Simple Guidelines to Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars


Ken Hale is CEO of Drive line Consultants. Visit them at

Here at Horsepower for an Hour, one of our most popular weekly broadcast segments is “Clash of the Classics”. Each week we discuss two distinct classic models, we look at styling, engine, powertrain, and design features of each car, then we vote on which car we like best, it’s a fun and informative segment that many listeners enjoy. Ken Hale is our in-studio expert with decades of classic car appraisal experience, when it comes to classic cars, no one is more experienced than Ken. All of us here at Horsepower Broadcasting recommend consulting with Ken Hale at prior to making a purchase, it could very well save you countless dollars and unimaginable frustration.

What’s Your Reason For Owning A Classic Car?

Understand clearly why you want the classic car. This is a very personal issue. Are you planning to cruise around town on a nightly basis or do you want a car to show or compete in classic car events? Is it an investment or a labor of love? Understanding why you want the classic car impacts many of the other decisions you make further down the line.

Figure out which car you want. You need to have a clear idea of what car you want before doing anything else. There are just too many different types of cars out there with different issues and things to check for. Be as specific as possible.

How To Avoidl Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

How To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Start at the macro level and work your way down. Sure, you want a classic car, but classic car means different things to different people. State Farm Insurance defines a classic as: A motor vehicle 10 or more years old, which is rare or of special historical interest because of exceptionally fine workmanship or limited production. A classic motor vehicle 25 years old or older is an antique. More broadly, Classic Car Club of America defines a classic as a “fine or distinctive automobile, American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948,” it also can be a beautifully built racecar from the 1960s. How old do you want your car to be? Keep in mind the older the car, the harder it is to find parts and people to work on them.

Set a budget for your classic car. If you are like most of us, you probably have a limited budget you can spend. Figure that out early in this process. You may not need to figure out an exact dollar amount you can spend, even a rough estimate will help you narrow down the type of car you can afford during the next steps.

Keep in mind age, condition, original features and scarcity of the car determine price. Also consider your mechanical abilities when determining your budget. A rule of thumb is that restoration can cost you 1 1/2 times or more the price of a “finished” car if you can’t do the work yourself. If you lack mechanical ability, look a car that is completely or nearly restored. This will add to the price, of course.

Research Your Car To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Determine which car you want. Most people buy cars they like. A rule of thumb is if you aren’t dying to drive it, don’t buy it. If you have a clear idea of what car you want to buy, great. You can go to the following three sites to get a rough idea of the market value of the car of your choice: Collector Car Market Review (very conservative but sometimes low pricing), (optimistic and sometimes high pricing) and Hemmings Motor News (real world asking prices). Keep track of results from Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions. and the Kelley Blue Book also are popular and reputable resources.

What do you do if you have no idea, however? If you don’t have a clue as to what classic car you want, then you need to start looking around. A great way to look at a large collection of classic cars all at once is to go to some classic car shows. Invest early in is a classic car value guide. Start by searching at to see what is available. Many guides also include prices, but these may be out of date. Plant yourself in front of the computer for a few hours. Find as many web sites about your particular choice as possible. Almost every car made has at least one site devoted to it.

There’s more information available about the classic-car market than ever before. This next step of searching for that car may take longer, depending on your criteria.

Keep these things in mind as you search. 1) The fewer miles on the speedometer, the more the car’s worth. That may seem obvious. Classic cars are used cars. Low miles means big money. 2) The fewer the cars produced for your model, the higher the value of the cars. If possible, you want a car that the manufacturer didn’t crank out in massive numbers. A car is more valuable if only 5,000 were produced that year compared to 100,000. 3) It’s important to accurately assess the car’s condition. Classify any car into a one to four category: a perfect car, a very good car, a good car, and a fair car. Skip any car that’s in less than fair condition. 4) Look for rare options on the car. Something as mundane as power windows may have been a sought after option when the car was new. Back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, you could order cars and make them very unique. Those unique cars are more valuable today.

A Rusted Car Will Never Return to Factory Condition

A Rusted Car Will Never Return to Factory Condition

If you are looking for a fully restored and well maintained model, your best bet may be to contact car clubs and see if anyone is selling their car. Generally these cars will cost more than purchasing one through other means. If you’re searching websites online, ask in classic car forums if anyone they know is selling a car.

Inspect Your Car To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Once you’ve identified a car, inspecting the car before buying is very important. Don’t buy a vintage car without having an experienced mechanic. If the car you want is local, inspecting is less difficult than if the car is in another region. Here are some tips for inspecting a car.

Ask questions. Lots of them. Ask how long has the owner owned the car, and do they have any history on it? Ask what repairs have been made recently, and what future repairs are needed? Does the owner have repair and maintenance receipts? Why is the seller selling the car?

Inspect The Vehicle To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Inspect The Vehicle To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Inspect for rust. The easiest way to avoid problems is to look out for the brown stuff. Large patches of rust mean the car will never be factory-original again. A bubble or two on a quarter panel, however, may not be too bad. Bring a weak fridge magnet, the thinner the better. Test it all over the car. It’s a good sign if the magnet sticks to the side of the car. If the magnet doesn’t stick, however, it’s cause for further investigation.

Check for “numbers-matching” cars. That is, cars where the engine, transmission, and rear axle all link up to the vehicle’s VIN number. Most engines have the last six digits of the VIN number stamped on them. The transmission and rear end are a bit trickier. Usually date codes are stamped on them that you must look up to determine if the dates sync correctly.

Check the fluids, belts, hoses, and look for leaks.

Before test-driving the car, make sure it started properly. Better yet, have the owner start it, and check the tail pipe to see what comes out of it at start up. Blue smoke can be a sign of serious issues.

If the car is out of the area, inspecting the car is more difficult. There are solutions, however. Many classic car fans are willing to help others inspect a vehicle for sale for another out of state buyer. They will inspect the car and possibly test drive it, and even go through an inspection list if you give them one.

Another option you have is to pay a fee to have an independent inspection. This is where a professional like Ken Hale proves invaluable, visit Ken at for more information.

You’ll need to have your finances together to purchase your car. The monetary transaction is straightforward. If the car is located out of your area, however, there will be the added costs of retrieving the car. You could fly to your new car and drive it home. That’s great if the car is operable. Even if it is, you may want to reconsider because you don’t want to have your car breakdown on the return trip. Finding vintage car parts is difficult and expensive.

Your better option is to have the car shipped to you. Shipping adds hundreds, if not thousands, to the purchase. Beware of brokers promising cheap rates and fast service to deliver your car. Their tactics may be to get a deposit right away. The deposit amount is their commission and they will only bump up the price after a week or two of not finding a truck to pick it up, a very common practice

Rust Is One Of The Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Rust Is One Of The Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

A Few More Things To Remember To Avoid Costly Mistakes Buying Classic Cars

Finally, here are a few other points to consider. Find a classic car mechanic before you buy. Finding a mechanic that works on your selected model is vital. If you find the model you want to buy locally, it’s a good idea to have this mechanic check out the vehicle before purchasing.

Research classic car insurance costs. Surprisingly, insurance can be cheaper for antique cars. But there’s a catch: To get low rates you can’t drive your collector car much. Shop to compare policy options.

Join local car clubs. Locate a local classic car club of the make or model you are looking to purchase. Classic car club members are always willing to lend a hand to help others. This will be useful to you as a first-time owner.

Tune in to our weekly “Horsepower for an Hour” broadcast on your local radio station or download our app at your app store for both iPhone and Android devices, we are “Your Ultimate Stop in Automotive Radio”

Horsepower for an Hour is a Nationally Syndicated Automotive Talk Radio Show heard on over 150 radio stations across America and in more than 172 Countries World Wide


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About Author

Bill is an Associate Producer at Horsepower Broadcasting as well as our Operations Analyst. He personally oversees most all of the myriad interviews with our automotive celebrity guests. He handles scheduling, contacts, press releases, press passes and everything in between. His keen intellect is awe inspiring and he is a true academician in every sense of the term.

Many of our business related blogs and posts are created and written by him as the business category is what Bill is most familiar with. He has a wide range of interests in business related subjects including marketing, sales, finance, motivation, leadership, banking, technology and leading edge thinking.

His input and contributions to the show are invaluable and we are grateful he is a part of our team.


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