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  • Frank Maiorano III

Purchasing the classic car of your dreams


Buying a classic car might be one of the most exciting purchases you'll ever make, so it pays to do to your homework. Antique and vintage cars can be costly to purchase, restore, and maintain.

Whether you're looking for a project car to work on yourself or a fully restored show car, you'll want to make a smart, informed decision.

Deciding what to buy

There are numerous options when buying a classic car, but before getting out the checkbook, it's good to think about what's right for you.

  • Be careful about the investment. Making money on classic cars can be very difficult. Buying something simply because you think it's a good investment can be risky as the collectible car market is very volatile. Experienced dealers will tell you that a collectible car is only worth as much as someone will pay for it; the 'book value' isn't a guarantee. If this car will be for fun, focus in on cars that you would be proud to own and drive for years to come.

  • Decide how it will be used. Think carefully about what you want to do with the car. Will it be driven daily or just on weekends? Would you like to show it? Will it sit in your garage under a tarp and rarely get used?

  • Establish an affordable budget. Carefully figure out what you want to spend and stick to it. Keep in mind that restoration projects can be very, very expensive. If you buy a fixer-upper, you may quickly exceed your budget on parts and labor. A bargain car may end up costing you more than a pricier, but cleaner version.

  • Do your research. Be sure to check the average retail value to get a baseline price. Read any information you can find and check auto auctions and price guides to help determine what the fair market value is for your car. Be extra cautious when buying a car on the Web. eBay has good tips on purchasing a classic car online .

  • Check mileage. As with most used cars, the fewer miles on the speedometer, the more the car is probably worth. Don't be afraid to purchase a high-mileage car; just be sure it is reflected in the price.

Inspecting the car

Careful inspection is very important when buying a classic car. You may want to use an inspection service. Or if you want to do it yourself, here are a few things to consider:

  • Clear title: Check if the car is registered to the seller or not registered at all. Fees and penalties can really add up if you need to research and apply for a title.

  • VIN: Make sure the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on the title matches the official VIN tag on the car. If they do not match, it's possible it may have been in a serious accident or be a counterfeit or stolen.

  • Interior: Original is best. Check if the seats, upholstery, badges, radio, dashboard, and emblems are damaged or not factory original. Finding and replacing these can really add up.

  • Exterior: Try to examine the car in natural daylight. Look for the condition of the paint, obvious dents, and panels that are misaligned or mismatched. Major welding marks can be a sign of a clip job — attaching the front or back half of a junked car to a vehicle after it has sustained severe damage.

  • Rust damage: A little can be expected, but if complete sections of floorboards or body panels are rusted or show signs of repair or replacement, you should be very cautious. If a professional did not do the repairs correctly, there's a good chance the rust could return.

  • Test drive: If the car is running and safe and legal to drive, take it out for a spin. It's a good opportunity to check for any serious problems. Listen for anything out of the ordinary, such as noises, squeaks, and clunks. If it feels loose going around corners or over bumps, there may be costly suspension problems.

Maintenance and Care

Finally, your childhood dream car is sitting in your garage and is officially yours. Time to show it off to the world, right? Well, not exactly. After picking up a classic car, it tends to need a little bit of care for the present and consistent care for the future.

To lend a hand, here are five easy classic car tips:

  • Before you take it out, taking it in for a good, strong, handwash is a must. But that's not the only time to take it for a wash. To maintain the perfect look, washing it and keeping it as clean as possible will keep salt, grime and other impurities from becoming permanent throughout the exterior.

  • After handwashing your classic ride, it's time to really give it a shine to show off that custom paint job. And waxing is the best way to really make the paint pop. Done about once every six months should do the trick as well as chrome polish on the chrome trim throughout.

Wash and wax has the exterior shining but that's only half of the battle. When riding around town, showing off the interior to friends, on-lookers and passangers is just as important. That's why protecting the leather and vinyl from sun damage and stains is vital. Simple leather creams, vinyl cleaners and UV blockers can help here.
Having a good looking car is good for anyone looking at it while it's parked but the ride and engine is what really turns heads. With regular oil changes and other fluid changes, your engine should remain in peak condition.
Pulling up to a stop light with a beautiful ride and a loud engine can garner some attention.But once the breaks squeal, it may receive more laughs than oohs and ahhs. That's why it's important to maintain the breaks and pump them whenever possible to keep them as smooth as possible.

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