Excited! Nervous! These are just two of the very strong I felt when contacting owners or representatives of classic cars I was interested in purchasing. So, I have done some research. Here’s what I learned.
Here is a list of questions to ask when buying a classic car.
Do you have the title?
If they don’t have the title, you had better ask more questions. It may not be a deal-breaker, but you need to fully understand why they do not currently have the title to the car.
Is the title clean and clear?
If they do have the title, check it to make sure there are no outstanding liens on the car. If it is a salvage title, do some digging before you sign anything, including a check for payment.
Is the title in the seller’s name?
The title should be in the current owners’ names. If it’s not, ask why and dig deep.
Are you the seller, or the seller’s representative?
Sometimes you end up dealing with a car owners assign, otherwise known a sellers representative. Either way, they have no final say in the process and halts negotiations on prices. The middle man is always a pain in the rear and acts as a gatekeeper for the owner.
This creates a lot of wasted time in the entire process. From the first contact to getting this list of questions answers, all the way up to the final negotiations and taking possession of the car legally.
Is the vehicle currently registered?
If the vehicle is not registered, why not?
Although there could be many different reasons for it not being registered, it’s still an important question. The car could be used in parades and car shows only, therefore not needing to be registered. But it always draws a flag when I ask this question and it’s not a registered vehicle.
When was the last inspection and/or registration?
This could give you an indication of how long the car may have sat still, with no use of it. Sitting cars die where they are. Make sure the car is in good shape.
It can also give you insight into some potential legal issues with the title and registration when you take possession.
How long have you owned the car?
This is a very important question, and the answers could be many or just a couple. In my experience, it’s rarely financial issues unless the car was inherited. Sometimes it was an investment, some times they found an old car in rough shape and restored it.
Other times they may be the original owner who’s had it since the day it left the dealership the first time.
Does the car have any rust?
The golden question. If there is any cancer on the vehicle, you need to know about it. I always carry a penlight or use my cell phone flashlight to check the obvious places myself. Wheel wells, fenders, bumpers, inside of the trunk and other highly prone areas.
You don’t want to spend your prettiest penny on a classic car only to find out later you have 10k worth of rust issues to deal with.
How often and how far is the car typically driven?
I prefer cars with lower miles, but do like them to be driven regularly, but not far. Taking it as a ride for the high school homecoming queen, parades and other events, like local or area car shows are good enough for me.
You want the engine to have been run regularly, but not used frequently. I want one that’s used just enough to keep it from sitting still for years on end. This is not good for the engine, transmission and overall health of the car.
What condition would you give the car?
If you are speaking to the owner, this gives you insight into the real condition of the car. Nobody should know the condition of the car better than the owner. Most who own classic cars just love the car they own. They are usually happy to share this information.
Can I test drive the car?
You find the real issues on a test drive. If they don’t want to allow a test drive, question this car and it’s owner unless it has an extraordinary low mileage. If it has less than 50 miles, don’t even ask to drive it until it’s purchased.
If it has just a few miles, you’ll need to arrange for it to be transported to the location of your choice. Burning miles on a car such as this will only devalue the car.
Can I drive the car to a local shop for inspection?
They should have no problem with this if they are serious about selling it. I have a secondary question that may change the entire mood and results later in this list. I always wait until the end of my interview and inspection before asking the latter question, and you should too.
You’ll understand why once you get to the end of these questions to ask.
How was the classic car acquired?
Was it initially purchased by the owner or bought as a 2nd, 3rd or 4th owner? This question and its answers can give you some solid insights into the car, owner and deal you’re working on.
Why is the car being sold?
It could be health issues, inherited or a host of other reasons as to why they want to sell it, but you need to know.
What sort of work was done on the car?
Was it in pristine condition when they bought it, or the other extreme, they had it completely restored? This question always helps.
Did they work on the car themselves?
Do they have their own shop? Do they just work on it for basic maintenance like oil changes, light bulbs, etc?
It’s always nice to have answers. It lets you know and understand the quality of work that was done on this particular car. I don’t think I would like to pay a premium price for a poorly maintained car.
is everything properly documented (receipts of parts/labor/maintenance)?
This can increase the value of the car, or lower it depending on the circumstances.
Is the paint in good condition?
Getting a paint job done on a classic, antique or vintage car is expensive. Very expensive in some instances. The average const of a paint job on a classic is pretty expensive. Make sure you’re happy with the paint, or account for it being painted. You should take a look at the average cost to paint a classic car.
What’s wrong with the car?
Is there anything you need to know about. You can generally ask this question, take their answer and ask more questions based on their answers. Questions should always lead to other questions. Become a classic car question expert and you’ll remain as safe in your purchases as is reasonable.
Can the car be driven home… will it make it?
The big one, especially if the car in question is in another state, halfway across the country or the opposite coastline. If there is a considerable distance, you’ll likely want someone to transport it for you if you lack the equipment or time to take on that responsibility.
Either way, you have to prepare and account for shipping the car or driving it yourself to your location.
Ask the seller for the VIN number and Fender Tag.
You’ll need both of these to get the true value of the car before buying. The fender tags tell you if the car is indeed a “classic” from a legal perspective.
Was the car ever in an accident?
Ask anyway. It was totaled, you could end up with a salvage title. If it was flooded, you get the same, but there are people out there who know how to get a title even though the car had been previously totaled or infiltrated by water or saltwater.
Are you aware of any repairs the vehicle needs?
most will pop off a couple of minor issues if they know about them. Bigger issues they usually tell you about in the discussion of previous questions.
If you were going to do any repairs to the vehicle what would they be?
This gives you a quick checklist of the smaller details that even a seasoned professional would miss when being inspected prior to purchase. It could be something as simple as “it’s running a little lean”. This tells you what you’re potentially up against once you own it.
Would you have a problem with me having an inspector come out and inspect the car?
I only ask this question if they refuse a test drive or taking the car to be inspected. I flipped the question and now ask if I can bring an inspector to the car. If they refuse, walk away.
What are the costs of insuring the vehicle?
Although not that important unless it a car with an extremely high value, but good information to have when you want to keep the car within your set budget.
These are the questions I ask when looking into a classic or antique car. If it’s a classic muscle car, I dig further and get a more thorough inspection, for obvious reasons.
Follow this pattern and list of questions and you’ll be able to eliminate the chaff and focus on the wheat we all desire in classic cars.
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