What to Look for When Buying a Classic Car

what to look for when buying a classic car

For classic car enthusiasts, owning your own vehicle can be a life long dream. It is not a straightforward task however, especially with something as complicated as a classic car. Finding a car is an enjoyable thing to do, but you must also be very cautious – especially if it's your first time. This article addresses specifically what you should look out for when buying a classic car.

The Basics of Classic Car Ownership

Before we get to the vehicle inspection check-list, it's important to cover a few basics of classic car ownership. These points are covered in more detail in our guide for beginners, which we recommend reading before you consider buying a classic car.

Budgeting for Your New Classic Car

Set yourself a realistic budget and then add at least an extra 30% on top of it, as that is how much you will probably end up spending on it during the first year. Stick to your budget, don't be tempted to spend more than you can really afford.

Once you're clear about what type of car you want to buy, you can start comparing prices on the market. This is your opportunity to find out what you really need to pay for the car you want to buy.

Where to Buy From

Buying from car dealers can often give you more choice, but buying privately can have its own advantages. Firstly you won't be paying the retailer's premium, private owners generally care more about which home their car is going to and want to know it's going to be well looked after. They also tend to know more about the car, whereas the dealer's knowledge will largely be second hand and paperwork based. In some cases prices are also more negotiable with a private owner.

Too Good to Be True?

This may sound obvious, as of course you want to get the best deal you can; however, it's important to remember, the price usually always reflects the value of the car. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is, you need to be asking yourself why the car is so cheap. Buy the best car you can personally afford.


Many people assume that the lower the mileage the better, of course you don't want to buy a worn out old heap, but cars are built to be driven. A high mileage from a car with a large number of previous owners is to be expected, don't let this put you off. Cars that have just be sitting in a garage for years are likely to have problems. Although on the other hand, if you are buying a classic car as an investment, a lower mileage will be better as this adds more valuable – you can't restore mileage. It really depends on what you want from a classic car.

classic car interior dash

Check The Paperwork First

Checking all the documentation and paperwork with a fine tooth comb is a must. The VINs on the paperwork must match the VINs on the vehicle, this way you can be sure the car is original. A true investment will have matching numbers. Check the service and MOT history of the car, this can reveal a lot about the vehicle and its condition. More importantly, see if any restorations have been made. Most classic cars will have had some sort of modification – and you'll want to know if the car has been professionally restored.

Things to Check Before Checking the Car Itself

Having found a classic car within your price range that you are interested in, it's advisable to do a brief inspection of the car. We have a list below that can help you identify the basics. This may not be possible to do on your own, and we always advise that the ideal solution is taking it to a garage that specialises in classic cars, where the experts can put it up on the ramp and test absolutely everything.

What to Look for When Buying a Classic Car

  • Rust is a big problem so check everywhere for it: underneath the car, in the boot, under carpets and under the wheel arches. A small amount can be dealt with relatively easily, larger amounts become a serious financial drain. While you are inspecting the car for rust, also take note of any accident damage or dents.
  • Check body panels, doors, seals and hinges. Make sure the panels fit together nicely and all doors open and close correctly. If this is not the case, it is possible that the car has been poorly restored.
  • Furthermore, inspect everything for signs of repair or undocumented restoration. If the car has been restored in some way, you need to know who did it and what they've done. Has the car been restored by an experienced professional?
  • Check tyres are matching and see if they show signs of significant or uneven wear.
  • Maybe even more importantly, if the car's paintwork looks pristine at first glance, it really is essential to inspect the car more closely. A great paint job may be hiding problems underneath. We see this often, which is why it is important to get the car appraised by a professional.
  • Check the interior of the car, is everything in a satisfactory condition? With older cars, wear and tear could be significant and costly to repair. Also, check if all the components in the dash are original and that they work.
  • Glance over the engine and check the general condition. Check for signs of oil or water pump leaks and see if the belts look worn. Also check the condition of any wires and hoses, and make sure nothing is loose.
  • Take the car for a test drive. Is the car easy to start? Does it drive as well as you expected? Does the car produce any excessive smoke? Listen for any unexpected noises and make sure that when breaking it doesn't pull to one side. This is also the time to see if there are any dashboard warning lights on and that the speedometer and other dials work.

Red Flags – What To Be Aware Of

You may need to reconsider your purchase if any of the following are present on the car you're looking to buy:

  • Excessive rust
  • Any accident damage
  • Shoddy repairs
  • Excessive work needed on either the interior or the exterior
  • Undocumented restorations
  • The car drives poorly or any problems with the mechanical condition
  • If a deal is "too good to be true" - ask why

Don't get stung by unexpected expenses! If you're looking to purchase a classic car, get it checked by professionals for peace of mind. This is especially important if you're buying a car for an investment.