Top 5 tips on buying classic cars

After decades of being immersed in this hobby, we have learned a few things (and are still learning). Below are mistakes that are repeated everyday across the globe that we would like to help you avoid. This list of our top 5 tips on buying classic cars only scratches the surface in the art of finding the right car. However, if you go forward with this minimal knowledge, the odds you will make a satisfactory buy will greatly increase in your favor.

Top 5 tips on buying classic cars and how to avoid “rookie mistakes.”

#1 ….. buy the best quality car you can possibly afford

The number 1 mistake is making your purchase decision with a greater focus on price versus a focus on quality and value. Very few people can afford the mistake of a “bad car” purchase. The cost of repairs, the lost time, the misery and the profound disappointment are something you want to avoid. The fact is a good price never trumps a bad car. It is almost always cheaper and better in the long run to buy the best car you can possibly afford. With that said, let me also say that a higher price is not necessarily synonymous with quality or value.

#2 …. know how to evaluate various quality & value attributes of a car

The number 2 mistake is not knowing that there can be a huge difference in quality and value from one car to the next and consequently not knowing how to evaluate those differences. I call these differences “quality attributes”. There are also “other differences” from one car to the next that have nothing to do with quality but still have a significant impact on value (I call these “value attributes”). In the world of old cars it is almost never an “apple to apple” comparison. Cars that seem almost identical to the untrained eye can have slight to vast differences that really matter in both quality and value. Understanding the significance of both quality and value attributes is critical. Here, there is simply no substitute for knowledge, which usually only comes from substantial EXPERIENCE (the topic of quality & value attributes is too broad to cover within the scope of this list, so please see #5 to deal with a lack of knowledge and experience).

#3 …. you have to START with a good car to end up with a good car.

The 3rd most common mistake is to assume that with enough time and money one can take a poor quality car and make it into a good quality car. But in most cases no matter the money spent, some cars will never be more than a thinly disguised junker. On the other hand, a car with good bones (a good car) can certainly be brought back to life, but rarely if ever is it profitable in the short term. Usually the time and money involved far exceed everyone’s best estimate. So, if you go down this path be prepared to be upside down financially in your dream car (at least for a season) ….. but hey, I can think of thousands of investments that are much more risky and never deliver the joy that comes with classic car ownership. Just remember that the better the car you start with, the better the car will be that you end up with.

#4 …. have realistic expectations and be patient.

Patience is not only a virtue, it is a critical ingredient you must possess while searching for your dream machine. It is also important to separate the “dream” from the “machine”. 50-year-old vehicles can bring great pleasure, but one has to be content with the fact that they are man made machines subject to issues at any time.

The 4th most common mistake is buying a car without a clear understanding of how that particular car will meet with your “expectations”. Let me expand….. Many rookie and even repeat buyers place UNrealistic expectations on the classic car experience. While some cars are better than others in various categories, by definition none of them can meet unrealistic expectations. Educate yourself with a focus on the car or cars that appeal to you the most. Join a club and get to know car owners. Ask questions and if possible drive their cars. This hobby is full of GREAT people, many of which will go out of their way to help you dial in on the car of your dreams. FIRST, start with the list below to see which “owner category” you might best fit into. This could prove helpful in setting your expectations and thus help define your “target purchase”.

Understand that for every category of owner type, there are an untold number of cars that are a better or worse fit for that category.

I categorize classic car owners into 6 major categories.

  1. passive owners who get some satisfaction from owning a classic but are not really active in the larger car culture community. Here, ownership is motivated by as many random reasons as there are cars to own.
  2. true drivers that frequently want to rack up time behind the wheel and may even dream of extended road trips. Here there is usually a strong bond with a particular car type that offers a specific road experience.
  3. show car people who mainly focus their experience around car show events. Here the group experience is highly valued where pride of ownership can be put on display for all to see.
  4. collectors who are more investment oriented and rarely if ever actually drive the vehicles. Their highest goal is preservation to maintain maximum value. Here the motivation can be as much of an economic one as the love of the artistic beauty of the cars.
  5. hardcore folks who simply love “all things” classic car related with no real fixed brand loyalty. Here the focus is on the next car culture experience or next car acquisition. Like all of the owner types above, hardcore folks “may blend in and out” of each group but are unquestionably the most obsessed with the car culture lifestyle. ……. This is the category that I fall into.
  6. rookie owners that are for the most part new to the vintage car experience at least in a “hands-on-way”. This is the new blood that is critical to the hobby. Most of these folks will become life long enthusiasts and may migrate through a few of the top five categories until they ultimately find their zone.

#5 ….. do your due diligence before spending your hard earned money

Stay away from shiny objects.

The 5th mistake that is often repeated by even seasoned buyers is buying a car without adequate “accurate” information and/or knowledge about the vehicle itself or the party representing the vehicle. First, let me acknowledge that this can be extremely difficult to next to impossible when the vehicle is a long distance away. It’s even harder when your seller is not capable or possibly unwilling to document to your satisfaction the true condition or authenticity of the vehicle. My advice is to walk away from any vehicle that is being represented by someone who is not readily willing and fully able to provide you with the information and comfort you seek. Unfortunately, many sellers are dishonest, or lack knowledge, or BOTH.

If you lack experience and knowledge yourself, then find someone you trust to partner up with when evaluating a potential purchase.

Conclusion… there are no perfect cars

PLEASE know that there are NO perfect cars (they were far from perfect when new). I learned long ago that “perfection” at best is temporary and that the “cost and care” associated with maintaining perfection is in direct conflict with enjoying the cars as they are meant to be enjoyed.

There certainly are good cars out there; but there are far more bad cars, so stay focused. This is going to be either a good experience or a bad one depending on the car you purchase.

Our help

We would love to help you find the classic car of your dreams, a sure enough “KEEPER”. My son and I have made friends all over the world by doing exactly that.

However, because we are super particular, we buy very few cars. So if you are not the patient type, it is highly likely you will end up buying from someone other than us. No problem! My hope is that you find a car that not only brings you great joy but proves to be a good investment as well. The purpose of these “tips on buying classic cars” is to give some free advice that may prove helpful in your search for a “keeper.” 

If you think we can help make it a good experience, feel free to sign up for our “inventory updates” email on the left side of this page in the box titled “Get Inventory Updates.”

Enjoy your Car Life Journey !!!

– Michael

Contact Us

Translate

Get Inventory Updates!

If you would like to receive an email whenever our inventory is updated just fill out the form below!
  • *optional

About Us

My name's Michael and my son is Tyler. We are serious car guys that have owned, restored, shown, judged and sold hundreds of high quality classic cars. Having been born into a “car collecting family”, this has been a “life-long passion and hobby” for us both. With 60 years of experience between us, we know the difference between common “fluffed up” cars and “quality” cars.”

Click here for more about us.
Translate »