Buyers Guide: How to Buy a Classic Car

If you've never bought a classic vehicle before, you may be wondering how to buy a classic car. There are primarily three places you can go to buy a classic car: a classic car dealer, an individual collector, or an auction. You should keep in mind that classic cars can cost more upfront and can cost a great deal more to maintain than a newer car.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Jun 6, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • Things to keep in mind when buying a classic car include price, maintenance, and storage 
  • You can buy a classic car from a dealer, an individual collector, or at a classic car auction 
  • Take the car to a mechanic pre-purchase for an inspection

So, you’re looking to buy a classic car. Whether you’re brand new to the hobby or looking to expand your fleet, there are a few things to keep in mind as a classic car owner. If you are new to the hobby, maybe the best place to start is find out when a car is considered a classic first. 

In this guide, we’ll tell you how to buy a classic car, how to make sure you’re getting a good deal, and how to protect your new investment.

One of the most important ways to protect your car — whether it’s a classic or brand new — is with the right auto insurance. You can compare rates by entering your ZIP code into our auto insurance quote comparison tool and find the best deal near you.

Let’s dive in.

The Research Phase

Research is key to making your classic car buying and owning experience enjoyable and easy. There are several things you should know about your situation and the classic vehicle you intend to buy before making any serious offers.

  1. Price
  2. Maintenance
  3. Storage

You certainly don’t want the heartbreak of buying your dream car and coming to realize you can’t keep it. Let’s dig into each factor to ensure this process goes smoothly.


Purchasing the vehicle will likely be the biggest single expense of your classic car hobby.

There are online and print classic car price guides. However, every vehicle is different, so pricing guidelines are just that — guidelines (not requirements). Classic cars are collectors items meaning they’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. 

Haggling is the name of the game when it comes to buying classic cars, so be ready to negotiate the asking price.


Needless to say, classic cars are old. They’re going to need a lot of upkeep to remain roadworthy and hold their value. Be sure you can answer these questions about your potential vehicle before buying it.

  • Who will do regular maintenance? – You can’t take your classic car to the same mechanic who services your 5-year old everyday driver. Be sure that there is someone who can work on the particular make and model you intend to buy. If the closest mechanic is 300 miles away, you may want to consider another car.
  • How much will regular maintenance cost? – Classic car mechanics are experts of their craft. Their services will naturally cost more than a regular mechanic. Additionally, do research on how often the particular car you’re interested in needs regular maintenance.
  • How much are replacement parts? – Depending on what vehicle you buy, replacement parts could be very expensive or hard to find. You should know the cost of:
    • Regularly replaced parts (brakes, battery, etc.)
    • Rare but necessary repairs (transmission, suspension, etc.)
    • Aesthetic parts (mirrors, hubcaps, etc.)


You should put thought into how you plan to store your classic car before buying. This decision can affect your maintenance schedule, insurance rate, and future resale value.

Your primary storage options are:

Home garage:

  • Pros – Low cost, easy access
  • Cons – Little or no climate control

Storage facility:

  • Pros – Climate-controlled, high security
  • Cons – High cost, must travel to access car

There is no right answer. Your decision will depend on your budget, local climate, home garage condition and security, and proximity to a storage facility.

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Where to Buy a Classic Car

After you’ve set yourself a budget and figured out how you’ll care for your classic car long-term, you have multiple options for where you’ll buy it. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Classic Car Dealer
  2. Individual Collector
  3. Classic Car Auction

Classic Car Dealer

Many dealerships specialize in classic cars. They can be a good option for the first-time buyer. 

If the dealer has a good reputation, then you should be able to trust that they’ve checked for major issues. Additionally, dealers can help handle the required taxes, title transfers, and other legal issues with buying a car.

Cost is where you’ll likely compromise by going with a dealer. 

Dealerships are businesses. They make money by selling cars for more than they bought them for. You’re not likely to get a bargain from a dealership. And when it comes to negotiating the asking price, you’ll be dealing with a professional.

Individual Collector

Wondering how to sell a classic car? Most classic car buying and selling happens between individual collectors. If you’re set on a particular car, this might be your only option. You can find individuals looking to sell classic cars online or at classic car shows or owners’ club meetings. Even if you’re not looking to buy right now, these meetings are great places to build relationships with fellow hobbyists. 

The pros and cons of buying from individual collectors come from the variety of outcomes that can occur.

Perhaps a collector will give you a good deal because they like you (building relationships help). Or maybe a collector doesn’t realize or care that they’re asking for far less than their car’s value.

On the other hand, a dishonest seller may hide the true condition of their vehicle. Or they might be tough when negotiating prices. Unlike a dealership, an individual collector doesn’t have as much invested in maintaining a good reputation.

Classic Car Auction

Auctions can be an exciting place for classic car collectors, but keep in mind, it’s easy to overspend. Here’s some general advice for auction strategies:

  • Avoid common cars – Auctions are generally the only place to purchase extremely rare models, but more common ones can usually be found in other places. At auction these more common cars often sell for more than they’re worth.
  • Research before you bid – Don’t show up just as bidding starts. Read through the listings before the auction. Arrive early to inspect any cars you’re interested in. Ask the auction staff if they have any documentation on the car and talk to the owner if they’re present.
  • Know what you’re paying – The number you bid is not the same as what you’ll pay if you win. Auction houses will have buyer’s fees on top of your bid. Taxes and transportation fees can also add up.

Inspecting Classic Cars

Especially if you’re buying from an individual collector, you need to inspect the car. Issues you discover could range from things that knock $100 off your offer or make you walk away entirely. 

Sites like Second Chance Garage have troubleshooting guides to help you decide what might be the cause of any irregularities you spot in your inspection.

There’s a fine line between doing your due diligence and offending the seller by being overly suspicious. Be careful not to overwhelm them!


Rust on the exterior body can be aesthetically unpleasing but not problematic. Here are some common places to check:

  • Wheel arches
  • Sills and door bottoms
  • Edges of trunk and hood

Rust on more integral structural components can be a real problem. Damage to the chassis and struts will almost certainly need repair at some point.


The seller may warm-up the engine prior to your arrival. Chatting and inspecting other parts of the vehicle prior to the engine will allow it time to cool off, so you can observe it start cold. 

Issues to look for include:

  • Smoking
  • Odd noises (knocking, rumbling, clattering)
  • Leaking

Test Drive

There’s no substitute for actually driving the car. Though you shouldn’t abuse the car (or be unsafe), you should put it through a series of tests.

  • High speed
  • Tight cornering
  • Shifting through all gears (if it’s a manual)
  • Sudden braking

Hopefully, issues with the brakes, suspension, transmission, or gearbox should manifest themselves. 

Professional Inspection

There’s no substitute for a professional inspection. Even if you’re fairly knowledgeable about cars, remember that a classic car is a big investment and that older vehicles require specialist knowledge.

Taking the car to a mechanic or commissioning a pre-purchase inspection is the best way to see if the classic car you intend to buy is solid for the long-term.

Next Step: Insuring Your Classic Car

A classic car is a big investment — an investment you want to protect. Normal auto insurance policies rely on used car values to construct depreciation equations. However, classic cars do not depreciate like normal cars. Rarity, collector interest, and state of restoration determine classic car value, not simply age and mileage. As you learn how to restore a classic car, you’ll want the best policy to protect it. 

Classic car insurance policies typically have an agreed value on which the policy is based. This value takes into account the current market value, the vehicle’s condition, and the cost of replacement parts.

Classic Car Insurance Providers

Many of the large auto insurance companies also offer classic car insurance policies. They may require you to have a normal auto insurance policy with them as well.

There are also companies who only provide insurance to classic cars.

Depending on the company policy may fall under “classic,” “antique,” or some other name. Each company has its own classification system.

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Buying a Classic Car: The Bottom Line

For many, buying a classic car is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. 

And while you may have fantasized about your dream car, we’re guessing you imagined driving it, not shopping for insurance. We want to help you find the best policy for you, so you can spend more time on the road.

Simply search and compare quotes from the top insurers across the country with our free rate comparison tool. You’ll have an affordable quote in no time.

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