BUYING A CLASSIC

We want to help make buying a classic, vintage or veteran vehicle a more pleasurable experience.

Here you'll find tips, questions to ask both yourself and the seller, plus the potholes to avoid in the exciting road that can take you to your classic vehicle.

VINTAGE VIRGIN?

So you've been seduced by the lure of older cars or motorcycles. It's easily done. They stand out from the crowd. They draw they eye. They hearken back to a more elegant time. They're simpler. They start conversations and bring new friendships.

 

They're (mostly) tax exempt...

If you're still at the stage of being tempted, spend some time browsing around It's My Classic. You'll find lots of information plus links to other places to help to you in deciding on your perfect match.

 

We explain below some of the most common classic potholes to avoid along the way of buying your dream vehicle.

653 WOW Picton New Zealand
Morris Minor 1000 New Zealand

Before you set out to fall deeply into vehicular love, it's sensible to ask yourself some searching questions - and give yourself honest answers.

 

Are you looking for something for endurance rallies (tough and reliable) or romantic weekends away (comfortable, with enough space for luggage)? Do you want practical and roomy or fast and sporty? Is this an investment or a love affair? Do you want something to simply jump into/onto and drive away or do you want a project to tinker with or even fully restore or modify over those long, dark winter evenings?

 

The better you understand what you want from your new acquisition, the better you can make a decision that's going to make you happy for years to come.

Your local or specialist heritage club is not just for finding like-minded people. Clubs can often help with technical advice, insurance deals, or simply the chance to socialise with others who share this pesky heritage bug.

 

If this is your first time inspecting an older car, take some time to read the article below. Nothing really beats taking along a trusted and experienced mechanic who knows older vehicles, but an awareness of some of the things you need to look for will reduce the chances of landing yourself with a lemon.

Kerr classic motorbike

If you've already made the leap but now don't quite know what to do next, fear not! Joining the eclectic community of historic vehicle owners means that you've entered a  world full of people (just like us) who love to talk cars or motorcycles or engines or restos or mods, or who simply enjoy the whole experience. You'll find lots of them here.

AVOID THE POTHOLES

You're looking at a vehicle. You want to buy it, take it home, cherish it and make it one of the family. Stop right there!

Pothole One: Rose-tinted spectacles

Let's put all those gooey, squidgy, glowing emotions to one side and apply the logic filter. You're about to spend your hard-earned pennies. When you open your curtains in the morning and look out onto your newly acquired addition, you want to still be in love with it and still think that the money was well spent. Eyes wide open, please.

Pothole Two: Buyer beware

The advert glows with praises of this example of automotive design excellence. You can afford it. Question: if it's so totally amazing and the seller loves it so much, why are they selling? The chances are that there's a perfectly good reason - financial, health, moving house. There might also be less than charitable reasons too. The seller might simply want to rid themselves of a never-ending money drain. There might also be mechnical or rot problems the current owner simply can't solve or thinks are too expensive.

 

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the honest and the less than honest seller. Read up, do your homework on the specific make and model (and common issues related to them), talk to owners of similar vehicles if you can, and be prepared to ask the seller lots of questions. But remember, too, to be fair in your questions because none of us appreciates time-wasters. An honest and tactfully-approached seller is more likely to be sympathetic with someone who shows a genuine and detailed interest.

Glossary of terms

 

A-pillar: the uprights that hold the side of the windscreen and forms the front roof support

B-pillar: the uprights in the middle of the car (that support the middle of the roof and/or that the front doors close against.

Brightwork: Anything reflective (usually chromed) that is added to a vehicle to enhance its appearance

Chassis: a structural framework, usually made of steel, which carries the loading of the vehicle and to which the bodywork of a vehicle is attached

C-pillar: the uprights that form the rear roof support

Monocoque (also called a structural skin): a vehicle (or aircraft) structure where the body and chassis are one integral unit, i.e. the loads are carried by the structure's skin

Swage line: a crease in a body panel used to enhance the flowing lines of a design; also used to create structural integrity in otherwise flexible sheet materials

Black headlamp with crazed paint on a vintage car
Picturesque age-related crazing

Let's move on to more technical aspects. If you know what you're looking for - concourse or something to restore, for example - you'll be able to better identify what level of flaws you can live with. Take your time and don't let yourself get distracted by the urge to buy before it's gone. It's also preferable not to view a vehicle in the wet. That's not because you'll get dirty, but that bodywork defects are harder to spot when they're glossy with rain.

Pothole Three: Not taking the long view

If it's a car, get down to the level of the door handles and look along the body, front to back, on both sides. Once upon a time I nearly fell for a gleaming TR7. Then I looked down its length at headlamp-level. I realised that it sagged in the middle from well-disguised water ingress behind the driver's door. Ugh!

Is any brightwork running evenly along the sides? Are there any panels set out or recessed? Is the paint colour and shine even all the way along? Are there any raised areas that might suggest filler beneath the paint? Do the swage lines flow seamlessly? Are there any ripples in the panels that might suggest impact damage? Does the trim fit properly? You're looking for any indications of old damage and (especially) poor fixes.

Pothole Four: Mind that Gap

There are some cars that came out of the factory with uneven gaps between their panels (British Leyland was renowned at one time for this), but most manufacturers try to keep them looking fairly even. Look at the door gaps on the hinge side - are they roughly even all the way down? Now look at the latch side - still even? If they're good on one and not on the other, what does that tell you about the movement of major structural elements (such as the B-pillar)? Whilst you're doing this - do the doors, bonnet and boot fit properly?

Pothole Five: Pillars of contention

Examine the A-, B- and C-pillars for rot or signs of repair. The A- and B-pillars tend to be the ones that fare the worst. Also take a look at the whole windscreen surround - is the metal solid and free of anywhere where water might be getting in to cause rot from the inside out? Bad fractures, heavy rot or poor repairs can be very expensive to fix unless you have the skills and equipment to do it yourself. Worst case scenario - new bodyshell required.

Pothole Six: Heavy make-up

Paint can tell many tales about the past life of a vehicle. Red faded to pink talks of years out in the sun. Bubbles warn you of hidden rust (run a careful finger along the under-edge of the wheel arches to find hidden bubbles).

 

With veteran and vintage vehicles, crazed paint can simply be the result of old age, but on more modern classics it could be warning you of a bad respray (as can paint that's dimpled like orange peel). Look for any paint overspray on the windscreen and door rubbers - it might not be a problem but it does tell you about the standards of previous work the vehicle has had to endure.

 

If you want originality, look closely inside the engine bay, under carpets and in the boot for signs that the paint matches throughout. These areas can also tell you about how well a paint was colour-matched in a respray. If the colour is a poor match, raise a mental query about the quality of other work undertaken around the same time.

Whilst you're in the boot and engine bay, look there too for any rippled panels that might give away old crash damage.

Pothole Seven: Not getting down and dirty

Unless the seller has a ramp or a pit, be prepared to get dusty at least by getting down and taking a good look underneath. Take a torch and don't wear your best bib and tucker. You need to know all about corrosion from years of exposure to wet, flying debris and winter road salt. If the vehicle has spent any part of its life close to the sea, be extra vigilant. Salt tends to accelerate corrosion more than slightly.

Look closely for damage to chassis members and for anything (such as malformation or bulging) that might indicate internal rot in box section members. Keep a beady eye out, too, for indications of old repairs. Repairs to the out-of-sight areas of a vehicle can show less care and are bodging hotspots. See some bright and shiny new metal panels? Ask for details. It could be a recent, honest repair or a way to disguise hidden horrors.

Look particularly at where the bumper irons attach - they can be good indicators of any old front or rear impact injuries.

Whilst you're down there take a peek at any underseal. Underseal is a great way of hiding bodges, concealing minor holes, and generally disguising problems that you just know are liable to come back and haunt you.

Pothole Eight: Hip bone connected to the back bone

That's not as mad as it seems. Vehicles are composed of lots of inter-connected parts that all need to join up as they were intended to.

 

Does the vehicle have a separate chassis? Yes? Try and get a look at where the chassis and body join. Those joints are water and mud traps: water and mud can mean corrosion. To repair this tends to mean a body-off job.

Are the flanges or seams that join body panels together (especially under the sills) still joined together? If they're separated it means corrosion that will have to be repaired, and might mean that the structures underneath are also rotting.

Pothole Nine: Bodge & Bodger Esq.

We're talking about classic, vintage and veteran vehicles that have been around for a lot of years. Although I'd love to imagine them all having been lovingly cared for, in reality many will, at some point in their life, have been subjected to repairs that were less than perfectly executed. You need to be on the look-out for any of those that have slipped past later or more careful owners.

Bodge & Bodger seem to specialise in areas that are easiest to overlook, such as chassis, sills, wheelarches, and panels below the bumpers. More noticeable are the wings, as these are most likely to suffer from minor damage at more frequent intervals. Take a close look for Bodge's work here. I recall a much-abused car where the wings were so full of body filler, it took two of us to lift one!

 

A magnet wrapped in non-scratching fabric can help distinguish between steel and concealed filler or fibreglass. Also pay close attention to the bottom edge of the doors.

Pothole Ten: A wiggle in the walk

Turn the steering wheel slightly from side to side. How much free play is there before the wheels actually turn? Also look at the tyres for uneven wear that can tell tales of steering and castor misalignment.

 

Pothole Eleven: Cough, cough, bang, bang

The engine. Now that's a whole 'nother subject all of its own!

JF  M
Before you make an offer...

Ask to see the V5C vehicle registration (log book). Make sure it has a ‘DVL’ watermark and that the serial number isn’t between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000. If it is, the V5C might well be stolen. No logbook? Take any assurances that it's easy to get a replacement with a massive pinch of salt! That can be either ignorance or a seriously big porky. If it's truly so easy, why hasn't the seller dealt with it and increased the vehicle's value?

Use the DVLA's online vehicle enquiry service to check that the details provided by the seller match the information held by DVLA. All you need is the registration number. This will also tell you about tax rates (if any), date of first registration, engine size and even colour.

The DVLA's site is easy to use and full of useful information for classic drivers and riders.

If the vehicle still needs an MoT test, does it have one? If not, why not? The value of a vehicle inceases if an MoT certificate is present, so think very carefully if it's being sold with a short or no MoT. Unless a sensible reason can be supplied, no MoT or a very short MoT may infer that the seller believes that the vehicle is unlikely to pass or only pass with worrying advisories. Use the make and registration number to check the MOT history online.

It's My Classic - the UK online classic car, motorcycle and LCV magazine for people with a passion - come and share your classic stories with us