Ford GT40 - HK14402

Sound knowledge is key to successful purchase of a classic car. Know the car, price ranges or specification, and set up provisional car loan and insurance arrangements.

Thorough Research and Expert Specialist Support Are Sound Insurance

Many checks needed when buying a classic automobile are the same as those that should be made when purchasing any used car. Due to the age of the vehicle and the cost of correcting faults the checks should probably be more diligent than for a modern car.


Research the Choices

Model may be decided but age, model and state of restoration should be considered. Is it to be fully restored example or is a project required? There are a set of other considerations if looking for a classic for everyday use.

There are many books and magazines available for reference: The Enthusiasts Guide to Buying a Classic British Sports Car is a good example. It includes model specific checks with a 100-point checklist and guidance for the inspection and buying process. There will be other books.

Know the Model – Join the Owners Club

A prospective classic car buyer should first join the relevant owners club which will have unparalleled depth of experience. Apart from having lists of cars for sale in their magazine they provide expert knowledge. They usually have networks of engineers, inspectors and local groups who can help the buyer when examining a selected car. They can give guidance on:

  • Model characteristics
  • Manufacturing history – what and when changes were made
  • Specifications and pricing
  • Weaknesses to inspect for
  • Maintenance needs and issues

Professional Support and Advice: Use Specialist Inspector or Engineers

If inexperienced, or when inspecting complex models, a buyer is advised to use knowledgeable support; any fees will be money well spent as such experts will save money by identifying, possibly expensive, problems before purchase. For instance: an engine rebuild on a 2litre Bristol costs £12,000 ($20,000).

Be Prepared

Before seeing a car a purchaser should have a budget in mind and have agreed, at least in principle, any car loans and insurance that will be needed.

If the historic car is not local then it is a good idea to use a trailer. The reliability of a just-purchased classic will be uncertain and it will be very trusting to embark on a 200mile journey.

It may be necessary to collect the vehicle later. There are basic precautions to be taken. An inventory, perhaps with photographs, should be agreed with the seller and a receipt obtained for any deposit paid. On collection recheck specification, the documents and any numbers before making the final payment.

Check the Paperwork

It is essential that as part of the initial inspection the validity of the registration documents and that the model, specification and chassis Number (Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) match the paperwork. It is also useful to check whether the engine number matches any documentation and is contemporary with the car. Old cars may have had its engine replaced but for many models matching or original engines adds to the value.

The service history file that comes with most classic cars should be reviewd. Check invoices for when major work was undertaken and for warnings that may have been documented. Major restorations should be supported by photographs of work in progress. These will give an insight into how thoroughly the work was done – were the parts actually replaced and if structural, like sills, was the car properly supported whilst they were removed. Most important: are the photographs really of the car being sold?

It is wise to make a written note of any statements about condition, work undertaken or promises made by the seller.

Particular Checks

All cars have their own weaknesses that need to be checked and that knowledge is available from model experts and owners clubs. Many old cars have a tendency to suffer from problems with:

  • Corrosion, even of aluminium
  • Cooling
  • Suspension
  • Shorter engine and gearbox life than modern cars

It is worth remembering that a classic car is old technology and modern reliability should not be expected.

Proof of Ownership

Does the seller have title to the vehicle – are they registered owner?

It is prudent to check there is no outstanding finance on the vehicle. In the UK, Hire Purchase Investigations (HPI) can tell whether a car has a loan secured on it, is stolen, or has been written off and often validate mileage. Experian and others offer similar services.


A written warranty should be provided if there is one; either through insurance, possibly transferable, or at a dealers own risk. Private sales on older vehicles are usually at buyer’s risk.

Back at Home

Once the vehicle is at the buyer's home a detailed check should be made and any discrepancy or issues noted and taken up immediately with the vendor, especially if they were dealers or there is a warranty.

Then use the classic and enjoy it – after all that is what it is all about.


First appeared on Suite101


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