Convertible Classic

13 Tips When Purchasing a Classic Car (Beginners Guide)

Passion! When considering purchasing a classic car, your desire will be your biggest asset as any classic car owner will tell you it can often be a love/hate relationship and passion will see you through those difficult times.

There are many benefits and pitfalls to owning a classic as there are highs and lows. Driving along on a sunny day with people admiring your car as it cruises past is a good feeling; however, there will be times when it's raining cats and dogs, and you're trying to get home and your car will be as stubborn as a mule and won't budge.

Still interested? Good! Here are some top tips for buying your first classic automobile.

Choosing the Right Vehicle

Red Porsche Convertible

The first thing you need to think of is what purpose or role will the vehicle be playing? It's no good buying a two-seater sports car if you intend on taking the whole family out driving at the weekend. Also, why buy a pristine model if you like the idea of restoring a vehicle yourself?

A friend of mine recently purchased an Australian import, an old XB Ford Falcon, yes, just like the police cars from Mad Max, and was moaning because it didn't fit in his garage. When I asked him why he bought it his reply was it was such a reasonable price. That is not the right reason for choosing a classic, it might have been if his nickname was Mad Max or he had wanted one since he saw the movie as a youngster, it might have also been a prudent idea to check the size of his garage and measured up the car.

Buying the right vehicle might seem like a simple choice, but you would be surprised the number of times people get carried away and end up buying a car that isn't practical or is unfit for purpose. So always keep in mind why you want it, how you intend on using it and then you can narrow the field of choice a little.

Be realistic, for example, you may have always had a hankering to own a Porsche but don't start looking for a 911 Turbo when you can only afford to buy a 928. Compromise is vital; a nice classic is still a beautiful car whether it cost £10,000 or £250,000, but if you stretch your limits you won't be driving it much.

Hopefully, our guide will help you on this journey to buying your new classic head turner and you will end up with the perfect automotive partner, rather than Christine (A horror film directed by John Carpenter).

A Garage Will Be A Valuable Asset

Man working on VW

Old vehicles deteriorate if not being used and parking one on the street is not a good long-term solution. Having a garage has many benefits, having one that's dry, has space for you to work and is hooked up to the power grid has many more benefits. If you don't currently own a garage, there are some alternatives available.

Keeping your pride and joy safe should be your primary concern, even if that means hiring a council-owned garage (you do not need to be a council tenant to do this) as long as you can store it out of the inclement weather, it also wouldn't harm your insurance premium. There is another option a carport which looks a bit like a tent for your vehicle which can be fixed to your driveway and made secure.

Rents and availability can vary dramatically depending on which part of the country you haunt. London, for instance, renting a garage could cost you upwards of £150 pm while in Nottingham I saw garages for £45 pm.

Restoration and Routine Maintenance

It's doubtful a council garage will give you much room to work, so if you plan on undertaking the maintenance and servicing yourself, you will need more space. There are many storage companies, but most won't allow you to work on the vehicle, a friend who has space or perhaps a small industrial unit on a short term let may be your best choice in your area. Of course, you will need to discuss how you intend on using the unit if renting and in some cases that will be the case when buying. There could be other things to consider such as insurance especially if you plan to store your tools and any hazardous substances such as paint and engine oil there as well.

If you are planning on significant overhauls like a full restoration then having your garage or workshop hooked up to the power grid will be a valuable asset too. Purchasing a generator that can handle a sufficient load could be an alternative but if you do always consider your ventilation.


If you are looking to store your car over the winter or for a length of time a good option would be specialist storage. There are a lot of specialist firms that provide optimal storage solutions with excellent security; most will have CCTV, coded gate entry and secure units etc. Often they'll have dehumidified storage options too. Prices can vary and most you will need to obtain a quote from directly. I'd certainly stick to a specialist though some self-storage options aren't geared up for looking after your classic.

Insurance Options and "Agreed Value"

Jaguar E-Type

There are a lot of options for car insurance on the market, classic vehicle insurance is usually cheaper than your everyday or company vehicle insurance, but this will depend a lot on its use. Checking the insurance cost for your vehicle would be a good idea before you buy. There are different cover types too, for example, Primo plc offer specialist multi-vehicle insurance which covers all your vehicles under one policy including classic and modified vehicles even motorbikes, campers and small commercials. A beneficial policy if you have more vehicles than drivers.

Specialist classic car insurers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes and there are a wealth of insurance options out there. However, you'll want fully comprehensive insurance especially if you plan on using your vehicle on a daily basis.

As with any insurance check your policy over thoroughly, ask about exclusions and conditions. Some insurers may require you to set a yearly mileage limit; some may require the vehicle is stored in a garage. An essential requirement is one you'll be happy to have as well, and that is the 'agreed value' of your vehicle. if something happens to your car you do not want to end up with its scrap value, it is a classic and after all, the cover you have been paying for needs to reflect that should you ever need to make a claim.

What is Agreed Value?

Agreed value policy, this is the most an insurer will pay in the event of loss or damage to the insured vehicle, providing the last declared value reflects the current condition. Generally, before the insurer considers agreeing to the value the client has to complete an agreed value request form, they will also be required to provide some recent photographs and dependant on the amount provided a valuation from a specialist, as requested on the insurers agreed value form.

Check the price guides

Old Classics Price Guides

To assist in the selection process and also once you have chosen your preferred classic car you'll need to check the price guides such as Parkers and get a good feel for the vehicles true market value.

Some companies, even selected insurance providers, offer an online valuation tool. One such insurance firm is Hagerty Insurance in the United Kingdom. Online valuation guides are a beneficial starting point to understanding "What a classic car is worth".

There are numerous online classic car magazines, and often they have price guides and lots of tips when buying too. You can purchase up to date valuation guides such as Collectors Car Price Guide 2018, for those of you outside. Guides may vary from country to country, and thus the prices can vary too, it's something to consider before purchasing and may work out more economically productive to import your classic from overseas, but that's an entirely different subject for discussion elsewhere in our article.

Understanding and knowing the value of the vehicles that interest you will assist in eradicating paying too much over the guide price but may also help ring the right alarm bells if the car in question appears too cheap or too good to be true.

All in all, how much you decide to part with for the car you love will ultimately be your decision, and many diverse factors can change that perceived value. A previous celebrity owner, specialist one-off factory modifications, strong historical paperwork going back to when the car was built, even the story behind your vehicle may cause alterations to its value, more on that later.

Research, research and then research some more

As with any task preparation is key, the better prepared, the better the result. With this in mind, it's now time to do some research. If you already have a car in mind, that's a good start, read all about it, talk to owners at owners clubs, find out its quirks, what to look out for etc. and make sure it's the right car for you.

If you don't have one in mind, think about the style of car you want, sedan, hatchback, sports then go to the price guides a great place to start your selection process is by looking at vehicles that fit your budget. An MG Midget might be out of your price range, but if you want a convertible sports car perhaps an 80s Mazda MX5 wouldn't break the bank.

Research where and how easily it is to obtain parts for your car, how often do they break down? Check old reviews, new reviews and all the in-between reviews was it a good motor in its day. If you choose popular models chances are parts will be easier to find, it may also be likely that modern upgrades have been made to such things as brakes, electronic ignition etc.

Consider trying to hire one for the weekend, see what it's like and how it feels on the road. There are many classic car hire firms out there today so why not go for a spin? You may fall in love, or you may decide that it isn't the car for you. If it isn't for you keep looking at least you didn't end up with a car that caused you to have a Cameron style meltdown and kick a GT California of a jack, through a window to a 30Ft drop beyond.

The more research you do the better you will understand your car, what to look out for and where to go if there is a problem, but there is more to the research than just getting to know your driving buddy, and we'll talk about that later on in the guide.

Join a relevant owners' club

Ford Cortina Owners' club

Now you have narrowed your search or better still have chosen the car you can't bear to be without it's now time to join the relevant owners club. Clubs often have a newsletter or magazine so read them, meet up with other owners, go to their gatherings as enthusiasts they will provide you with little gold nuggets of valuable information whether you wanted to know or not. Veteran classic owners are always willing to step up and help new blood so to speak and will happily bring you into the fold.

Another excellent reason for joining an owners' club is they will know where to buy. If it's from another owner, everyone will know it's history, and you can have peace of mind in most cases that it has been well looked after. Clubs are also Aladdin's caves of spare parts.

Set yourself a budget

This is not just for the purchase of the car, budget for everything and ensure you can afford to live with your choice. Write a simple list like this:

  • Purchase of Car: £xxxxxx
  • Storage: £xxxxxx
  • Insurance: £xxxxxx
  • Maintenance: £xxxxxx
  • Spares: £xxxxxx

Also leave yourself a little wiggle room for unforeseen emergencies or just in case that ideal car comes along that is just a little over. Be strict about your budget remember circumstances in today's modern economy can change in a drop of a referendum or the next financial crisis so ensure you stay well within your means.

Have a proper test drive

Test driving a classic car

Being taken for a drive in the car before you decide on purchasing it or not may let you see that the car goes and stops okay, but nothing can beat having a proper turn at the wheel yourself. However, unless the owner is willing to add you to their insurance policy as a named driver, you may have a few issues. There is a solution, and that is temporary classic car insurance such as DayInsure offered by Aviva, insurance certificate in 2 minutes. Of course, this is all subject to the owner's approval.

The pros and cons of where to purchase

The first place to look will be at the owners' club they should have a good source of vehicles and they will be more reasonably priced, plus you may get a bit of extra history a few stories to add to your car's personality (we'll discuss this more in detail later).

If you're looking for a bargain, you might be better off going to the Auctions you may pick up the car you want a bit cheaper. The downside with auctions is they are not as reliable if problems arise and it's doubtful you'll get a test drive if you do buy from the auction, however, hear the car running.

Dealers are the most expensive option, but you have the reassurance that should there be an issue you have someone to take the car back to should it need repair. RAC approved dealers offer a warranty on classic cars of all makes and models, and they have three levels Silver being for vehicles of any age and included in the warranty will be breakdown cover and a few other perks.

Making an offer

Silver Mercedes Gull-wing

Remember the budget you set yourself earlier? When buying a classic keep this squarely in mind when making an offer. Always be polite but don't be afraid to come in low the owner may see how enthused you are and may want it gone so he has space for his next purchase. Keep in mind anything you find that needs repair or have been told needs fixing which will be an extra cost for you, thus keeping your budget in mind and offer an amount which will take these costs into account and keep you within your overall budget.

Buying or importing a foreign classic

This in itself would take up a whole guide if you are planning or doing this yourself it can be a complicated process, and there are guides out there that offer all the information you need. However, it may be prudent to let a specialised firm who import cars from all over the world to handle it for you; they have the experience, understand what to look out for and how to make the import as smooth as possible.

A colleague recently imported a vehicle from the US, and that went smoothly, he used a company called ShipMyCar they specialise in importing cars from the US. Of course, your vehicle may be coming from Germany or in some people's cases from Australia there are firms that specialise in individual countries and will be able to handle the import for you much more efficiently, of course, if you would still like to handle it yourself then I suggest checking out some guides.

Insuring your vehicle while it's in transit is also a good idea and you'll need a marine insurance policy which we have a team whom can give you lots of advice on marine cargo insurance, call them to ask any questions or to arrange cover, ask for the marine insurance team 01702 225 400.

Is there a preferential time of year?

Is there a better time of year to purchase a classic car? Believe it or not there is. Many people buy a classic as a fair-weather investment, something to drive around during the summer. Usually, it's an impulsive buy then over the summer they learn what it means to own a classic and decide it's not for them. There are other factors too, perhaps the price of storing the vehicle has gone up, the owner's circumstance may have changed, and it's an expense they could do without this year.

Therefore Autumn is a perfect time to buy. Vehicles especially older classics that tend to be troublesome in winter often sell cheaper in Autumn. Autumn availability and price is especially true of convertibles with soft tops as not many people are thinking of open-air driving in the winter months; however, it may not make much difference to the cost of a hardtop. Putting all that aside it does give you a few months to thoroughly go over your new purchase making sure everything is up to speed for your fun in the sun the following year.

Learn your chosen car's story


Now you've chosen or even purchased your new classic it's time to dig down and find out its true story. Finding out whereabouts it was built, perhaps speaking to some of the previous owners all help to develop your car's personality and backstory.

Hearing old anecdotes from previous owners will bring your car to life, yes we agree that it's already a member of the family, but those stories add more colour to its history and make your vehicle even more desirable. It's well worth the effort, and for better or for worse you never know what you might uncover.

Have you watched those classic car restoration programs such as Car SOS or For The Love Of Cars? One of the presenters always finds out all they can learn about the vehicle they are restoring, where it was built, who built it etc. etc. It not only makes for a great read it can also add some value to your vehicle when it comes time to part.

The proper place to start would be the DVLA or vehicle registration department of your country. The DVLA have two checks you may perform efficiently online one is called SORN, and the other is called VOSA. You will need the registration and make of the vehicle. These won't give you a lot of info, but they can tell you things like when it was last MOT'd and Taxed, the VOSA can give you more information on its MOT. In some cases, the DVLA may be able to provide information on previous owners.

The manufacturer, if they still exist, will be another excellent source and wealth of information, they often keep historical records of all their vehicles. In some cases, they may only provide some info like manufacture number, original chassis and engines numbers etc. But some, will not only impart to you your vehicle's story before it left the factory but may also be able to put you in contact with someone who once worked on your car.

Building up your automobiles story and factual history while terribly satisfying may also have additional benefits such as affecting its valuation and therefore when it becomes time to pass on your vehicle to a new owner they will undoubtedly appreciate the effort.


By now you should be fully prepared to go out into the world and buy your first classic car, and if you found this guide useful, please send us pictures of you and your new baby

Remember the essential items are - CONSIDERATION - AFFORDABILITY - RESEARCH - SUITABILITY - or CARS for short, no I just made this up but the more of it you do, the less pain and heartache you will have. Owning a classic car can be very rewarding and on the other end of the scale very frustrating, and it's not for everyone.

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