Here’s What You Need To Know Before Buying A Classic Car


Classic cars, for most, are seen as beautiful machines that have the ability to take people back in time and remember “the good old days.” For others, classic cars aren’t that special and wonder why people even bother owning them. Hearing these differences in opinions can make it a little confusing, especially if you’re thinking about buying a classic car yourself.

As you probably know, owning a classic car is a little different than owning a modern car. You’re probably wondering how different it may be and if it’s worth even investing in such a machine.

I have owned several different types of classic cars in the last few years and have been able to understand fully what it’s like owning a classic car. There are a lot of really great things about owning a classic car while there are a few things that aren’t so great. I’ve compiled a helpful and honest list of things you need to know before buying a classic car so you can fully understand what you’re getting into.

Lower Gas Mileage

Though classic cars are quite fun to look at and drive, one of the biggest downsides to them is the gas mileage they get. The average car nowadays gets about 20 – 25 miles per gallon while classic cars get an average of about 10 – 15 miles per gallon.

Because classic cars are considered old machines, that also means the way everything functions inside isn’t as efficient compared to how cars work now. The internal combustion that happens inside the engine tends to use up more fuel which is what causes worse gas mileage altogether.

For most people, however, this isn’t much of a concern because a good percent of people who own classic cars don’t drive them on a daily basis. So the difference in gas mileage is hardly noticeable between each occasional drive throughout the warm months.

Lower Insurance Rates

A lot of people assume that once you purchase a classic car, you’ll have higher insurance rates because classic cars are expensive to fix in the case of an accident. While that may be somewhat true, there’s actually a way around it.

If you simply call up your insurance agency and add your classic car to your insurance, you’ll probably get a normal to high rate on your premiums. However, there are several car insurance agencies out there that have special classic car insurance that can give you better rates than other insurance agencies.

To qualify for classic car insurance, your classic car has to be at least 20 – 25 years old and insurance agencies will give bigger discounts to those who register with antique plates because they know you’ll be driving it less. As a disclaimer, if you have a poor driving record, you may be out of luck on this one.

Use Ethanol-Free Gas

One thing that a lot of classic car owners don’t know is that ethanol-free gas is best for your classic car. Modern cars have fuel injected systems which is an efficient way to deliver the correct air-fuel ratio to the engine so it can function properly. Older cars were usually made with a carburetor which also worked okay, but carburetors were susceptible to certain problems.

When a carburetor doesn’t work right, the engine doesn’t get the correct air-fuel ratio it needs to work. This could mean your classic car runs poorly and won’t start at all. One of the biggest reasons a carburetor malfunctions is because it gets build-up inside that prevents fuel from flowing through the jets. Ethanol gas has a tendency to clog up the jets to a carburetor.

Ethanol is essentially a water attractant, so any moisture in the air can be mixed in with the gas which can cause the gas to corrode and gunk up. This corrosion is what causes the carburetor to get plugged up and cause your classic car to run poorly. So when you own a classic car that has a carburetor, make it a point to always fill up at gas stations with ethanol-free gas.

Simple Registration

There are several options out there for you to register your classic car. The first option is to simply register it the same way as any other car. the downside to this, however, is that you’ll also need to pass safety and emissions. This means you’ll probably need to make a few fixes and alterations to your classic car to make it considered safe by the state.

The second option would be to register it with antique plates. Antique plates mean that the state recognizes your vehicle is an antique and therefore is not held under the same regulations as regular cars. Usually you only need to pay a one-time fee (or some states require a fee every five years or so) and that’s pretty much it. You’re not required to do safety or emissions inspections because antique plates are an effort to preserve classic cars.

Be aware that antique plates also hold restrictions against your classic car. Most states put a cap on the amount of miles you can put on your classic car per year (which is why you can get good insurance rates). Usually the cap is around 5,000 miles or so. For most people, the 5,000 mile cap doesn’t really affect them as they don’t usually exceed that anyway. Click here for more information on antique plates.

It’ll Probably Break Down

As I mentioned before, classic cars are old vehicles and are therefore more susceptible to breaking down more frequently. The systems inside classic cars are simple, but that also means some parts may not work as efficient.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a classic car, understand that you will probably breakdown a handful of times while you’re out driving. Common problems you’ll see with classic cars is overheating, dead batteries from parasitic drain (poorly grounded wires), and carburetor issues. While these issues can be annoying, they can also be easy to fix if you know what you’re doing.

Always keep a gallon of water as well as some extra coolant in your car in the case your classic car overheats. It’s also a good idea to have jumper cables with you at all times in case the battery dies. If you are prepared with the right equipment, these break downs should only hold you back a few minutes.

You Become Part Of A Community

It may sound a little strange, but once you own a classic car, you instantly become part of the classic car community. It may be hard to understand until you’re actually in the situation, but it’s a great community to be a part of.

Often when you drive your classic car to the store or some place similar, you’ll instantly start making friends with fellow car enthusiasts. There’s something about owning a piece of history like this that brings people together and bond over a common interest.

The best part about this is that you’ll often run into people who are willing to answer questions you might have about your classic car. Car enthusiasts love answering questions so they can show off their knowledge and may even be willing to come over and help you fix a few things you need assistance with.

Change The Oil More Frequently

As you may have heard, taking care of a classic car is a little different than taking care of any normal car. While some of the basic maintenance may be similar, the schedule is usually a lot different. You’ll need to change your oil more frequently in your classic car.

When it comes to your classic car, you should change the oil every six months or every 3,000-5,000 miles, which ever comes first. Because classic cars are older, their maintenance schedules are different from other vehicles and require more frequent oil changes. People often make the mistake in thinking that if they don’t drive their classic car that often, they don’t need to change their oil that often either.

Oil will corrode over time, whether or not you use your classic car. In fact, not using your classic car as often can cause oil to break down even faster, which is why you need to change the oil more often. Water vapor can easily get inside the engine with older cars. Highway speeds can evaporate water vapor, but since most of us aren’t driving at highway speeds, the oil doesn’t get up to full operating temperature so that water vapor continues to exist in the oil.

You’ll Get A Lot Of Attention

Don’t be surprised if you get a lot of attention while you’re driving your classic car, especially around town. Most of the attention you get will be positive. People will go to great lengths to get a better look at your classic car, even while the both of you are driving on the road. People will drive next to you, ride your tail, drive slow in front of you, or cars at stop lights may have a delayed response once the light turns green because they’re staring at your car.

While it can be a bit annoying having to deal with people driving close to you taking pictures, you’ll probably quickly become okay with it because it’s fun to show off something you own. Once you’re aware that drivers will do this, take extra precautions while you’re out driving to make up for the other drivers who aren’t paying attention to the road.

Unfortunately you’ll run into some negative attention, too. This doesn’t happen too often, but you’ll have a handful of people who are disrespectful to you and your classic car as well as it’s personal space. People may see it in the parking lot and take the liberty to sit on it and take pictures or get their hand smudges all over it.

Have The Right Place To Store It

If you’re thinking about buying a classic car, it’s important to know where you’re going to store it. I highly recommend you have a garage or storage unit available for your classic car to be stored in. While it’s possible to own a classic car without having a garage, having the appropriate storage for it will give your classic car the best chance at lasting longer.

Having a garage to store it in protects your classic car from the elements the outside has to offer. It also gives you a good amount of work space in case you need to work on it or are planning on restoring it. Most of all, storing your classic car in a garage decreases your chances of having it stolen as classic cars are an easy target for burglars. The risk of rust also decreases by having your classic car inside an enclosed area.

Enter Competitions And Car Shows

Owning a classic car opens up a variety of opportunities to meet people and become a part of local organizations. Entering your car in some cars shows as well as car competitions now become a possibility for you.

It’s incredibly satisfying entering your classic car in a car show and watching people gawk over it. Even if you don’t think your classic car is that rare or special or even if it’s not in that good of shape, people out there will still think it’s pretty great. That’s the nice thing about car shows, people don’t really seem to car what kind of condition your classic car is in, all people really seem to care about is looking at these beautiful pieces of history that have been preserved over time.

Even if you don’t think you’ll win any competitions, go ahead and enter in some anyway. You’d be surprised at what you actually win. Plus you get to meet a lot of great people who share similar interests; its a great way to network and get to know people in case you need some help with your classic car later down the road.

Have A Good Set Of Tools Handy

If you’re planning on purchasing a classic car, also plan on investing in a good set of tools if you don’t already have them. As I mentioned before, classic cars are old machines and will break down more often, so having the right tools to fix those problems will make your life a lot easier.

Fortunately, because classic cars are simpler than modern cars, you’ll only need some of the basic tools. Having the right basic tools will cover your bases with most fixes you may have with your classic car.

It can get pretty annoying having to rely on friends or a mechanic to do all the fixes for you let alone expensive, so investing in quality tools in the beginning will save you a lot of money and time in the future.

Simple To Work On

Because classic cars are simple machines, that also means they’re simple to work on. And because they’re simple to work on, most people who are willing to learn are able to make the needed fixes on their own. Luckily we have an endless reservoir of information at our fingertips called the internet. Anything we could possibly want to learn about can be found online.

While, yes, your classic car may break down more frequently than you would like, it also gives you a nice opportunity to learn a little bit about cars if you don’t already. Some people are afraid of buying a classic car because they know it’ll break down and they have no idea how to fix things like that. Don’t let that fear stop you; as long as you’re willing to learn, classic cars are actually a perfect place to increase your knowledge about vehicles and how they work.

Susceptible To Rust

As you start looking for classic cars to buy, you may notice that a lot of them will have rust. Or you may notice that in the seller’s description they talk about rust in one way or another. Unless the classic car you buy is in pristine shape or was just completely restored, chances are it’ll have some rust on it.

Older classic cars are more susceptible to rust and this isn’t simply because of it’s age. Newer cars have better paint with elements in them that prevent rust. Newer cars are also made with an galvanized steel that is coated with a rust resistant zinc. Older cars were not made with these resistant elements. So if you are wanting to own a classic car, plan on doing some sort of rust care.

Better Return If You Restore It Yourself

People often ask the question of whether or not purchasing a classic car is a wise investment. There’s really no solid answer for this because a lot of that depends on the classic car you buy, how much you buy it for, and what kind of condition it’s in.

There are some cars that are worth more than others, so if you are wanting to buy a classic car to later make money off of, you’ll need to do your homework before jumping into something like this. You’re chances of making money off a classic car increases if you plan on restoring the whole thing yourself.

People spend tens of thousands of dollars to restore a classic car, but those who spend the most on a restoration are the ones to have a professional do most of the restoration for them.

While a restoration can still be expensive if you do it yourself, you also save a lot of money you would have otherwise spent on a professional’s time; labor is a huge reason why classic car restorations are so expensive. So if you have the skills, perhaps you could pull off making money in the end by restoring your classic car yourself. Click here to see my list of recommended tools for a classic car restoration.

Braking Is Different

If you’ve ever driven a classic car before, you know the feeling of driving it is a little different compared to driving a modern car. If you’ve never driven a classic car before, be prepared to have the feeling of driving one be a little different.

As long as you know how to drive, you will be completely fine driving a classic car. Once you drive it a handful of times, you’ll quickly get used to it and you won’t think twice about it. But there are a few components you should be aware of that’ll make you a little more comfortable when you take a classic car out for the first time.

Older cars usually came with drum brakes. Cars nowadays have disc brakes which are seen as safer and more efficient. Drum brakes are still safe, but you’ll need extra time to brake to come to a complete stop. If your classic car has drum brakes, you’ll need start braking several feet ahead than you normally would.

Buy In The Fall Or Winter

If you’ve made the decision that you want to buy a classic car, try holding out and buy one in the fall or winter months. By waiting until these months, you could potentially save thousands of dollars.

When late fall and early winter hit, this is usually the time some classic car owners decide they don’t want to care for their classic car during the winter months or that they’ve had their fun during the summer and no longer need it. Most people aren’t looking to buy a classic car in the fall or winter because they can’t use it then, so the amount of people to sell classic cars to decreases which causes the prices to go down to attract more people.

The spring and summer months are the worst and most expensive times to buy a classic car. That’s when people get the itch to go out and buy one and classic car sellers know that so they can get away with selling for high prices.

Less Safety Features

One of the biggest worries people have about classic cars is safety features. This is something you should be aware of before buying a classic car because safety should be an important feature for everyone.

When classic cars were made, specifically anything pre 1970’s, the main focus from manufacturers was speed and efficiency, not necessarily safety. Classic cars don’t have air bags and some of them don’t even have seat belts. You may also notice that some of the seats inside classic cars don’t have head rests either.

This is not meant to discourage you from buying a classic car. A lot of these safety features can be added; be aware of the safety features a classic car doesn’t have and make it a point to add anything you feel would make you more safe driving it down the road.

Keep It Concealed

As it was mentioned before, classic cars are an easy target for burglars. The reason being is that classic cars usually don’t have modern alarm systems and are easy to break into. They’re also easy to hot wire and drive away quickly before anyone notices.

A big mistake people make is showing off their classic car too much while they’re at home. People will leave their classic car parked in the driveway at night or leave the garage open while they’re not home which advertises to the world that you have a classic car that’s ready to be stolen.

If you are going to own a classic car, make sure to hide it away where no one can access it when you’re not using it. It may seem fun letting it sit in the driveway for a few days to let the neighbors admire it, but burglars will stalk a target several days in advance and will find the right time to execute their intentions. If you show the world that your classic car isn’t accessible while you’re not with it, your chances of having it stolen will greatly decrease. For more information on how to prevent your classic car from getting stolen, click here.

Related Questions

What are some things you should look for while buying a classic car? There are several things you should look for when buying a classic car such as title issues, rust, attitude of the seller, any previous modifications done, service records, and where it has been stored. Click here for more information.

Are there other ways to label a classic car? There are three different ways to classify old cars. The first one being classic cars, or cars that are 20 years or older, antique cars which are 45 years or older, and vintage cars which were made between 1919 and 1930.

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