Classic Car Buying Tips

Buying a classic car can be an exciting but also a scary prospect. By following these simple tips you can help minimise the worry, and maximise the smile.

What exact model do you want? When you have decided what car you want to buy it is then important to decide on the model. Do you want the V6 or are you happy with the 2.0 litre for example. When it comes to classics the annual mileage is lower so fuel costs may not be an issue, but parts may be.

 What are typical issues? Every car has common faults, so do your homework to see what they are and; how expensive they can be to rectify. Regular maintenance can also be expensive so it’s worth checking replacement intervals on.

Specialist Support? Are you able to maintain the car yourself? If not where is the nearest specialist? It would be difficult to maintain a car correctly if you live in the South of England and the nearest specialist is in the North West for example. Now you have decided on the car you want, it is time to buy: 

Always view the car in the flesh. This might sound obvious but take it from me it is all too easy to get carried away and click buy it now, or submit a late night bid after a glass of wine! View the car in good sunlight, and where possible, when the car is dry. It is very easy to hide paint imperfections when paint work is wet, if you have to view a car that’s in the rain or wet take a cloth with you to dry it off. 

Is the bonnet warm? If a car is hard to start cold you may find the owner has warmed it up in advance of your visit, perhaps arrive 20 minutes early to avoid this. 

 Take a friend. When your heart is in control it is wise to take a friend to keep you in check and also ensure you get the best deal possible. 

Have a good look underneath. No matter how good a car looks on the surface it is always wise to check out the underneath, preferably with a magnet to ensure that it is all metal where it should be! Whilst you have the magnet in your hand pass it round the wheel arches, sills, and door bottoms. 

Engine oil? Yes it is good to have some, but also the condition is important, if it has a soapy feel it may mean water is mixing with it, this maybe a leaking oil cooler or worse still, a head gasket failure. 

Test Drive, make sure you go for a test drive, if you are not able to drive it, watch the owner carefully, and listen for any strange noises from the car, whilst the radio is switched off.

Fluid leaks. When the car is moved look for signs of oil leaks or water leaks on the drive, or in the garage 

When it comes to electrics, never assume anything works – test every switch and dial! An electrical fault maybe be a difficult job to repair or expensive.

 Check all the paperwork carefully. Ensure the V5 is present and the engine and chassis number match the car. Always ensure the service history shows that work that is claimed to have been done has actually been done. Don’t always expect Main dealer receipts, but reputable specialists would be good. The least you should expect are receipts for parts if the current owner is a DIY repairer.

If you are unsure get a professional to inspect it and produce a report.

Get a HPI check done, as there’s nothing worse than finding out the car was written off or stolen after purchasing.

Finally, run the car up to temperature and let it run, have a good poke about under the bonnet and make sure all connections and hoses are in good condition. 

Remember DON’T BE SHY, any car purchase is going to cost you hard earned cash so ask questions and if you do find fault or if it’s not for you, just walk away! If you find faults but are happy to work with them, use your knowledge to get a better deal!

Restoration Project Purchase When you are looking to restore a classic vehicle you must ask yourself why you’re looking at a restoration project. Is it to fulfil a lifetime dream or is it to just fill time and sell it on? Do you want to spend 6 months on it or 6 years? For most it will be to bring a dream to life, to make something good, to own that car that was on your bedroom wall when you were a teenager. The sad truth is most cars bought as a project are never finished and in some cases never even started; they are a classic car version of pass the parcel, passed from one enthusiastic eBayer to another. As much as your heart will rule your head on occasions you must ensure your head is in control. Most of us are in the unfortunate position to have limitations on our wallets and our time.

Follow these simple tips, to be the one who finishes the car. 

Feeling the love? Before you even view a car you need to make a shortlist of cars you really want to spend a portion of your life with, lay on your back in a cold garage. If the love and passion is not really there for a car then I can guarantee you will find something else better to do with your time. Take time to make a realistic budget of purchasing, moving and restoring the car too. Have realistic time expectations 

We have all seen the TV shows where they restore a car in 3 weeks, what you don’t see are the 5 extra pairs of hands behind the scenes. Remember,they will be professionals who are at it 12 hours a day, with all the right tools. Restoration is part of the fun of owning a classic car, so take your time and enjoy it.

Have I got the skills? Once you have found the make and model of your dreams, you now need to take into account your limitations- does your car have a reputation for rust? 

Can you weld, or do you have a friend that can? And do they have the time to help? One thing worth considering are evening classes for such skills. Not only will it save you money, you may also meet other enthusiasts in the same position as you. Welding is one thing but panel fabrication is another. If you’re buying a car such as Mini then parts are readily available, but for a rare Fiat you may need to make your own panels or spend many months or years finding the elusive part or worse still parts. 

Electrics are another potential problem, pre 1980 classics are pretty simple, but onwards some cars can be a real problem as I have experienced myself with a Porsche 928 and an Alfa Romeo being just 2 examples. Patience and some peace and quiet is the key with electrics, but again if you can’t solve it yourself it could be another frustrating expense. The engine is an obvious area to consider, and in most cases a full strip down would need to be done by a specialist engineer, but how far are the specialists from you? What are the costs involved, and is there a lead time to have the work down?

How complete is the car? This is sometimes overlooked by potential restorers, many times people buy a restored shell and boxes of bits thinking it is a simple reassembly job but this is not often the case, if it was as easy as that why didn’t the last owner do this? Those elusive bits of trim or seats can take an age to track down, you will also find the reproduction parts are sadly never the same quality as original factory items. Even if the original parts are in a poor state they can often be re-trimmed, re-chromed or used as a template to make a replacement, so don’t throw anything away until you are absolutely certain it has no use going forward. Remember people want originality so this will help if you do look to sell on in the future.

Last and most importantly have a good look at the car before you buy or bid, take a friend who can keep your head in control. 

Make a list of things to check and ask before you go. And finally, have a top price you are prepared to pay before you visit and stick to it, that way you won’t have the thoughts of ‘what have I done?’ or ‘how do I tell my partner?’ spinning through your mind on the way home!