and immediate repairs, but otherwise still usable.
  • Condition 5: Restoration car not capable of running or meeting safety requirements. Requires serious work. 

Condition 1 cars are not intended for driving, as it would move them into condition 2, thus significantly decreasing their value. Condition 2, 3, or in-between is often the preferred condition for new enthusiasts. Conditions 4 and 5 are not something you should consider unless you’re looking to perform a rebuild. 

Pictures on sale listings can potentially hide the true condition of the bodywork, but you can still get a general idea of the condition. Many owners have their cars officially rated and attach the certificate with the listing, making it easier to distinguish right off the bat. 

Research The Make And Model

Classics go through a lot over the years, and most have a long service life as a family car. Take a look at the forums, fan club websites, and social groups to see what people have to say about maintenance. Many beautiful cars sit in garages because they are virtually impossible to repair. This is due mainly to poor craftsmanship and overly complicated engine design. 

At the same time, you can also check the prices of the original parts. Mechanical components are often still made. However, wheels, seats, rearview mirror, tail lights, etc., can only be purchased as used items. Don’t disregard this aspect, as even the most trivial parts can reach astronomical prices. 

Examination 

Rather than delving into details of inspecting an ordinary car, like checking the oil, coolant, and compression, this article will focus on the bigger picture. When you are looking to buy a classic car, there are three primary categories to consider: exterior, interior, and engine. 

We will proceed through these sections with the intent of purchasing a classic car in its original state or authentic restoration. Custom parts generally bring down the value of a classic. But if that doesn’t bother you, then consider these points from a purely financial perspective. 

Engine

If authenticity matters to you, the serial number of the engine has to match the chassis, or at the very least, be an appropriate model for the vehicle. Check the fluids, cold start it, and go for a test ride. 

If you are buying an exotic car, the engine has to be flawless. Otherwise, as long as it runs, it’s okay. The simple mechanical design and affordability of parts will make for a great platform to learn how to repair it yourself. Provided that the rest of the car is in great condition, you can even consider swapping or rebuilding the engine. 

Interior

When assessing a classic car, the condition of the interior is critical. Finding a dashboard or seats in matching color and acceptable shape can be challenging and very expensive. Finding door panels, roof lining, or miscellaneous parts is nearly impossible. Approach the interior with the mindset of not having to change anything unless absolutely necessary. 

Exterior

Original paint in good condition considerably raises the price of a classic car, so a high-quality respray is also acceptable from the buyer’s perspective. Check the vehicle from top to bottom for any signs of rust, which is very common on older cars. 

Examine the windshield, windows, front lights, and rear lights for cracks. Door and window seals need to be good as they are difficult to find. Check the condition of the rims and determine if they are a stock model. Take a look at the grill, chrome pieces, and the overall appearance of the car. 

When it comes to the exterior, everything needs to be in its place. The car should be mostly rust-free and have decent paint on it. Respraying the body is doable, but it is a costly investment, which is generally not reflected in the price of the vehicle.