How To Buy A Vintage Car & Not Get Ripped Off

How To Buy A Vintage Car & Not Get Ripped Off

We don’t need a degree in mind-reading to know that every man secretly dreams about cruising down the highway or tackling some coastal drives in their very own vintage car. New cars may have all the bells and whistles or modern technologies to either keep you planted on the road or entertained in the cabin, but they’ll never have the soul, charm or sex appeal of a vintage motor.

Of course, with a car that is as old as dirt, comes the endless list of potential issues that something like a classic Ford Mustang, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz or Aston Martin can encounter. Whether it be endless breakdowns, hard-to-source spare parts or even insurance that is more expensive compared to what you’re used to paying. However, just as how you would pay out your behind to keep your children happy and healthy (we presume) you’re going to do the same for your four-wheeled baby too.

Thankfully, such issues can be avoided with a bit of forward-thinking and a dose of foresight into what owning a classic car will entail. Understanding what could potentially go wrong with your vehicle of choice is paramount, especially when more and more people are turning to other sources, such as online, to buy their prized possession. When it comes to classic cars for sale in Australia, for example, there are numerous ways Australians can get their driving-glove hands wrapped about some vintage machinery.

It is, therefore, crucial for novice buyers to not be sucked into the hype before examining the real deal. Too good to be true? It most likely is. Hold onto your moolah tight.

Here are the most important tips you need to know when hunting for your first classic vehicle to take home.

What To Consider Before Buying


The most obvious question of classic car ownership also comes with the most obvious answer. Why do you want a classic car? There are countless reasons why men buy classic cars, from aesthetic pursuits to brand loyalty to fulfilling a childhood dream. That’s all good and fine. What buyers need to think about however are the more pragmatic aspects of classic car ownership.

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Will it be an investment buy where you expect a return in the future? Will it be a weekend driver? Or will it be resurrected from the ground up as a daily car? All of these answers need to be addressed as it will ultimately determine the condition and quality of the vintage ride you’re after. And let’s not forget – how much coin you’re willing to drop for said quality.

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The Rust Check


Even before you contemplate putting pen to paper, a thorough inspection is imperative. This goes without saying when buying any second-hand car but even more so for cars which pre-date 1990. Doing this in person is preferable but if that’s not feasible for you, ask for specific and current photos of common rust spots.

That means:

  • under the car from front to back
  • inside the wheel arches
  • under the bonnet and around the firewall
  • under the spare tyre in the trunk

If the seller is serious and has nothing to hide, they will happily take the requested snaps for you.

Rust is considered cancer for older cars which normally don’t have the same level of metal treatment of today’s modern cars. The goal, therefore, should be to start with as clean a canvas as possible. A few rust specs on the outer body panel is fine and easily resolvable.

Anything more than the size of a pinky nail should be black flagged for the purist. Panels may be easily replaced but it won’t retain the vehicle’s original condition and untainted lines. Always follow the easy saying: If you can see road through a panel, hit the road. It’s an evolving money pit just keeping it on the road.

Numbers Check


A mandatory VIN number check also serves as a good indicator of whether the vehicle rolled out of the factory as one piece (as opposed to coming together in a backyard out of fifteen different replica cars). Number matching is the process where the engine code, transmission and rear axle all link up to the car’s VIN number stamped inside the engine bay.

A vintage enthusiast selling a complete classic will often have all of these intact or in the case where parts have been replaced due to wear, they will let you know with receipts of work done.

Keep an eye out for the last six digits of the VIN number stamped onto the engine block, the transmission housing or rear axle arms. There are even date codes on these parts which should all match. Again, not imperative since parts would have been swapped out over time for newer ones, but it’s still good to note that a matching VIN and parts car will always be worth a bit more.

Negotiating A Price


Negotiating on a vintage car is a bit different to the standard dealership spiel. Given the rarity of your chosen steed, it’s not uncommon to find examples ranging from the extreme price point for a factory conditioned model right through to a much cheaper one that needs a bit of TLC.

Buyers should scour the internet and sites which sell classic cars to determine what others, if any, are going for in the same condition. This is because private classic car sellers don’t have the KPIs that regular dealerships receive, so haggling down on price is not as easy.

Take your time, register your genuine interest but don’t be afraid to walk away if the seller isn’t in a hurry to sell. If you spot any imperfections or minor work required that you aren’t too fussed about, you can bring this up with the seller and ask them to drop the price accordingly. Again, this all goes back to what you want out of your vintage car. Experts say that those looking for a gauge on price should follow this scale:

  1. a perfect car
  2. a very good car
  3. a good car
  4. a fair conditioned car
  5. walk away and don’t settle for anything over a ‘4’

Mileage Check


One of the most important areas of any car purchase is the mileage check. For classic cars? This isn’t so much of a major impediment. Given that most driven vintage cars would have easily racked up over 300,000km on the clock, buyers looking to drive their car should focus more on the seller’s history of maintenance than the little number in the gauge.

The only thing mileage should determine is the asking price. Well looked after vintage cars can look unassumingly new until you step inside to find out that it’s done many kilometres than first assumed.

For collectors who only want the best, the formula is simple – combine low mileage cars with a meticulous maintenance regime. You’ll be paying for it but you’ll also have a more holistic peace of mind.

Look Out For Special Edition Models


Not all vintage cars are manufactured equal and sometimes makers will release a limited run of ‘hero’ models to herald the end of a production line. Keep an eye on these in classic car circles as they won’t only be worth more in the future but also set you apart from the crowd.

The general rule goes by the simple formula of the lower the production number, the higher the value of the car. So do your research not just on the base model but also the ones which feature odd markings, unique plaques, different bodywork and different engine number coding. Take the details and do your research as you could be unknowingly stumbling on a rare gem.

Value By Colours

How To Buy A Vintage Car

Paint always comes down to personal preference and if it’s a vintage car, it’s more likely to feature either an immaculate paint job from the factory or paint that’s been fading (or faded) over the decades.

Either way, it’s one of the first things to receive attention so don’t be too worried if the paint isn’t up to scratch. Adjust the asking price accordingly to this and find out if it has been resprayed and if so, how many times.

Special edition colours from the factory such as stripes will always command a bit more than standard production colours. Some rare coloured cars can fetch four times the price of a standard so keep this in mind when hunting for your own.

Engine Conversions


A big trend in vintage and replica car circles involves engine conversions. These usually come in the form of project cars where the older heart is transplanted for something a bit newer, more reliable and powerful.

They in no way follow the conventional rules of the classic car ownership but the beauty lies in the fact that they were restored from the ground up to be driven rather than kept in a warehouse in its original trim. If you’re the type of driver who falls into the former then this type of buy is the way to go.

Parts from the engine to the chassis reinforcement to the interior can be completely custom made where only the shell remains a “classic”. What you’re paying for here is the engineering work required to get the car up to modern driving standards whilst retaining the unique look of a vintage vehicle.

To ensure you don’t stumble on a lemon purporting to be something more, ask to see all aftermarket work receipts and their respective warranties. Ensure that all work done is from reputable shops and ask about the car’s track history. Check tyre wear, disc brake wear, tapping noises on engine idle and leaks in the engine bay. There’s been word that cars from the 80s are good long term investments for the future.

How To Buy A Vintage Car FAQ


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