Buying any car can be a daunting process for the uninitiated and buying your first classic even more so.
With a myriad of cars available, it can be tough even choosing what you want, although many people have an idea for nostalgic reasons such as a family interest. Here, we aim to point out a few of the things that you should do to avoid getting caught out.
Classic cars in particular can come back to bite you if you don’t check them out thoroughly before buying – with their age adding to the list of potential problems.
But, if you do it right, years of pleasure can be yours in a classic.
Choose carefully and do your research
Most of the time buyers will have a reason to buy a certain classic, whether it be happy childhood memories or a family fondness for a particular marque. Maybe your dad drove a Ford Cortina, or your grandmother had a Morris Minor.
So, deciding what you want, and why, is the first step. Once you’ve done that, there is a wealth of information available from classic car clubs and online forums to help steer you as to the pros and cons of the make and model that you’re looking at.
It’ll also give you a good idea of what you should be paying, as will looking at our classic car section. Prices will vary wildly depending on the type of car, the age and the condition, and looking here might give you some ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
Always get a history and a full MOT
This is a basic for buying any used car and is particularly appropriate when purchasing a classic, yet many people are tempted to take a flyer. However much you like a car that you’ve gone to view, or however much of a good feeling you’ve got about it, a lack of history presents a big risk.
A bulging and complete service history is what you’re looking for, though of course cars that are 30, 40 or 50 years old might not have that. As much as a full history dating back to the original delivery note is desirable from a historic point of view, what you really need to know is what’s been done fairly recently. Basics like the clutch, starter motor, tyres, suspension and head gasket are must-checks. If they haven’t been done in the past few years, the chances are they’ll need doing and the costs will start to add up.
And always make sure that you get a full MOT. This is no guarantee of a year of roadworthiness, but it’s another check that the fundamentals are right with the car and that, with luck, you won’t face any big bills in your first year of ownership.
Get it checked by an expert
However much knowledge you think you might have, unless you’re a qualified mechanic yourself then it’s a good idea to get your potential purchase checked out by a professional. Ideally, take a trusted mechanic with you when you go to see the car. If you can’t, don’t be tempted to buy the car on the first visit if you’re able to wait for such a person to go and see it.
A full inspection inside and out, under the bonnet and, crucially, underneath the car is key to making sure things are in order. The expensive repairs are usually to bits that you can’t see – such as floor plan welding – rather than what you can see.
The bane of most old cars, rust can be a killer. Unsightly superficial rust is one thing, structural rust is quite another. The MOT test requires that crucial areas like the seatbelt mounting points (if your car is fitted with them) must be rust-free. A lot of old cars, particular those made by a make that fell under the British Leyland group, are prone to this.
If they’re not free of corrosion, you’ll be looking at a welding repair bill of several hundred pounds for starters. Again, it’s what you can’t see that is often the problem – underneath the car and inside sills and panels are vulnerable spots on many older cars.
Don’t just take it around the block, give it a really good drive. Take it on A-roads, B-roads, dual carriageways and a motorway if you can. Drive it as hard as you can – taking it through the gears and watching for smoke out of the back – within reason.
Also look for undue smoke when the car is stopped and the engine is idling and hot. If there’s white or blue smoke, for example, that’s a sign that the engine could be about to give up. When driving get a good feel for the car. Check that the steering is true and tight, not loose and vague. Test the brakes on a road where it’s safe to do so – the car should stop in a straight line and not veer off in one direction. Listen for any unusual clunks and rattles.
Make sure that the clutch and gears feel right, in particular with regard to ‘travel’ on the clutch pedal. This also applies to the brakes. Make sure they feel firm and start to be applied as soon as you push the pedal, allowing for the fact that brakes on classics won’t be as sharp as on a modern car.
Making a buy
If you’re happy with everything and ready to make a purchase, don’t be afraid to strike yourself a good deal. Thanks to the new electronic system, the days of cars being sold with road tax are now over, but see if you can get any spare parts thrown in, for example.
Before you start, make that you’ve properly researched the market for your particular car. As we mentioned earlier, prices can vary wildly. Taking an MG Midget as an example, a half-decent usable version from later in the model’s life can be had for less than £2,000, whereas a concours-winning example could be five times that, so pitch in line with what you’re buying.
Don’t be afraid to drive a hard bargain – the money you save could be useful for future repair bills.