Adding an antique car to your collection can be a great way to enjoy some classic automotive engineering, but it isn’t always as easy as heading down to your local car auction and putting up your credit card. Buying an antique car isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
Here are six things that you should absolutely do before you sign on the dotted line for your new classic car.
- Is It Classic or Just Old?
It’s not hard to find an old car — just spend a few minutes browsing Craigslist, and you can probably see a few cars that are even older than you are, but that’s just it — they’re just old.
Insurance companies define classic cars as cars that are more than 10 years old but are also rare because of limited production or extraordinary workmanship. Antique cars are defined as vehicles that are more than 25 years old, but they don’t have the same sort of requirements as classic cars do.
If you’re just looking for an antique project car, you don’t need to worry about finding something rare or special — but it won’t be a classic car, it will just be antique.
- Rust Is a No-No
You can expect older cars to have a few spots of rust here and there — it just comes with the territory. A couple bubbled paint spots or rust on the bumper isn’t any reason to run away, but if the car is rusted from bumper to bumper, there’s no real way to restore it to its classic condition. Even if you know how to fix it, you’ll never get it back to factory original if you have to tear off and replace entire quarter panels because they’ve rusted away.
If you find lots of rust on the frame, run away quickly. A rusted frame can compromise the integrity of the vehicle and make it prone to fail in the event of an accident — and trying to repair it often makes the integrity problem even worse.
- Have Somewhere to Store It
Buying an antique car is great, but you don’t want to find something amazing just to park it on the street. Plus — and this is especially important if you live in a deed-restricted community or have to contend with a homeowner’s association — working on your project car on your street or driveway can be against the rules. Before you purchase an antique car, make sure you have somewhere safe and insulated to store it. A secure, climate-controlled garage is ideal, and a security system would give you peace-of-mind as well.
- It’s Not Just a Hobby
Restoring classic cars can be a great hobby, but it’s more than that — it’s an investment, and you can’t always trust the book value of a car. The problem with classic cars is that they’re worth only as much as people will pay for them. Sure, if you find a really rare classic in mint condition — or you can restore it to mint condition — you might net a cool couple of million if you decide to sell it. But more often than not, you’ll end up putting more into this car then you’d ever get back if you sold it.
- Do Your Research
You might not find your classic car on CarFax, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some research before you sign that dotted line. Check the VIN against the other major parts of the car — the engine, transmission and rear axle. You might not find all matching numbers. Obviously, in a 20+-year-old car, parts are replaced as they break down, but a car with matching numbers is going to be worth more than one with aftermarket parts.
Look for the mileage of the car as well. The lower the mileage, the more the car is worth. If you’re going to turn this antique into your daily driver, mileage isn’t that important. However, if you’re going to resell it, keep that mileage number in mind. Higher mileage also isn’t a big worry if the car has been well maintained over its long life.
- Check Your Insurance Options
Insuring a classic car can be more expensive than getting a policy for your new vehicles. Your best bet here is to find a company that specializes in antique or classic cars — they’ll have the most up-to-date information and be able to help you find the best rates.
Don’t skimp on your insurance either — sure, your steel-framed classic will probably win a fight with an aluminum or plastic modern car, but you still want to have comprehensive insurance to protect you in the event of an accident or if a car thief decides to go all Gone in 60 Seconds on your classic.
Don’t let us scare you away from purchasing an antique car — it can be a great investment if you know what you’re doing. Just make sure you do your research to protect both yourself and your investment before you sign on the dotted line.
Scott Huntington is a writer and car fanatic from Harrisburg, PA.