The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Classic Car

Buying a car is easy. You take a trip to your local dealership or spend some time browsing Craigslist, toss down some cash, sign the paperwork, and you’re good to go. If you add financing, you’ve got a couple of extra steps, but it’s still a pretty simple process. On the other hand, if you’re interested in adding a classic or antique car to your collection, there is a lot more you need to know before you sign on the dotted line.

Here is your ultimate guide to buying a classic car to keep you from making the same mistakes as so many buyers before you have.

Choose Your Seller Carefully

When you’re purchasing a classic car, you’ve got three options to choose from — auctions, dealerships, and private sellers. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your needs and budget.

Auctions are valuable because you can often find high-quality antiques and classics for a fraction of what you might pay at a dealership or to a private seller. The total amount you end up paying depends on the number of people bidding — you can spend a lot of money if you end up in the middle of a bidding war.

The downside of auctions is that while you might be able to hear the auctioneers turn the engine over, you can’t take the car for a test drive, so you don’t know how it handles or what shape it’s in before buying it.

Private sellers can be hit or miss. You might luck into a once-in-a-lifetime find because you come across a widow who is just trying to get rid of her late husband’s collection. Or, more likely, you’ll find someone trying to sell you a lemon just to scam you out of your hard-earned cash. Be very careful if you buy from a private seller.

Finally, you’ve got dealerships. They might have an excellent selection — especially if they specialize in classic cars — but they will almost always be the most expensive option. In addition to marking up their inventory, they also have dealer fees. You don’t need to disregard dealerships completely, but they might not be your first choice, either.

Know What You’re Looking For

Diving headlong into the classic car market is a quick way to fall flat on your face. There are many things you’ll need to consider before you finally sign on that dotted line and bring your new investment home. Start by deciding on what you’re looking for.

Do you want a classic that you can use as a daily driver, despite their typically abysmal fuel economy? Or do you want to invest in a project car you can rebuild and restore? Maybe you want to skip all the work and buy a show-ready model to show off around the country.

Having a clear picture of what you’re looking for makes it easier to find your dream car. It also helps you avoid junkers, lemons, and other problem vehicles you shouldn’t waste your money on. Additionally, it can make it easier to stick to your budget, so you don’t spend an arm and a leg on a classic car you don’t actually want.

Protect Your Investment

Once you get your new classic car home, the last thing you’ll want to do is park it on the street or in your driveway. They’re gorgeous, but these models don’t have the security and anti-theft features you’d find in their modern counterparts. Leaving a vintage vehicle on your driveway is akin to asking an opportunistic car thief to make off with your investment.

Adding a classic car to your collection is only a good idea if you’ve got a safe place to park it. In addition to keeping it safe from thieves, a secure garage will also protect your car from the elements. Hailstorms and wind-thrown debris can do untold amounts of damage to your new classic. Keep it safe — it doesn’t take a lot of effort unless you have to clean all the junk out of your garage before you can park there.

Maintenance Is Essential

Maintenance is essential for every car in your collection, but for classic cars, it becomes even more crucial. Also, if the vehicle you chose spent its entire life stored in a garage, you would still need to put in some extra TLC to keep it running smoothly.

When it comes to classics, there are a few things you’ll need to consider that wouldn’t apply to a new car. Moisture is a big problem for classics, especially if you live in a humid area. Condensation can build up inside your vehicle, contributing to mold and mildew, which can ruin your upholstery before you can blink.

If your new purchase spent most of its life sitting in a garage, inspect the tires before you drive it anywhere. The rubber in those tires can start to warp, which can eventually lead to leaks and flats that will leave you stranded. Regular wear and tear over decades will add up, so make sure you’re staying on top of all your scheduled maintenance — even if you’re making the schedule yourself.

Take It for a Drive

Even show cars need to get out and move every once in a while. Leaving a classic car hidden away in your garage should be a crime, but that’s not the only problem. Leaving any car sitting for long periods can cause all sorts of issues. Oil and lubricant don’t flow through the engine and other moving parts, which allows gaskets to dry out and crack. When this happens, you’ll find yourself dumping fluids all over the driveway the next time you start the car.

Hoses and belts will become brittle and break down metal rusts — even if it’s not apparent during a cursory examination of the car. Gasoline turns to varnish and gums up your entire fuel system.

You don’t have to drive it cross-country or perform racing tricks on the highway. Just once a month or so, start it up and drive it long enough to charge the battery and let the engine reach peak operating temperature. Drive around the block a few times or use it for your weekly trip to the grocery store. Just get it moving, so things don’t break down.

Enjoy Your Classic Investment

Buying a classic car might be something you consider a rite of passage. Maybe you’re not a real car collector until you have an automobile in your collection older than you are. Any way you look at it, once you bring that new-to-you car home, all that’s left to do is enjoy your investment — regardless of how you’re planning to use it.

If you bought a show car, enjoy taking it to events and showing it off. If you bought a project car, enjoy every frustrating and knuckle-breaking moment as you work to restore it to its former glory. If you purchased a daily driver, gas it up and get on the road. There’s nothing quite like getting behind the wheel of a piece of automotive history. Don’t let the extra steps scare you away — they’ll all be worth it in the end.