How to buy a classic car

Buying an old car starts with knowing where to find classic cars. Once you find a classic car you're interested in buying, follow these steps to thoroughly research the car, make a fair offer, and purchase it.

1. Research the older car's value

Scarcity, demand, and restoration status play essential roles in a classic car's value. The rarer and more sought-after a vehicle is, the higher its market value will be. Find out how classic car valuation works so you can make informed offers when you're shopping. Online tools like the Hagerty Valuation Tool can help you make educated choices while you're in negotiations.

2. Find out if the car has original or replacement parts

Original and replacement parts can significantly affect an antique car's price and appeal. Classic cars can be divided into three general categories based on how they have been maintained or restored.

Original

Original classic cars have been preserved with their original factory equipment and minimal (if any) repairs.

Restored

Restored antique cars have been repaired and returned to their original condition using replacement parts. In some cases, the parts are original factory parts — new parts from the car's era that were never sold or installed. Restored cars can also have replica parts made to match the original specs.

Resto-mod

These cars are classic in appearance but have been modernized with non-replica parts or more. They might include classics upgraded with modern engines or other parts to meet environmental or safety regulations.

Many collectors prize cars that contain original parts, which can dramatically increase the price. On the other hand, if you love the look of classic cars but want a greater sense of security and reliability, you might prefer a classic car with modernized parts and a lower price point.

Regardless of the status of the classic car you're interested in, ask the seller to let you get a mechanic's perspective on the vehicle before you buy it. This can help you get an accurate picture of the car's condition. A mechanic who specializes in classics may even have some insight into the car's history and parts.

3. Research the classic car's past

Just like you would when looking at used cars, buying a classic car should involve reading up on the car's history to discover known issues, safety concerns, and the ease and cost of repairs. The current owner should provide maintenance and pertinent information about their personal history with the car, but you may need to do some digging to find out more about the car's past.

Start by searching the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) to find out the locations where the car was registered. An internet search for the classic car's VIN history may also turn up old ads for private party sales. Note that VIN information was only standardized in the early 1980s, and identification numbers before then had varying formats and lengths.

Also, find all the locations the VIN could have been stamped — possibly the engine block, transmission, rear axle, and many other internal components — and check if it's there. If the part's VIN matches the car's, it's an original part. Determining which parts are original will be more difficult for cars made before the VIN was introduced in 1954, so look for serial numbers, too, and research any you find.

You can also contact the manufacturer (if they're still in business) or reach out to local and national car clubs and historical societies. Members may have connections to or even firsthand knowledge of the vehicle.

4. Make your offer for buying the classic car

Buying a classic car is a negotiation, just like any other car purchase. But unlike other used cars, which typically depreciate over time, a classic car can have a much higher value as it ages. Base your offer on the research you've done regarding the vehicle's value and parts. Come prepared with any documentation you've gathered so you can reference it while negotiating. Be prepared to work with the seller until you reach a price you both agree on based on the car's value and condition. If you can't agree, consider shopping around some more.

5. Finalize your classic car purchase

If you're buying a classic car from an individual, follow the steps for buying a used car from a private seller. You'll need to find out which purchase documents are required by your BMV or DMV — usually a car purchase agreement and mileage statement — so you can transfer the title and register it. A dealer will have the necessary car sale documents ready for you to sign. You should know ahead of time the documents required for financing your car purchase so you're ready to set up a payment plan. Or you can pay in full via money order or cashier's check.

How to insure your classic car

Online

Get a classic car insurance quote and choose your coverages.

Call a rep

Call 1-888-534-8980 and speak with a representative from Progressive Classic Car by Hagerty.