Whether you’re an enthusiast actively on the hunt for some wheels, or just casually surfing Craigslist while you’re bored at work, there may come a time when you’ll consider purchasing a classic or vintage car. You can see yourself spending weekends in the driveway or garage, putting in the hard work to nurse your new ride back to its former glory, and then hitting the roads for a cruise and turning heads with the fruits of your labor. Before you get too carried away with your classic car fantasy, though, it’s time for a reality check: classic cars aren’t easy.
A perfectly restored vintage vehicle comes with a hefty price tag, and fixing up a Craigslist diamond in the rough requires a significant amount of time and money. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t follow your classic car dreams, but before you write a check for that ’66 Shelby, take a couple of minutes to read these tips for purchasing a classic car.
Get realistic about money: Restoring a classic car (or buying and maintaining a pre-restored one) is a huge financial commitment, no matter how you look at it. Even if you find a fixer-upper that looks like an absolute steal and you can do a lot of the labor yourself, you’ll be sinking a significant amount of cash into this vehicle. Don’t fall in to the trap of justifying a purchase by calling it “an investment.” While it’s true that some people do make money (and even a living) restoring and reselling classic cars, there’s absolutely no guarantee that your restoration endeavor will end in a big payout, especially as an amateur. Look at it as a hobby, and a labor of love. Restore a classic car for the experience, and the pleasure of ownership, not financial gain, and if you find yourself saying “Don’t worry, I’ll make all of the money back!” it might be time to take a good hard look at your finances before you decide that it’s a responsible choice.
Do your research: Not all classic cars were created equal. Certain models may be cheaper or more expensive to fix, depending on the availability and proximity of parts. Before pulling the trigger on a purchase, do some research on restoration of the model and year. You could save yourself some serious cash and headache if you identify an impossible to find part or a notoriously hard to fix component before you choose to buy. Conducting some research can also help you avoid making bad investments, or paying more than the vehicle is worth. Find out the average retail value and market price for the model and make sure you’re not getting ripped off.
Inspect thoroughly: If you were buying a used car, you’d probably want to check it out, kick the tires, take a look at the engine, and do everything you can before the purchase to make sure it’ll pass inspection and get a sticker. You might even consider bringing in a professional to make sure that you’re not ending up with a hunk of junk. The same should be true of a classic car. While a for-restoration vehicle probably won’t pass a state inspection as is, a thorough inspection will help you gauge the amount of money that will be required to fix it, and if it’s even worth it. Think about having a professional look at the car before you buy, or at the very least run the numbers through a service like CARFAX or Experian AutoCheck.
Make sure you love it: Restoring a classic car can be a long, sometimes frustrating process. You may end up spending long nights searching the internet for that one elusive part, and passing whole weekends flat on your back making difficult repairs. Automotive professionals like our friends at City Cadillac, though, will tell you that when you love the car, it’s worth every minute of work. Don’t settle for a car you’re not really excited about, just because it’s taking a little time to find that perfect vehicle. Your dream car is out there, and it would be better to wait another year until it comes along then to invest in something that you’ll lose interest or patience with and will eventually end up gathering dust in your garage or back up on Craigslist in disrepair. Remember, you’re making a commitment here, and you need to make sure that your heart is in it.