10 Cardinal Rules for Buying Classic Cars

Turning an antique bucket of bolts into a cherry ride takes know-how — and making a profit is even trickier. Here's what you need to think about.

4. Decide whether to drive it

You’ll have to decide if your classic car is too precious to drive. A vehicle’s worth depends on its condition, so taking it on the road risks damaging its value.

At Newsday, Steve Linden nevertheless urges collectors not to be so fussy that they miss the joy of ownership. Get out and drive it, he says:

Generally speaking, when it comes to classic cars, Americans are obsessed with perfection. So much so that we are willing to trade it off for the enjoyment that the car might otherwise provide.

5. Factor in the cost of upkeep

If you are thinking of buying a vintage vehicle to drive, remember that it is one old car. Brauer tells of buying a 1970 Plymouth GTX for $4,000, driving it for 24 years and selling it for $24,000. Sounds like a decent deal, he says, until you realize that he spent $15,000 on upkeep, including rebuilding the engine and refreshing the interior, repainting and repairing rust and dents, insurance, fuel and regular maintenance. His profit on the “investment:” $5,000.

“Now ask your accountant ‘Is a $5,000 return on a $19,000 expenditure, over 24 years, a good investment?'” Brauer writes.

6. Understand the cost and availability of parts

Parts for these rare old beasts can themselves be rare — and pricey. Again, do your research to be sure you’re ready for that expense.

7. Find a mechanic before you buy

Buying a collector car means that, unless you do the work yourself, you could be at the mercy of a few experts who command high rates. Scope out the availability of these mechanics in your area who can do the job, and learn about their rates and background.

8. Follow your heart

Because you realize that car collecting is a hobby, not an investment, don’t ever buy a car that you’re not deeply passionate about.

Don’t buy a vehicle that you aren’t aching to drive, says Allen. “Don’t buy a car just because it seems like a great deal,” is how Brauer puts it. “If you don’t have the love, don’t bother,” Stacy says.

9. Muscle cars are having a moment

If you love “gas hogs” you are lucky. Today, big, vintage American “big-block” cars with enormous motors are very hot, Allen tells Mens Journal.

“Camaros, Corvettes, Chevelles, Mustangs … those are considered the big blocks,” he says.

10. Run the numbers — these numbers

Although few things guarantee you’ll make money on a vintage car, one factor helps enormously: ensuring that numbers on three of the important vehicle parts — the engine, transmission and rear axle — all correspond to the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number) that is stamped on it in the factory:

Allen explains where to locate these numbers on a car:

  • Engine: Most engines are stamped with the last six numbers of the car’s unique VIN.
  • Transmission and rear axle: Look for date codes stamped on these parts and make sure they correspond to the VIN’s date.

CARFAX helps you decode what a VIN number means. To research a car’s VIN use Experian’s AutoCheck.

Are classic cars on your shopping list or your list of things to avoid like the plague? Share your experiences with us in comments or on our Facebook page. And if you like this article, share it with your car-loving contacts on Facebook.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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