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Classic Car Check List

HOW TO BUY THE PERFECT CLASSIC CAR Published: 10th May 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Classic Car Check List
Classic Car Check List
Classic Car Check List
Classic Car Check List
Classic Car Check List
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Warning – that lovely looking classic may not be all it seems! Here’s how to ensure that that dream buy doesn’t turn into a nightmare...

No matter if it’s a delectable DB5 a fab Ferrari or even a modest Mini, buying any classic car is no different to a normal used one – except that it’s a lot easier to let your heart rule your head!

Some people really do strike it lucky – but we’ve also heard of some horrendous tales of folk buying some shiny classic on little more than a whim that is as rotten as a pear underneath. The problem is that because classic car ownership is mainly a hobby and you are dealing with like-wise enthusiasts, it’s easy to take things at face value. But on the other hand the term classic means ‘old’ and any old car needs careful vetting, doesn’t it? Here’s how to do it right…

Here’s what you should be looking out for…


Does it feel right and perform like it should? Is the oil pressure correct and does the warning light extinguish quickly on start up and not illuminate at low speeds? On the move is their a rumbling sound suggesting worn crankshaft and bearings? Lighter tapping in the area of the top end tappets/ camshaft wear. Is it clean and free from signs of leaks or past overheating? Have a compression test carried out if the vendor is agreeable – and that’s a point to the seller.


Certain noises are a characteristic on many classics but it shouldn’t be excessive. Is the Don’t ignore incidentals like seals; some hard to obtain Chromework can be very expensive to renew so check well gear change quality okay, do any gears jump out on the over run (i.e. no throttle)? If automatic, does it change gear smoothly without jerks or undue delay and is the fluid clean and doesn’t smell ‘burnt’?


Does the vehicle have an even stance without listing or sagging (usually at the rear) suggesting worn or broken suspension springs? Press down firmly on each corner to check if the body moves up and down – it should be no more than twice. When on a test drive, is the suspension okay with no undue clonks, creaks, crashes etc? And ensure the vehicle doesn’t ‘crab’ either.


It depends on the vehicle in question but overall is it responsive without undue slack and no wandering? Does the car pull to one side, which can be due to anything from poor steering alignment to a broken or buckled chassis? You must verify this before buying (check the tyres for uneven wear pointing to serious problems).


They must pull up the vehicle squarely and progressively suggesting a well serviced and adjusted set up. Juddering usually means worn drums or discs but can be due to a long lay up. If possible, remove the road wheels to check them visually. The fluid should look clean.


Mechanical parts are invariably replaceable but if the body is shot then even classics are ripe for the crusher! The skill is determining the critical from the cosmetic.

• First find where the rot lies. Have a word with an owners’ club or specialist to unearth the prone areas on the classic you are considering. And check out our comprehensive buying guides (they are on the web) for top advice, too.
• The most important areas relate to the vehicle’s structure such as the chassis, inner panels (wings and sills), box sections, suspension and steering attachment points, floorpans, crossmembers and bulkheads.
• Look closely for repairs and be very suspicious of fresh, thick underseal which may be masking bad rot. A crafty tool is a small magnet to check for filler.
• More cosmetic than serious but still expensive to rectify is rot on non structural places such as wings, wheel arches, outer sills, boot, bonnet, doors etc. Filler work is common which is where that small magnet comes in handy! Has a recent respray (full or part) been carried out to gloss over any ills?
• Little details count a lot. For example, a clean, dry but not tarted up engine bay and interior, a presentable boot and fuel filler flap (an often missed area) point to considerate ownership as do a nice set of tyres all of the same make…


These sales are still the most popular way to buy classics, although unlike with a modern, it doesn’t mean you necessarily get cheaper prices when compared to a dealer. On the other hand you (hopefully) will meet the current owner and as a result gain a better history and thus ‘feel’ of the vehicle. Remember our earlier advice; the seller’s demure can indicate whether the vehicle is honest or not. Of course, there’s no warranty given by a private sale and be wary if one is implied; it will be meaningless. Your only legal protection is whether the vehicle was described dishonestly in any advertisements.

Auctions are becoming increasingly popular with private buyers and you can certainly get a good deal by standing shoulder to shoulder with dealers and outbidding them. You have more consumer protection at an auction than buying privately because the vehicle must be described with accuracy, although no warranty will be given. Bear in mind that, unlike conventional auctions, the vehicles remain static and are not run – so you need to have a good grasp of cars, a gut feeling and a lucky streak if you want to come out on top. Don’t worry if the hammer doesn’t fall, you can negotiate after the sale.

Believe us, even the hard nose buyers find nothing more enticing than going into a showroom and drooling over all those lovelies. Good dealers, and most are, will have top notch stock or can obtain your dream vehicle if you give them time. Often as not the sold cars will come fully prepped and refurbished with a fresh MoT. On the other hand, not all traders provide written warranties; it’s more a ‘gentlemens’ agreement. Don’t instantly think that a dealer is any dearer than other routes either because in terms of values, unlike normal cars, it doesn’t work that way with classics.

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