Lifestyle Guides

Classic car buying guide

If you're thinking of buying a classic car, read our guide from our resident classic car expert to make sure you've thought of everything


Modern cars all well and good, but very few can match a classic for character, distinctive looks and driving experience.

If you're thinking of taking the plunge and buying a vintage vehicle you need to consider lots of factors in order to avoid an expensive mistake.

Read our advice and expert tips on how to buy a classic car...

Choose your classic car

Whether it's a car you've always dreamed of owning or a lust for open-top motoring in a sixties sports car, people buy classics for all sorts of reasons. 

However, you should also think about how you're going to use your car. Will it be just for weekends or the summer, or a daily driver? Where will you store it when it's off the road? Will you miss your creature comforts? The answers to those questions may also help to determine your choice of car. 

For instance, some cars may not be suitable for driving everyday because of reliability or fuel economy, but they are fine for a weekend drive.

Do your research


If you think you've made your mind up about a make and model, it's then worth looking at websites and magazines to find out how much your dream car is going to cost and the different price points (which usually relate to condition). 

Your search could begin by simply typing 'classic cars for sale uk' or 'best classic cars to buy' into Google. Find out as much as you can about the car you are thinking of buying. It may have weak points (such as specific areas where it's susceptible to rust), or it may suffer from a particular problem with its engine or electrics.

Be realistic

Obviously you want to get the best classic car for your money, but don't buy one right at the top of your range, because owning a cherished car is far more unpredictable than running a modern car, and even the slightest issue can end up costing a lot more than you bargained for.

If the car needs to work doing, such as replacement panels, an engine rebuild, welding or a respray, get a quote so that you can factor that into your budget.

Where to buy a classic car


Just like buying any used car, there's no shortage of places to find classic cars for sale. Whether it's a 'for sale' sign in the window of a classic at the roadside, a postcard on a noticeboard, a Gumtree ad or an eBay classic cars listing, you're spoilt for choice. 

If you'd rather not do the legwork, then a classic car dealer or auction might the order of the day. If you're exceptionally lucky you might know of somebody with a car stored away and it could be a 'barn find' moment for you. As with any purchase, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Look at the bigger picture

Owning a cherished car can be surprisingly cost effective if you pick the right vehicle. Classic car insurance can be especially cheap, partly because there will be restrictions on mileage and where your car is stored. There are also scores of providers eager for your business. If your car is over 40 years old it well be exempt from road tax and a yearly MOT (unless it's been modified). 

Apart from possible repairs and routine maintenance, there are other costs to consider including storage costs (if you don't have anywhere to keep your pride and joy protected from the elements), annual servicing, fuel and a good breakdown policy (an essential). 

If you bear all those factors in mind and you buy with your head as well as your heart, you could enjoy many a magic moment motoring in your cherished car.

Top five expert tips for buying classic cars

We asked Kim Henson, car expert and editor of Wheels-Alive, for his five top tips for buyers of everyday classics...

1. Check the vehicle's structure

In almost every case, it's more difficult, time-consuming and expensive to restore the bodywork structure (and/or the chassis frame, where applicable) than to sort out mechanical ailments.

If buying an everyday classic, it's wise to estimate the likely cost of all repairs (and then double that figure!) and to weigh this against the value of the vehicle when complete.

2. Make sure the seller has legal title

Most sellers are honest, but some are not, even in the usually-friendly classic car world. If a V5C Registration Document is not available for the car you're interested in, you need to establish why.

It may also be worth involving an independent third party company, for example HPI, to check the vehicle’s ownership status (and other important aspects).

3. Read all about it and join the club(s)

Before you commit, find out all you can about the model(s) you're interested in. The various classic car magazines include much buying advice, as do classic motoring websites.

It's also worth joining the club(s) relevant to the model(s); fellow owners are nearly always willing to share information to help those new to the cars (including vehicle values).

4. Take a fellow enthusiast when viewing

When viewing a classic, it’s wise to take a fellow enthusiast or owner with you. Two heads are often better than one, especially if you're new to the make/model and are possibly looking at potential purchases with rose-tinted spectacles. The views of another person are always useful to give perspective!

5. Make an offer? 

Do your homework with regard to the realistic values of the model(s) you're interested in and current/recent prices actually being obtained (rather than just asked for), before you view. 

Bear in mind dealer prices will almost always be higher than private sale figures, not least as the dealer may offer a warranty and has to make some profit! If the car is what you want but the asking price seems too high, don’t be afraid to make an offer (especially if repairs are needed, as the money saved on the asking price may help).