Everything You Need To Know About Owning A Classic Car

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Tips on buying and owning vintage cars.

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Few things transport us back in time like seeing a lovingly restored classic car for sale at a classic car dealership or trader or on display at a museum or auto show. But when is a car considered a classic and how old does something have to be in order to be a vintage, antique, or old-timer car? Let's have a look at how we classify an old car as classic, where to search for and how to buy classic cars, and how to look after them. With a little planning, you too can drive the classic car you desire, whether it's a post-war vintage car, a '60s or '70s land yacht, or an '80s classic.

What Makes a Car a Classic or Vintage Car?

What makes a car a classic or vintage car differs by US state. For a car to attain classic status in the US, it usually has to be at least 20 years old. According to the California DMV, however, it must be 25 years old - and they do not even differentiate between the types of classic cars. According to others, anything over 45 years old is an antique car and anything made between 1919 and 1930 is a vintage car. Many of these old vintage cars are also referred to as old-timers in overseas markets. Some insurance companies define cars from 1900 to 1979 as either classic or antique cars and from 1980 onward as collector cars. Pre-1919 cars are usually called veteran cars.

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Drive Classic unsplash.com

Where and How to Buy Old Classic Cars

Join your local classic-car club to get exposure to, and pick up hints about, where to find and buy classic and vintage cars. You won't find truly collectible old cars at normal used-car auctions, dealers, or shops. Some auctions are also only accessible to authorized dealerships. Certain well-known American classic-car auctions have a reputation for being the best and are often attended by serious collectors of vintage or classic.

The most important ones are:

  • Barrett-Jackson hosts auctions in Las Vegas, Palm Beach, and Scottsdale
  • Bonhams Motoring sources auction inventory from across the globe
  • Gooding & Company auctions at sites in Scottsdale, Amelia Island, and Pebble Beach
  • RM Sotheby's auctions investment-quality, blue-chip classics from high-end brands
  • The Mecum Car Company hosts classic-car auctions throughout the USA
  • Worldwide Auctioneers' curated inventory includes vintage European and pre-war vehicles

If you're attending an auction, remember the following:

  • Be knowledgeable about the vehicles in the auction catalog
  • Study the auction's price guide and the cars' reserve pricing
  • Pre-register, if possible, and research the inventory ahead of time
  • Have car transport ready if you win the bid, for collecting and transporting your car
  • Arrange insurance in advance
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Classic Old Car unsplash.com

The Best Classic Cars for Daily Driving

Once cars are 25 years old, the USA allows them to be imported as used-car classics, even if the car would not have been allowed for sale in the US originally due to local legislation, rules, or regulations. Unless you're a vintage-car aficionado, you'll probably be interested in one of these more recent classic cars. If you're one of those people who like to experience the nostalgia on a daily basis, here are some of the best classic cars to buy for daily driving:

  • Volkswagen Beetle: They're reliable, easy to fix, and have a straightforward design. These are quite cheap classic cars and great if you're on a tight budget.
  • 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS. A great sleeper and one of the cheapest classic muscle cars, with a 260-horsepower V8 engine and many modern conveniences.
  • 1979-1993 Fox-body Ford Mustang: Perhaps not the Mustang's best hour, but these sporty coupes and convertibles are still decent and have unmatched aftermarket support - a big plus.
  • Jeep Cherokee (XJ): Manufactured from 1983 to the 2001 model year, it offers enough comfort, features, and off-road ability to be used every day and anywhere.
  • BMW E30 3 Series: These classic cars' values are now starting to increase. The E30 is the quintessential small, sporty, European, RWD sedan that's still quite cheap to run.
  • NA Mazda MX-5 Miata: The original NA Miata is a classic convertible car loved for its engaging drive and reliability.
  • Datsun Z cars. Keep the rust at bay and care for them properly and these durable Japanese sports coupes make for great everyday classic cars.
Old Vintage Car Pexels.com

How to Care for a Classic Car

Here is a handy, basic checklist for classic car care:

  • Use the correct engine oil of the best quality and change it regularly
  • Stick to the service and maintenance schedule
  • Keep a stock of wear items such as brake linings
  • Store it in a garage
  • Add stabilizer to the gas tank if the car is rarely driven
  • Have wax and under-seal applied to the chassis to fight rust
  • Drive it fairly regularly
  • Use the proper blend of antifreeze and water in the cooling system
  • Keep a checklist of mechanical components to monitor on your particular model
  • Change the belts and thermostat regularly
  • Check all shafts, joints, bushes, bearings, and filters regularly
  • Check the transmission and differential fluids regularly
  • Check soft-tops regularly for wear and tear; for general soft-top care, read more here.

Read our ultimate guide on general car maintenance here.

Conclusion

While finding a classic, vintage, or restored car for sale is not overly difficult, just remember that most classics are not investments. They cost money to run and maintain, and often don't turn a profit unless they are incredibly rare, expensive, and fast-appreciating. If you purchase classic cars for restoration, it will likely be exorbitantly expensive unless you can do the work yourself. Regard it as a bonus if you make any money at all. Rather just enjoy the satisfaction of owning and driving a piece of motoring history and indulging your passion.

FAQs

Can I finance a classic car?

Normal banks might not, but there are several institutions that specialize in financing classic and/or vintage cars. They might have a list of requirements though, which may include a 10% to 20% down payment, no bankruptcies on your record, and a FICO score of 700 or more. A score over 750 with a very favorable debt-to-income ratio is a boon. They might also send out an inspector to appraise and assess the vehicle.

Can I have modern features installed in my classic car?

If your car's collectibility and value are dependent on it staying completely original, it's not a good idea to install any non-standard equipment. However, if features such as air-conditioning were available on your model and not fitted, some specialists can install them, often using original equipment - at a price. If you don't mind modifying your car, many other luxuries can be installed. Sadly, most old cars are not particularly safe and little can be done about their inherent crash safety. Even small modern cars like a Mitsubishi Mirage or Kia Rio offer far better crash safety than an old car. However, after-market safety systems such as ABS systems can greatly improve active safety.

How much does it cost to insure a classic car?

Classic cars can be quite affordable to insure, as insurance providers know people usually don't drive classic cars a lot and they are generally kept by owners that look after them well. It will depend on the insurer and a list of requirements and limitations in terms of use and mileage driven might apply, as well as a look at your driving record. The monthly cost will also depend on the car's agreed value.

Can I repaint a classic car?

Some classic cars are worth more in original 'as found' condition and should not be painted. However, a full restoration usually includes repainting, in which case it is best to exactly match the original color of the vehicle. You must be sure that you want to repaint the vehicle because it will be invasive and labor-intensive and the whole car will have to be stripped to do a good job, which might cause damage to the original parts. Only highly professional outfits should attempt restoration work that includes repainting valuable old cars.

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