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Top Tips For Buying A Classic Car

Top Tips For Buying A Classic Car Published: 3rd May 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Top Tips For Buying A Classic Car
Top Tips For Buying A Classic Car
Top Tips For Buying A Classic Car
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No matter if it's a fab Ferrari or even a modest Minor, buying any classic car is no different to any second-hand daily driver. The term classic means ‘old’ and we all know that old cars need careful vetting, doesn't it? Here’s how to do it right!


1. Keep your excitement and emotions under tight control and treat a classic as you would any used car purchase, as excited as you probably are…

2. Don’t buy the first one you see – check out a few examples of the car(s) that you are considering to set a benchmark as they will vary greatly

3. Find out the car’s, authenticity, characteristics and foibles first by consulting a specialist or an owners’ club, the latter who are only too glad to help and perhaps check a vehicle over for you

4. A service history on a modern classic is paramount, although it’s a bit much to expect on an old Morris Minor. But if it has one, then so much the better

5. There’s an old adage that says that nice people sell nice cars and it’s one we hold dearly. If the vendor seems combative, too much of an Arthur Daley or bit too wheeler-dealer slick, does it start alarm bells? You can usually tell an honest sort from the off. By the same token, their place of residence can signify a lot, too. A run down joint can mean tight funds and the car may have been treated in the same vein

6. First impressions count. Does it float your boat, tick all the right boxes, give out all the right signals. As does a gut feeling. If something doesn’t ring true and there’s doubt in your mind, walk away and start again

7. Always hear the engine start from stone cold (did it start promptly?) so you can hear undue noises which reduce when warmed up. Ensure all the dash warning lights illuminate/extinguish when they should

8. So long as you are insured, have a brisk and lengthy test drive under varying loads and speeds; a quick gallop round the block simply isn’t enough and if you feel the car is too removed from your normal standards to appraise it, have an expert test it as well

9. 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), all points to considerate ownership as do a nice set of tyres all of the same make…

10. Finally, even if the vehicle of your dreams checks out okay‚ did you actually like it? If you are having second thoughts walk away and have a rethink…


Don’t! Here’s what you should be looking out for!

• Does it feel right and perform like it ought to? Is the oil pressure healthy 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 is normally tappets/camshaft wear

• Have a compression test carried out if the vendor is agreeable; that’s a plus point

• Certain noises are a characteristic on many classics, especially transmissions. Is the gear change quality okay, do any gears jump out on the over run (i.e. a closed throttle)? If automatic, does it change gear smoothly without jerks or undue delay and is the fluid clean and doesn’t smell sour or burnt?

• See that the vehicle has an even stance without listing or sagging (usually at the rear) which suggests worn or broken suspension springs. Have new parts been fitted?

• 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?

• It depends on the vehicle in question but overall is it responsive, precise without undue slack and no wandering or crabbing?

• Does the car pull to one side, which can be due to anything from poor steering alignment to a broken or buckled chassis?

• Brakes must pull up the vehicle squarely and progressively suggesting a well serviced and adjusted set up. Juddering usually points to worn drums or discs but can be due to a long lay up. If possible, remove the wheels to check visually. The fluid shoulld be clean.



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. No warranties are 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


Classic 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 started up or 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…


There’s nothing more enticing than going into a showroom and drooling over all those lovelies ready to be driven away. 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 is more a “Gentlemens’ agreement”. Don’t automatically think that a dealer is any dearer than other buying avenues either because the classic market can be a surprisingly level playing field!


Buying a project can be a risky business; it depends whether you look upon a glass as being half empty or half full. On the one hand, the vehicle, which will invariably be a non runner, is an unknown quantity and down to you to complete it. But on the other you can bag a real bargain. You need to have your wits when buying a total basket case and weigh up all the pros and cons. As for a budget, you can expect to well exceed it so don’t pay over the odds for what is a box of bits.

The real bargains are part projects where the owner has embarked upon a restoration with all the best intentions, but for a variety of reasons has lost interest. Usually, a fair bit of work and money has already been lavished on the vehicle and these projects are sold at a loss. It’s vital that any project comes complete with its V5 as re-registering the vehicle may result in a ‘Q’ registration number which will greatly affect its residual value plus lose any VED tax advantages.


Mechanical parts are invariably replaceable but if the bodyshell is shot then even coveted classics can be ripe for the crusher! The skill is sifting the critical from the cosmetic

• First find where the rot lies. Have a word with an owners’ club or specialist to discover the most prone areas. 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. It’s likely that past repairs have been carried out.

• Look closely at those recent repairs and be very suspicious of fresh, thick underseal which may be masking bad rot or rotten welding. 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 here which is where that small magnet comes in handy again! Has a recent respray (full or part) been carried out to gloss over any ills?

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