8 Tips for Buying a Classic Car: A Guide for Beginners

8 tips for buying a classic car

If you're new to the world of classic cars, you've probably been lured in with the stunningly good looks and character of a vintage vehicle. Classic car ownership is a truly great thing to experience, and there's a fantastic balance of driving and car maintenance that appeals to even the most inexperienced car enthusiast.

There are a number of things to consider and check during the process of buying a classic car. From the costs of maintenance to checking for rust, our "8 tips" will guide you from being an uninitiated newcomer to signing on the dotted line.

1: Take into Account the Costs of Classic Car Ownership

Owning and running a classic car is a full-time hobby, and there are a number of costs associated with this. Here are some of the costs you will have to consider:

Storage Costs

You must have somewhere to protect your new pride and joy from the elements. A dry and secure garage is essential and comes with a number of benefits:

  • It will protect your classic car from harsh weather conditions
  • It is a place you can work on your car
  • You can store an accumulation of spare parts and tools
  • It's better for your insurance than parking on the side of the road, or on a shared car park

classic car garage

Maintenance Costs

Naturally, classic cars require more attention than newer cars and even cars from the 1960s will need servicing every few thousand miles. On-going maintenance of the vehicle can be expensive. Depending on the model of your car, sourcing parts could be costly. You may be lured in by cheap home maintenance which is often dangerous and time-consuming. Always take your car to a classic car restoration specialist who can safely maintain your car.

Tax / Insurance / MOT Costs

Classic cars don't need an MOT if they were made before 1960. You also won't have to pay vehicle tax if your car was made before 1st January 1975. It's always best to check both of these things before buying though.

What you won't be able to avoid is car insurance. Classic car policies vary in price, shop around for the best deal. You can use all of the typical insurance comparison websites to find a quote.

Restoration Costs

If you are looking to buy a car that is in need of restoration work, get advice from classic car restoration professionals, such as Longmynd Service Station. Restoration can be more expensive than you think.

2: Do Your Research Before Buying

If the costs haven't scared you off, this is where the process starts to get fun. Depending on the make and model of the car, owning a classic car could be a labour of love, where you may end up spending much more on maintaining or restoring the car than it's actually worth. It is all down to personal preference. If this doesn't sound appealing, make sure you leave no stone unturned when doing your research.

You can read various car magazines to see what models are in your budget. Discover the car makes and models you like and then you can start your in-depth research. Read up on your chosen cars to understand their strengths and weaknesses, common faults and spare parts availability.

Getting in touch with other owners of your selected classic cars is another great source of information, and there are numerous owner clubs to become involved with. Owner clubs are also a fantastic source of finding cars for sale at a decent price. Remember: their members are classic car enthusiasts and will be willing to pass on knowledge to newcomers.

A small note of caution, many new buyers get starry eyed by a shiny paint job and do not know the ins and outs of maintaining and restoring a classic car. This can become extremely costly, and sometimes it's easier to cut your losses, sell the car and walk away. However, if you do your research (and follow our pointers), you should be able to find a well maintained classic.

classic car group

3: Finding the Holy Grail

Classic car ownership is a hobby of personal preference. However, the Holy Grail of classic car ownership is finding an original (not restored) car with low mileage, few previous owners, all the relevant paperwork that has been well maintained. An original, well-kept car without restoration work carried out will generate more interest from the classic car community, however this is often a lot to ask for when it comes to vintage cars. Here are a few pointers to look out for:

The Paperwork

  • See if the current owner has the original logbook
  • See if the current owner has a full history record including previous MOTs carried out

The Mileage

Let's state the obvious here: the fewer miles there are on the clock, the more the car is worth. There's no way to restore mileage. However, be very wary about cars that may have been sat doing nothing nothing for years. Cars are designed to be driven, and regular driving keeps them working properly. If you've found a car that's been sat doing nothing for years, it's quite likely that the brakes have seized up, the tyres have perished and the engine needs some attention, amongst other problems. Despite this point, you probably don't want to buy a car that's been driven to it's absolute brink either, so find a happy medium.

4: A Basic Motor Maintenance Course is Incredibly Valuable

If you don't have the knowledge of how cars work, then a basic motor maintenance course is a good idea. It will enable you to look out for a number of things when buying a car, and also help with the basic requirements of maintaining your classic car. Simple things such as changing the oil can become expensive if you have to take it to a mechanic each time.

5: Check the Car

There are a number of things to check when you buy a classic car. As well as looking at the overall condition of the car, you're also looking for:

  • The mileage and paperwork as mentioned above
  • Rust (more on this below)
  • Accident damage
  • Any leaks of oil underneath the car
  • The condition of tyres, brake discs, shock absorbers and exhaust hangers
  • Any evidence of repairs and how they've been handled
  • Any persistent blue smoke – this can indicate engine problems
  • If the car has had restoration work carried out , is it to a high standard? (more on this below)
  • If the car been converted to run on unleaded petrol or not. The conversion can be expensive
  • Does the car drive smoothly? A test drive is essential

Ultimately, there are a lot of things to look for, a professional inspection would be beneficial. It's better to hire a professional up-front to look at the car with you, than something go wrong with the car after purchase that costs you a lot of money to repair.

old rusty car

6. Has the Car Been Restored?

If the classic car you're looking to buy has been restored, there are a few more things to look out for. You will want to know who carried out the work to see if it's been performed by a reputable garage. If possible, get photographic evidence of before and during the restoration to find out exactly what's been changed and how. Tell-tale signs of a poor restoration are any of the issues listed above being present, but also poor-fitting bodywork panels. Pay close attention to the bodywork.

restored singer le mans

7: Check EVERYWHERE for Rust

Rust is a car killer and it can be expensive to repair rust damage. Unfortunately, all cars rust and this can't be avoided, but before buying your classic car, you will at least want to find out if it's been cared for as much as possible. You should check in places you can't usually see such as under carpets, in the boot and special attention should be paid to underneath the wheel arches.

check for rust

8: Find out If the Seller Has Any Replacement Parts

If the car you're looking to buy is in a desirable condition, this bonus tip can be extremely helpful. Simply ask the seller if they have any spare or replacement parts for the car you're buying. You may be able to strike a deal with them for some spare parts, which could save you money further down the road.

If you've purchased a classic car and are looking for advice or restoration, view our restoration case studies or call us on 01694 771 464.