What to look for when buying a classic car

14 minute read Published on Oct 4, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Colorful classic cars parked along a street

For many, classic cars are not just vehicles; they are a piece of history, a symbol of a bygone era of style and craftsmanship. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a first-time buyer, the journey to owning a classic car is filled with excitement, nostalgia, and, if not careful, some pitfalls.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the crucial aspects you need to consider when purchasing a classic car. From understanding the significance of original parts to common mistakes to avoid when buying a classic car to the type of classic car insurance you’ll need to get, we’ll guide you through the essential checks and considerations.

Is a classic car right for me?

When buying a classic car, there are several key factors to consider, such as its history, originality, condition, and budget, to ensure you make a wise investment and enjoy your purchase. This is because buying a classic car is often as much about passion as it is about investment. Therefore, you must take your time, do your homework, and choose a car you genuinely love. Below, you’ll find our helpful checklist of what to look for when buying your classic car:

Provenance and history

Research the car’s history. This includes its ownership history and any accidents or major repairs. Check all available documentation, including service records, original purchase papers, and restoration work details. A well-documented history and clear and consistent ownership trail add to the car’s authenticity and can affect its future value.

Cars that retain their original components, engine, transmission, interior, etc. are typically more valuable than those that have been heavily modified or updated with non-original parts. You’ll want to investigate how closely the car matches its factory specifications. Even small details like the type of screws used can matter for specific models.

You’ll also want to check its authenticity by verifying the numbers on major components against the car’s records to ensure they are original to the car. In fact, for certain collectors, having matching numbers is crucial. This can significantly affect the car’s value.


Assess the overall condition of the car. Look for signs of rust, body damage, and wear and tear. Some wear is expected, but excessive wear could indicate poor maintenance. Plus, rust is a classic car’s enemy. Thoroughly check the structural components for rust, as this can compromise the vehicle’s safety and longevity. Common problem areas include wheel arches, floor pans, and around window frames.

Be sure to look beyond surface aesthetics. Inspect the underside of the car, the engine bay, and the trunk for hidden problems. Also, look for signs of poor-quality repair or accident damage. In addition, you’ll also want to check the condition of the engine, transmission, brakes, electrical systems, and suspension. Remember, restoration can be very costly.

Mechanical soundness

Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, getting a sense of the car’s mechanical condition is essential. Always take the car for a test drive to check its handling, braking, and overall performance. If possible, have the car inspected by a specialist or a trusted mechanic who is familiar with the specific make and model.

Spare parts availability

Consider the availability and cost of spare parts. Some classic cars have a robust market for spare parts, while others can be a challenge to maintain due to scarce or expensive parts. Identify reliable parts sources, whether specialist dealers, online communities, or international suppliers. Also, don’t forget to factor in the cost of spare parts into your overall budget for the car.

Running costs and maintenance

Classic cars may require more maintenance than modern cars and can be less reliable. Ensure you account for regular maintenance costs, which can be higher for classic cars due to their age and the need for specialized care. Consider setting aside a contingency fund for unexpected repairs, which are not uncommon with older vehicles.

Market value and rarity

Research the market value of the specific make and model. Understand what makes the car desirable: is it its rarity, performance, or connection to historical events or figures? Use classic car price guides, auction results, and enthusiast forums to gauge the car’s classic car market value. This will help in negotiating a fair price. Furthermore, classic cars hold value, so you’ll also want to consider the potential for value appreciation, which can vary significantly between makes and models.

Insurance coverage

We can’t forget about the costs of insuring your classic car. Luckily, classic cars tend to come with lower premiums as classic car insurance is a specialized type of auto insurance coverage designed to protect the unique needs of classic cars that are generally not used every day.

Your budget

It’s crucial to establish a realistic budget before you start looking for a classic car. This budget should cover the purchase price and factor in potential restoration costs, ongoing maintenance, insurance, storage, and any upgrades you might want. From expensive to cheap classic cars can vary widely in price, and it’s easy to underestimate the total cost of ownership. Remember to set aside a contingency fund for unexpected repairs, especially for older or rarer models where parts might be expensive or hard to find. Being clear about your budget will help you narrow your choices to a range of financially feasible cars and prevent any surprises down the line.

Personal fit

Finally, consider how the car fits into your lifestyle, whether for regular driving, weekend outings, or show displays. Some classic cars are better suited for occasional drives and shows, while others can be used more regularly. In addition, consider your emotional connection as well since the emotional appeal of a classic car is significant. Choose a car that not only meets your practical criteria but also resonates with you on a personal level.

Why do people buy classic cars?

Buying a classic car can be a deeply rewarding experience. It can fulfill a range of desires, from emotional and aesthetic to practical and financial. After all, classic cars are more than just vehicles; they are a piece of automotive history. They offer a unique journey into a world where each vehicle tells a story, connects us to history, and offers a distinct experience that modern cars can’t replicate.

Here are just some of the reasons why someone may choose to be a classic car buyer:

They have an emotional connection

Many people also feel strongly attached to their classic dream car. This might stem from nostalgia, a love for a particular era, or personal memories associated with a specific model. Owning a classic car can be a way to reconnect with these feelings or honour those memories.

They want a project car

For many, the joy of owning a classic car lies in restoration and customization. It’s a hobby that can be immensely satisfying, providing a sense of accomplishment as you bring a piece of history back to life or tailor it to your personal taste.

To show off their unique style and character

Collector cars stand out for their unique design and character. They offer an aesthetic and driving experience that modern cars cannot replicate, often drawing attention and admiration wherever they go.

For a different driving experience

Driving a classic vehicle offers a fundamentally different experience from modern vehicles. The tactile feedback, sounds, and even the quirks of driving a classic car provide a sense of connection and engagement with the machine that many find exhilarating.

To be a part of an enthusiast community

Owning a classic car grants you entry into a passionate community of like-minded enthusiasts. Car clubs, shows, and events offer opportunities to meet like minded people, share experiences, and learn more about the world of classic automobiles.

For their investment value

While not guaranteed, many classic cars appreciate in value, especially those that are rare, well-maintained, or have historical importance. As a tangible asset, a classic car can be a unique addition to your investment portfolio.

What’s the difference between antique, vintage, classic, and old?

While all antique, vintage, and classic cars are old, not all old cars are considered antique, vintage, or classic. The distinction often lies in the car’s age, historical significance, design, and collectability. While the terms “antique,” “vintage,” “classic,” and “old” are often used interchangeably when referring to older cars, they actually have distinct individual meanings in the world of automobiles:

Antique cars

In many jurisdictions, antique cars are defined as vehicles that are 45 years or older. These cars are valued for their historical and nostalgic appeal, representing an earlier era of automotive history. The term antique typically encompasses both vintage and some classic cars, but it primarily focuses on the age rather than the vehicle’s specific historical or cultural significance.

Vintage cars

The term vintage specifically refers to cars that were manufactured between 1919 and 1930. These cars are known for their unique and often elaborate designs characteristic of the post-World War I era and the Roaring Twenties. Collectors prize vintage cars for their rarity, historical significance, and distinctive style that reflect that specific period’s automotive technology and aesthetics.

Classic cars

The definition of a classic car can vary depending on the context and who you ask. Generally, a classic car is typically at least 20 to 40 years old and is recognized for its historical interest. These cars stand out for their exceptional design and engineering excellence or as representative models of significant periods in automotive history. Though definitions can vary, classic cars often offer a glimpse into the automotive past and are valued for their nostalgic appeal.

Old cars

This is a more general term that simply refers to any significantly aged automobile. Not every old car qualifies as a classic or vintage. This categorization is more about age rather than historical significance or collectability. An old (or sometimes referred to as older) car might be a standard model from the 1980s or 1990s that doesn’t necessarily have a notable history or significant value to collectors. In many cases, old cars are simply used vehicles past their prime in terms of modern automotive standards.

Common mistakes to avoid when buying a classic car

When buying a classic car, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and overlook critical aspects, like research, inspections, and acquiring proper documentation, leading to potentially costly mistakes. After all, buying a classic car should be a carefully considered decision. By being aware of and avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure a more satisfying and financially sound classic car buying experience. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

Not doing enough research

Failing to research beforehand can lead to overpaying or buying a car with hidden problems. Take the time to understand the specific make and model you’re interested in. Learn about common issues, average prices, and what makes a particular car desirable.

Research should include understanding the specific year-to-year changes in the model, recognizing the signs of common mechanical issues, and knowing the right questions to ask the seller. Consider engaging with online forums or a local classic car club specific to the car you’re interested in. Veteran owners can offer invaluable insights!

Not finding a mechanic before buying

Buying a classic car without knowing where you can get it serviced or repaired can lead to challenges in maintaining the vehicle properly. Classic cars often require specialized knowledge and tools for maintenance and repair. Before purchasing your classic car, identify mechanics or restoration shops in your area that specialize in classic cars, particularly those with expertise in your car’s specific make and model.

Establishing a relationship with a trusted mechanic who understands classic cars is ideal. They can provide valuable advice on maintenance schedules, potential issues specific to the model, and cost estimates for regular upkeep. A knowledgeable mechanic can also assist in inspecting the car before purchase, offering a professional perspective on the car’s condition and future maintenance needs.

Not Checking the VIN

Failing to check or properly understand the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can lead to purchasing a vehicle with a questionable history, such as one that has been stolen, involved in major accidents, or inaccurately represented (e.g., a different model or year).

Before you purchase your first classic car, locate the VIN on the car and ensure it matches the one on the vehicle’s title and any other documentation. The VIN is typically found on the dashboard near the windshield or on the driver’s side door frame. You can also use the VIN to check the car’s history through various services. This report can reveal past accidents, ownership history, and whether the car has ever been declared a total loss.

If you need clarification on the VIN or its implications, consult with a classic car expert or a reputable appraiser. They can help decipher the VIN and its meaning for that specific make and model.

Skipping a professional inspection

Not getting a professional inspection before purchasing a classic car can lead to unforeseen issues and costly repairs down the line. A classic car may have hidden problems that are not apparent to the untrained eye. If you haven’t found a mechanic yet, now’s the time to look for a knowledgeable mechanic or inspector specializing in classic cars, preferably with experience in the make and model you’re considering.

Ensure the inspection covers all aspects of the car, including the engine, transmission, electrical systems, bodywork, frame, and interior. A thorough inspection should also include a road test. Different classic models have known issues specific to them, so ensure the inspector checks for these common problems as well.

Overlooking long-term maintenance and restoration costs

Failing to consider ongoing maintenance and underestimating restoration costs can lead to spending much more than anticipated on upkeep.

Factor in regular maintenance costs, like the frequency of oil changes, tune-ups, and other routine maintenance, the availability of parts, and the car’s reliability into your decision. Identify mechanics or restoration shops in your area that specialize in classic cars.

You also need to be realistic with yourself about restoration needs and costs. Create a detailed budget for restoration, factoring in both parts and labour. Remember that some restorations can exceed the actual value of the car. If you plan to do some work yourself, honestly assess your skills and the time commitment required.

Not having the right insurance coverage

Inadequate insurance coverage can lead to significant financial loss in the event of damage or theft. Classic cars often have different insurance needs compared to modern vehicles due to their unique valuation and usage patterns.

Look for insurance providers that specialize in classic cars. These policies regularly often offer agreed-value coverage, which means you and the insurer agree on the car’s value when the policy is written, providing clear coverage limits.

However, classic car insurance often assumes limited usage, like driving to car shows or occasional pleasure drives. If you plan to use the car more regularly, ensure your policy reflects this.

Choosing the right classic car insurance policy for you

Standard car insurance is mandatory in Canada to operate a vehicle on public roads. This includes third-party liability insurance and accident benefits coverage. Depending on what province you reside in, like Ontario, for example, your car insurance may also include uninsured motorist coverage and direct compensation-property damage coverage.

Classic car insurance, on the other hand, is a specialized type of liability car insurance. While it starts with standard car insurance, it includes additional and specialized coverage options to meet the unique needs of owning and operating a vintage or collectible vehicle.

To qualify for classic car insurance, the vehicle usually needs to meet specific criteria, such as being of a certain age, in good condition and used primarily for hobby or collector activities. Some insurers might also cover younger vehicles if they are considered rare or of significant value.

Here are some key aspects of what classic car insurance typically entails in Canada:

Agreed value coverage

Unlike standard auto insurance, which typically covers the vehicle’s actual cash value depreciated value, classic car insurance often provides agreed-value coverage. This means the insurance company and the car owner agree upon the car’s value when the policy is initiated, ensuring a clear understanding of the payout in the event of a total loss.

Comprehensive coverage

Comprehensive coverage is an optional insurance that protects against damages not caused by a collision. This includes scenarios such as theft, vandalism, fire, weather-related damage like hail or flooding, and other types of risks. Given the value and rarity of classic cars, comprehensive coverage is often recommended for a classic car insurance policy. These vehicles are often targets for theft due to their high value, and they can also be more susceptible to damage from environmental factors due to older construction materials and methods.

Classic car insurance policies are tailored to the owner’s and the vehicle’s specific needs. This can include extra coverage for spare parts, restoration in progress, and transit coverage for when the vehicle is transported to shows or events.

Final thoughts

It’s clear that the process is as much about passion as it is about prudence. From understanding the importance of a thorough inspection to recognizing common mistakes, the classic car tips we’ve discussed are invaluable in guiding you through this exciting venture. At BrokerLink, we understand that owning a classic car is a unique experience, and insuring your classic car should be just as tailored. Our expertise in handling multiple auto insurance policies ensures that you receive the best coverage suited to your classic treasure. We encourage you to fill out our online quote tool to receive your free car insurance quotes from us. Remember, the journey to owning a classic car is a thrilling one, and with the right knowledge and protection in place, it’s an experience that can bring unparalleled joy and satisfaction.

Get an auto insurance quote [phone]


Is it worth buying an old classic car?

It can absolutely be worth it if you have a passion for vintage vehicles, appreciate their historical significance, or view them as an investment. However, it’s important to consider factors like the car’s condition, rarity, potential for appreciation in value, and the cost of maintenance and restoration. If the car holds personal sentimental value or you enjoy the hobby of restoring and maintaining classic cars, it can certainly be a worthwhile and rewarding endeavour!

What not to do with a classic car?

Caring for a classic car requires patience, attention to detail, and respect for its historical integrity. You should avoid over-modernization, neglecting routine maintenance, cheap restorations, using the wrong cleaning products, and driving them in hazardous conditions that can lead to rust or other damage, like salted roads in the winter.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.