5 reasons not to buy a classic car

Gorgeous classic and exotic cars can complicate your life | Larry Edsall photos
Gorgeous classic and exotic cars can complicate your life | Larry Edsall photos

There are a great many reasons for buying a classic car: love for the history of a specific brand, the fun of tinkering with your classic, the experience of driving an old car, and the possible investment potential that many classic cars can offer, to name a few.

The classic car market is hotter than ever and, as a result, many people are looking at classic cars as a great way to invest their money. While that might seem like a great idea, there are also many potential pitfalls of classic car ownership, and just as many reasons for not buying a classic car.

We went through our list and broke it down into five reasons not to buy a classic car:

1. A friend of mine said I should buy a classic car.

Say you have a modern Porsche 911 or Dodge Challenger and your friends think you should buy an old one to go with it. You envision yourself as part of the hardcore, cool-guy crew. This is a dangerous mindset, especially if you’ve come to expect such things as satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a good, working A/C, which are niceties generally not available on classic cars. And remember, a classic car will be less reliable and require more maintenance than its modern equivalent.

You should only buy a classic car because you want a classic car, not to be part of the cool crowd. We really aren’t as cool as we think we are.

2. I have been thinking of buying a classic car but I do not like working on mechanical things.

Not having experience with working on old cars is not a prerequisite, but you should be willing to learn about making some mechanical repairs. No matter how many mechanics you hire, at some point you are going to have to fix something yourself. Classic car people tend to forget that they spend a considerable amount of time fixing things, often more time that they spend actually driving their classics.

They forget this because they enjoy the process of working on and sorting out the issues that come up with their old cars.

Even the best of classics break from time to time
Even the best of classics break from time to time

Ideally, you should consider this tinkering to be part of the fun of the classic car experience. If not, think twice about making a classic car purchase.

3. I can afford a classic car but it needs to be perfect because I have just enough money to buy the car.

No classic car is perfect. We are not aware of a single person who has bought any classic car that did not require some amount of money to be spent on it immediately. It is best to budget somewhere between $1,500-$5,000 for maintenance in addition to the price you’re paying for any new classic car purchase, the added cost dependent on the price level of the classic. However, if you’re buying a classic Ferrari, most experts say to budget as much as $20,000 more.

If you cannot afford to pay for the inevitable initial repairs, then you are going to have trouble with classic car ownership from the start.

4. Classic cars make a great investment and I like a sure thing.

There are no sure investments, with the possibly exception of the big-time fine-art world. The classic car market has its ups and downs just like every other market.

Buying a car only as an investment is a big mistake. Old cars take care and attention, making them very different from other appreciating assets.

Buy a classic car only if you really love and want that car, and only buy a make and model that you love and not purely because you foresee upside potential.

Then, no matter what happens with classic car market values, you will still have that car you always wanted.

5. I want to buy a car on TV at an auction, like the big shots.

This has got to be the worst reason to buy a classic car, and every year more people buy cars because they want to be seen on television winning a bidding war. This behavior always astounds us, but we have heard so many people boast about having the opportunity to pay too much for a car on TV.

If you want to be on TV that badly, figure out another way, possibly by starting a cooking show or applying for a spot on Survivor or Shark Tank.

If you still decide to a buy a classic car, take a look at these guidelines and make sure none of them apply to you, in which case you probably should decide not to buy.

Always buy a classic car that you love because you want to own it and to drive it, and you should have a terrific experience.

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27 thoughts on “5 reasons not to buy a classic car”

  1. There is a world of dumbasses out there and we already know we can’t keep them from getting behind the wheel. Why would you think you could keep them away from “classic” cars? But the last one is the worst; wanting to be the next dupe with a Hawaiian shirt and a ponytail to overpay for some “classic” is just pitiful – but no worse than being a “British DJ” and paying $28 million for a rather pedestrian Ferrari California. It is people like this that have transformed a gearhead hobby into a minefield of hustlers, misfits and the misguided.

  2. I probably should have read this before I bought my Alfa, but I’m committed now, because it is just too much fun to drive. Fortunately, money is not a huge issue, but garage space to work on the car is.

  3. Hey Jake, it’s a mid 60’s Lamborghini 350 or 400GT. Incidentally, why don’t you guys shaddup with the whining. He wrote an article, he pointed out some (unfortunately) relevant facts that apply to the mindset of certain individuals that have more money than sense. Everything he said is bang on the money.

  4. I agree with Andy entirely. I just bought a Carribean Blue 62 Lincoln convertible. I’ve put in another $15M into it since and everythibng works including the factory air. Now, I’m not driving a car. I’m driving “Art”.

  5. Great article Andy, if only to totally agree it pays to be cautious before spending thousands on anything. Yet also to disagree with some of what you said, such as #2 — While it’s great to be able to tinker with limited mechanical knowledge, it is not necessary at all. Just have a trustworthy mechanic. And #5 — Buy a great car live at the auctions “just like the big shots” but again, research the car(s) first, take a good mechanic with you, and find the affordable ones. Not too tough… Overall, the industry needs to find new ways to make collecting classic cars a great pursuit FOR NON-GEARHEADS. Or it will die out with the grey hairs who dominate it now.

  6. Justin, you are dead on. Andy’s points are absolutely true. I’ve seen people buy classic cars for all the wrong reasons. You buy them because you have a passion for them and love driving them. He had 150 cars plus what he says makes sense. Yeah, I’d say he’s an expert!

  7. Spot on Andy,
    Having been it the vintage auto resto business for 30 or so years I would add just one thing. Have it checked out by someone that knows that type of car. BEFORE you buy it. People would come to the shop in their new Whatever SS and ask us to check it out after they already bought it. I have seen cars made of two cars BRAZED together under the seats. Had a Ferrari from a dealor in Texas car looked beautiful, but the frame was twisted really, really bad. This was a very common thing. These people had a bad experience unnessarely.
    Keep the good advice coming buddy

  8. Andy gave great heads up information for newbies in an old business. Be sure to do homework as some cars are rare and parts are not always available. This is a great pastime even with the ups and downs. Enjoy the classic ride.

  9. You must have been around a long time. You are spot on exactly right. Everyone who buys their first tine Vintage car car should read and sign what you wrote. I’m a 30 year collector.

  10. Thank you for the comments and the welcome to the classiccars.com community.

    I did not intend to offend anyone with the story, but only to point out the wrong reasons, and the correct reasons for a classic car purchase, based on my own trials and tribulations in the hobby over the last 33 years.

    I have made many of the above mistakes myself, with the exception of a televised bidding war. I guess spending time in both the entertainment business and the classic car hobby was enough to show me that might be a bad idea.

    I have bought cars that I assured myself would be trouble free and require little extra money, a Maserati Merak that needed an engine and hydraulic system rebuild comes to mind, that turned out to be a disaster. I had no experience with the Merak at the time but had to have the Maserati so my friends would think I was cool. Not my best laid plan.

    I have also bought a few classic cars as investments. May of them have worked out well but close friends of mine will remind me about the worlds nicest Fiat 124 Spider that I spent more than 32k refreshing. I sold it for just over 10k at auction.

    I love this hobby and have had more fun with classic cars than anything else in my life. My best friends are ones I have made in the hobby and I continue to learn more about cars from all of you every day I am in it.

    While the classic car hobby is not for everyone, if you like or love these cars like I do, take the plunge. If you do so with some modicum of care I think you will be hooked.

  11. Thanks for the info. I’m a NEW newbie looking to buy something nice and affordable. After reading the story and comments, I learned a GREAT quick lesson.

  12. Andy , Simple but efficient article. For the dealer that spends thousands advertising here , I myself have have been in the business 30 plus years. I have made a very good living at it. The reason , helping people buy the car of their dreams and being honest with them. I sent many people home and have lost plenty of sales as they really couldn’t afford the car. I could have taken their money , but i would rather have a clear conscience and a great reputation. I comes back ten fold. I don’t need to spend thousand and thousands. Word of mouth has made a comfortable life style. Thanks Jeff Wilcox

  13. Thanks andy for your information I was thinking of buying a 1968 chevy camaro but after reading this article I’m going to buy a 2010 camaro instead, thanks again

  14. We have 2 classic cars and your article about says it all. We’ve spent lots of moolah on them. Sometimes you can buy a classic car that is finished or close to being finished for less than doing one yourself. And yes garage space becomes an issue too. The car shows and riding in our classic car is a blast and it does make us feel young again. Another big plus is being able to buy a car you couldn’t buy back in the day.

  15. There’s a simplicity here that well deserves consideration. All possibilities, good and otherwise, with a classic car are appropriate and must be considered at least possible and and likely probable. So, what’s left? Naught but accepting the serendipity of the relationship and the responsibility of no one but yourself as it continues. If your simple, however esoteric enjoyment of ‘you and the car’ does not offset the above, either wait until it does or forgo the pleasure and be content with the sight of any example you might see on the road still out there mixing it up after all these years.

  16. Andy is correct as is often true – you buy a vintage car out of love – and like any love you have to work at it or loose it .If you buy for other reasons – you might just be a turkey!

  17. If you have convinced yourself you really want a classic car–Don’t wait too long.
    You will wake up someday with a bunch of money in the bank with little time left
    to enjoy a classic you should have bought years ago.
    When I get behind the wheel of my 65 impala SS if only for a moment it is
    1965 and I am driving it home from the dealership.
    What’s that worth?— in a word—- “priceless”

  18. I read this article and decided it was pretty darn close I have always wanted a 1957 Chevy Belair and am in the process of finding one to buy as I type this. Although my classic car will only cost in the tens of thousands it is something I need to have. It should be relatively easy to keep running! I suffer from none of the diseases listed above. I will simply park next to my Harley, Caddy and Ford pickup. I so appreciate this article it has made me understand I am doing exactly what I need to do.

  19. That is great Andy, the point was not really to dissuade a person from jumping into the classic hobby but instead to make sure that they asked themselves the right questions that need to be ask before they jump.
    Good luck with your Chevy search!

  20. If everyone listened to this idiot author there wouldn’t be any classic cars to view accept in museums. Sounds like a Socialist mindset to me. I like the United States Of America so I think I’ll keep on driving my classic car and enjoy my freedom and think for myself.

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