Buying a classic car might be one of the biggest, most exciting purchases you'll ever make, so it pays to do to your homework. Antique and vintage cars can be costly to purchase, restore, and maintain.
Whether you're looking for a project car to work on yourself or a fully restored show car, you'll want to make a smart, informed decision.
Deciding What to Buy
There are numerous options when buying a classic car, but before getting out the checkbook, it's good to think about what's right for you.
- Be careful about the investment. Making money on classic cars can be very difficult. Buying something simply because you think it's a good investment can be risky as the collectible car market is very volatile. Experienced dealers will tell you that a collectible car is only worth as much as someone will pay for it; the "book value" isn't a guarantee. If this car will be for fun, focus in on cars that you would be proud to own and drive for years to come.
- Decide how it will be used. Think carefully about what you want to do with the car. Will it be driven daily or just on weekends? Would you like to show it? Will it sit in your garage under a tarp and rarely get used?
- Establish an affordable budget. Carefully figure out what you want to spend and stick to it. Keep in mind that restoration projects can be very, very expensive. If you buy a fixer-upper, you may quickly exceed your budget on parts and labor. A bargain car may end up costing you more than a pricier, but cleaner version.
- Do your research. Be sure to check the average retail value to get a baseline price. Read any information you can find and check auto auctions and price guides to help determine what the fair market value is for your car. Be extra cautious when buying a car on the Web. eBay has good tips on purchasing a classic car online.
- Check mileage. As with most used cars, the fewer miles on the speedometer, the more the car is probably worth. But don't be afraid to purchase a high-mileage car; just be sure it is reflected in the price.
Inspecting the Car
Careful inspection is very important when buying a classic car. You may want to use an inspection service. Or if you want to do it yourself, a pre-inspection checklist may be useful. Here are a few things to consider.
- Clear title. Check if the car is registered to the seller or not registered at all. Fees and penalties can really add up if you need to research and apply for a title.
- VIN. Make sure the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on the title matches the official VIN tag on the car. If they do not match, it's possible it may have been in a serious accident or be a counterfeit or stolen.
- Interior. Original is best. Check if the seats, upholstery, badges, radio, dashboard, and emblems are damaged or not factory original. Finding and replacing these can really add up.
- Exterior. Try to examine the car in natural daylight. Look for the condition of the paint, obvious dents, and panels that are misaligned or mismatched. Major welding marks can be a sign of a clip job — attaching the front or back half of a junked car to a vehicle after it has sustained severe damage.
- Rust damage. A little can be expected, but if complete sections of floorboards or body panels are rusted or show signs of repair or replacement, you should be very cautious. If a professional did not do the repairs correctly, there's a good chance the rust could return.
- Test drive. If the car is running and safe and legal to drive, take it out for a spin. It's a good opportunity to check for any serious problems. Listen for anything out of the ordinary, such as noises, squeaks, and clunks. If it feels loose going around corners or over bumps, there may be costly suspension problems.
Some employees at the State Farm® Vehicle Research Facility love classic cars, too. So much that they built a half-and-half "Jekyll and Hyde" 1968 Chevrolet Camaro RS convertible to demonstrate the importance of assigning proper values to collector cars. The driver's side is restored to factory-stock specs while the passenger side is customized with lots of flashy aftermarket parts and custom bodywork.
Whatever vehicle you decide is right for you, you'll want help protecting it. Check out our Antique/Classic Program to learn more about the types of coverage available.
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