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Fresno, California
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My 10 Tips To Purchasing A Classic Car

Buying a classic car will probably be one of the biggest purchases of your life, and one that will hopefully bring many years of enjoyment to you. Your new car will hopefully bring many years of joy to you, but likely there may be some lows in there as well, after you have sunk in more of your time and money. Classic cars are not cheap to maintain and restore. This is a 10 step guide I put together to help you properly find the classic car of your dreams, I hope this helps you so you can enjoy it for years down the road. Here are the 10 steps.

  1. Your reason for wanting a classic car
  2. Figure out your budget
  3. Figuring out which model you want
  4. Your time and space
  5. Your mechanical abilities
  6. Local car clubs
  7. Finding a classic car mechanic
  8. Search for the car
  9. Inspect the car
  10. Purchase the car

Your reason for wanting a classic car - Over the years I have heard at least a hundred reasons for people purchasing classic vehicles, no reason is any more important than another and it's something only you need to know. This is a personal issue only you (and your significant other) do need to consider and important to know so that you find the right type of car. Are you planning to cruise around town on a nightly basis or are you wanting a car to show or compete in classic car events? If you will be driving the car a lot, you may want to lean towards getting a car that is not fully restored. If you plan on showing the car, a fully restored car may be your best option, especially if your time and mechanical abilities are limited.

A rule of thumb is that a restoration can cost you 1 1/2 times or more the price of a "finished" car if you can't do the work yourself so it really needs to be something you enjoy doing. That being said, I have seen people purchase a large project only to sell it a few years later, still a project and only because it wasn't right for them. I grew up with classic cars, I love working on them and restoring a car is something that gives me a great sense of satisfaction. You need to find your reason, understand your abilities and desired use so knowing what you plan on doing with the car can help in the next steps.

Figure out your budget - The first thing you need to figure out is your budget. If you are like most of us, you will probably have a limited budget you can spend and that will need to be figured out early in this process. If price is not a concern (lucky you), then you can do your research and select a make, model, year, and specific options. You may not need to figure out an exact dollar amount you can spend, but even having a rough estimate will help you narrow down the type of car you can afford during the next steps. Financing for classic cars is an option and it's something to consider, if it's the right option for you. For example, financing a project car purchase is probably not a good place to start and most companies won't finance it anyway.

Figuring out which model you want - You may already have an idea of what model of car you want. If you don’t have a clue as to what classic car you want, then you need to start looking around. A great way to look at a large collection of classic cars all at once is to go to some classic car shows. You will be able to look at a wide range of models, be able to speak to the owners to learn more about the cars, and be able to find detailed information from the owners. Many of the owners have probably spent countless hours and even more dollars on restoring and maintaining their cars and most are willing to share their past experiences with anyone willing to listen.

Some specific models or years may have more problems than other years, and other models may have known issues or defaults along the model line. And of course there are certain years of many models that are the most desirable, this will cause the prices to be higher as well. Even if you know what model you are looking for, going to a classic car show may be a good idea if you have specific questions.

Another useful tool you may want to invest early in is a classic car value guide. This will give you a guide as to what kind of a car you will be able to afford early on and later on in the hunt when you find models you are interested in buying, it will help you with the pricing. These guides have models listed in various conditions, making it easier to determine if the asking price is within reason but remember they are only guides. It may help you in bargaining for a better price but if you fall in love with a model that's one of the hottest cars on the market you still may not have much leverage.

Your time and space - The next factor that needs to be considered is your time and space. This factor and your budget may not seem related, but they can be. No matter what classic vehicle you end up with, you will want to at least garage your investment. Old cars will always need work and maintenance, and many classic cars are sold needing to be restored. Paying top dollar for your dream car that needs a lot of work may not be the best idea unless it's a rare model that just can't be acquired inexpensively, you have to decide what is right for you.

Restoration work on classic cars can be expensive if you can't do the work yourself. If your budget is limited, you have a lot of time on your hands and some mechanical ability, you may be able to buy a car that needs a lot of work at a discounted price and slowly restore the car of your dreams. Your space availability is definitely a consideration if you are planning on restoring a classic car. You will need nearly two cars worth of room and possibly more. The body and chassis will take up the one car area, and all the parts that will be stripped from the car will probably take up another full car area. You may also want to keep some of the parts that are more sensitive to the elements like the engine and transmission in a dry and cool area, like a basement. If you live in a cold climate there are many climate controlled storage facilities you can now rent, but of course that needs to be factored into the price of restoration.

Your mechanical abilities - Your mechanical abilities also need to calculated into the whole plan. If you lack any mechanical ability, you may want to look for a car that is completely or nearly restored. This of course will add to the price of the vehicle but can still be less expensive that restoring it yourself. If you have some mechanical ability, you may be able to do a lot of the restoration work yourself. You can save $$ through your own labor. If you are a mechanically inclined or have excellent mechanical ability, then this step probably means nothing to you.

Restoration work can be pricey on a classic car. If you are starting out with a limited budget, but you know in a few years you may have more money to invest into the car, you may want to look at a car that is not restored, but is in drivable or a decent condition. You can enjoy driving your car, and as the years go by slowly restore the car to the original beauty it used to be.

Local car clubs - Locate a local classic car club of the make or model you are looking to purchase. Classic car club members are always willing to lend a hand in helping others. They can be invaluable for finding good places to buy a car, information on what to look for when buying like counterfeits (aka clones), known issues, and even suggest a good mechanic or restoration shop. Even if you visited a classic car show in step 3, visiting a car club meeting of the car you want to get will be invaluable in so many ways. Nearly any question you could think up can be answered at a meeting like this.

Finding a Classic Car Mechanic - Finding a mechanic that works on your selected model will be another important step to take. If the model you want to buy is found locally, it will be a good idea to have this mechanic check out the vehicle before purchasing. If you buy the car in another area and have it driven or shipped back, this mechanic can look it over and tell you what work that will be needed in the future.

Search for the car - You may have spent a lot of time on the last steps narrowing down what model and condition of car you will be looking to buy. This next step of searching for that car may take longer, depending on your criteria. If you are looking for a fully restored and well maintained model, your best bet may be to contact car clubs and see if anyone is selling their car. Classic cars owned by car club members are almost always well maintained and “babied” by their owners. Generally these cars will cost more than purchasing one through other means. Searching our website is a great place to start looking online. Ask in classic car forums if anyone they know is selling a car. Make sure to check out our fraud protection tips before you start you search so you can make it a safe experience.

Inspect the car - Inspecting the car before buying is very important, but this can obviously be difficult if the car is in another region. If the classic car is in your local area, have the mechanic you found earlier inspect the car. You want to make sure you are buying a classic car that is what you set out to get. Whether you able to look at the car for yourself or not, you may want to make a check list of things you want to find out about. You may also want to ask these questions on the phone or through email, eliminating a wasted trip to look at a car you may not be interested in. Be very wary of owners that are vague or don’t know answers to questions you ask them. Some ideas are…

  • How long has the owner owned the car, and do they have any history on it?
  • What recent repairs have been made, and what repairs are needed in the future?
  • Does the owner have repair and maintenance receipts?
  • Why is the seller selling the car?
  • Is there any visible or repaired rust?

Some rust my be ok and surface rust is unavoidable except on museum type show cars. You can almost expect rust in a project car, there is a difference between salt rust and west coast rust but a properly restored car should have only surface type rust on the under carriage. The most important factor is a sound structure because the car could really be junk if it's too rusty.

After you have asked the above questions, you've determined the car is still on the list then it’s time to dig deeper into the inspection. Check the fluids, belts, hoses, and look for leaks. Before test driving the car, make sure it started properly. Better yet, have the owner start it, and check the tail pipe to see what comes out of it at start up. blue smoke can be a sign of serious issues. While driving the car, be very detailed and look for sway, odd noises, transmission smoothness, left or right pull, and braking issues.

If the car is in serious need of repairs, some of the above information may not be needed. If you are buying a project car and know you will be putting plenty of your time and money into it, some of the above can be skipped. The better the condition and more complete a project car you are buying will be less work in the parts finding later on.

If the car is in another region, there are a few options you have to inspect the car before purchasing. One idea is to find a member of a car club in that area online. Many car clubs have homepages online, or you can find a classic car fan online in a classic car forum. Many classic car fans are willing to help others inspect a vehicle for sale for another out of state buyer. They will inspect the car and possibly test drive it, and even go through an inspection list if you give them one.

Another option you have is to pay a fee to have a professional inspection company look at the car, there are a number of them found in any web search and we offer vehicle inspections in the greater Fresno area. These can initially appear to be pricey, usually starting around $250 and up, depending on what information you are requesting but can save you much more than that if the car needs more than your willing to put into it. Generally, you can get a complete and comprehensive report within 72 hours from most companies.

Purchase the car - Once you have decided on purchasing the vehicle, you just need to get your finances in order and work with the seller.

If the car is out of state or in another region that is far away, this purchase may not be so straight forward. One option is to find a way to get to the area and drive the car back home. This may sound like a fun trip, but you need to be very cautious on this. Even though the car may seem to be in driving condition, you cannot be 100% positive something couldn't break on a long trip and parts for classics aren't always in stock at parts stores anymore. It would really suck to have to wait a few days for a special part to be delivered to you. The last thing you want is to be halfway across the country, and your only mode of transportation is broken down. Not all mechanics can work on older cars, many mechanics today are lost without a computer diagnostic (no offense to the good techs) and fixing classic cars can cost substantially more on the road.

Your better option is to have the car shipped to you, this of course may add a thousand of dollars or more to the total price of getting your dream car, but it will be worth the added expense. You can find many places online that will ship your vehicle but the cheapest isn't always the best choice. The company shipping your car should be one that has few to no complaints against it. Beware of brokers promising cheap rates and fast service just to get a deposit right away, the deposit amount is their commission and they will only bump up the price after a week or two of not finding a truck to pick it up, a very common practice. Generally, the buyer will always pay for the delivery in a deal.

There are some precautions we cover on the fraud page to avoid scam artists from taking your hard earned money and help your transaction go smooth. Whatever you decide, make sure you use a safe decision.

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