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How to spot a gem when buying a classic car

Buying a classic car should be one of the most exciting purchases of your life.

These cars are treats for most people - a significant investment of money, time and emotion. Yet the reality is that many people find it a process fraught with danger and risk.

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Will you end up buying a dud? A car with a fake history, botched accident repairs or one that’s beset with rust and problems galore?

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Well buying any car can be a minefield and that goes for classics, too.

Our below simple six step guide of what to look out for is purely subjective and of course there may be other areas you’d like to take a look at.

So, whilst we cannot guarantee that the steps will help you find the best classic car out there, hopefully they can provide some reassurance of what to look out for.

  1. Do your research

    Buying an old car isn’t quite the same as purchasing a new vehicle.

    Condition is everything with old-timers - make sure you know your sector inside out before laying down any cash.

    Read up on your chosen model, check the specialist magazines and websites for advice and spend hours reading the forums and owners club boards for hints and tips on what to look out for.

    By doing so, you may well uncover some cherished versions for sale along the way.
  2. Shop around far and wide

    Only by shopping around will you get a feel for the marketplace.

    Never buy the first car you see - once you’ve seen several examples, you’ll quickly establish some points for comparison.

    This way, you’ll know what bodywork condition is typical for this era of car, how the interior should feel, which bits work and which often fail and - most importantly - how the car should drive.

    Invest as much time as you can to become a marque expert. It’ll pay off in the long run.
  3. Get the car inspected first

    Are you handy with the spanners?

    If so, learn the ins and outs of your chosen model and have a good poke around.

    Ask about the car’s provenance and check its servicing and maintenance history.

    A well cared-for example will have a service book crammed with stamps and receipts for work done.

    If you’re less confident of mechanical matters, we’d strongly recommend getting an engineering friend or professional to accompany you before laying down your cash.

    Older cars may not be mechanically perfect, but the chasm between the best examples and the worst cars on the secondhand market can be huge…
  4. Take it for a test drive

    Never buy a classic car sight unseen, unless you really know your onions or have great faith in the vendor.

    We’d always want to see it up close, poke around underneath, check for signs of rot or abuse and take it for a spin.

    The test drive remains very important, to check the car drives like it should and to see if it slots into your life.
  5. Budget the right amount

    It may sound obvious, but there’s a reason some cars will be underpriced.

    If a car you’re considering costs thousands less than others, ask yourself why.

    It’s like buying a house: do your research. Has it been for sale for a long time?

    Are there problems that’ve deterred other buyers?

    If you can afford it and unless you have the skills and time to take on a project, try and budget a cost in the middle or upper reaches of the range for your chosen model.

    Ultimately, you get what you pay for. Spend enough to get a good example of your chosen classic car, not a basket case.
  6. Buy from a classic car specialist

    If you buy privately, you’ll have very little comeback if your purchase turns sour.

    Shop at a reputable dealership for the best protection - specialists will tend to stock the best cars and are more likely to show goodwill in the event that something goes wrong.

    Just remember that classic cars don’t typically come with warranties covering faults like newer cars do.

    Caveat emptor and that… Volvo 1800E ID107271
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