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    What to consider when buying a classic car


    Buying a classic car for the first time, or even the tenth, can be a huge step into the unknown. One minute you’re browsing the classifieds on a car club forum, the next you’ve driven 150 miles and you’re stood on a stranger’s driveway by the object of your affection, wondering whether that noise should be worrying you or not.

    You could be new to the classic car world, or a seasoned collector looking for something you’ve never had before. Either way, knowing what to look for – the potential pitfalls or challenges – is essential when considering a new purchase.

    Our friends at SLSHOP, who specialise in restoration, servicing and sales of classic Mercedes models, have put together some thoughts for us to share on what to consider when buying a classic car.


    Before you go anywhere…

    Our main advice is to take your time. The digital sphere has enhanced our ability to buy classic cars quickly and impulsively within a few clicks. These digital channels include traditional classifieds and online auction sites, the latter of which make it much harder to do due diligence. We strongly encourage prospective classic car buyers to research and inspect a vehicle before buying, and to get expert advice along the way.


    Classic Mercedes classic car buying advice

    Pre-purchase considerations for classic cars

    The first question we’d always suggest asking yourself is, what do you intend to do with the car? Is it for investment purposes, or for regular use? The SLSHOP motto is ‘drive more, see more, do more’ – we love it when a classic car owner wants to put miles on and enjoy driving their classic! But if you’re buying for investment purposes, you might not be planning to drive it much at all.

    Your plans for the car will probably dramatically alter your initial budget and the funds you need to maintain the vehicle throughout ownership. For both collectors and ‘drivers’, you’ll need to ensure that you have access to a specialist who can regularly service and support you with your vehicle.

    Beyond this, it’s worth thinking about:

    1. Have you considered costs to insure, service and maintain the vehicle if you go ahead with investing? Are you going to be living in future low emissions/clean air zone cities? All of this could affect your choice.
    2. Do you have adequate storage for the vehicle that will protect its structural, mechanical, and cosmetic state?
    3. Do you have time to view the vehicle in person, if you’re currently viewing a car online?
    4. Do you know what to inspect when viewing a classic car? Have you understood the likely issues that you need to look out for, and is there someone you can take with you to help with this?


    Questions to ask when viewing a classic vehicle

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    With a classic, there’s often more to ask when you meet the seller. With any car you want a run-down of its driving and service history, but with a classic you often need to delve deeper. Here are some questions to ask and things to check when viewing a vehicle for the first time.

    Vehicle history

    Find out from the current owner why they are selling the car, how long they’ve owned it, what they’ve used the vehicle for and where it has been stored. All of this can help you to build a picture of the car’s recent history and its likely condition.

    You’ll also want to ask the owner what they know about the vehicle’s longer-term history. Do they know who owned it before them, and why they sold it? Have they had to do a lot of work on the car themselves since purchase?

    Service history

    When was the vehicle last serviced and by whom? What is the service history like? Ask to see all the paperwork, and take your time. Don’t let the seller rush you while you consider the information available.

    Have they continued to MOT the car even if it’s exempt? This is a sign that the owner cares about the safety and integrity of the vehicle.

    Check the invoices and ask what replacement parts have been used – are they high-quality, or cheap replacements?

    Inspecting a classic car you’re thinking of buying

    Once you’ve satisfied yourself on the history front, or perhaps beforehand, you’ll want to take a good look at the car itself. We recommend taking a mechanic with you to view the vehicle, or a friend who knows their way around a car. Someone who has an eye for these things might spot things you wouldn’t!

    When inspecting and test-driving the car, again take your time and be thorough. There’s plenty to look for.

    • Look for unequal panel gaps – run your finger down the door gaps to make sure they are true.
    • Inspect the line of the vehicle – are the doors to low compared to the front or rear quarter panels? Is the boot unaligned to the rest of the car?
    • Are there patches of oil?
    • Can you see corrosion in the arches, boot, spare wheel well? Do the windows close correctly? Are seals intact?
    • Touch the bonnet to ensure the car hasn’t been warmed up. Ask to start the vehicle from cold. Is there smoke from the exhaust?
    • Can you see the VIN? Do the numbers match the other identification numbers around the vehicle? These are usually found on the engine and other body parts, but the location will depend on the vehicle. Always ensure the engine matches other elements when looking for an investment.
    • On a test drive, try and listen for unusual ticking or banging sounds.

    Classic Mercedes content illustration

    Pitfalls in the buying process

    The main pitfall revolves around falling in love with a vehicle. Don’t show your interest and remember that there will always be an alternative opportunity. You don’t want to be pressured into making the purchase, and sellers will often suggest there is more interest in a vehicle than there actually is.

    Beyond this, remind yourself of what you are buying – a classic car will depend on you for care and attention. Is this car one you know you can do this for, or is it going to be an expensive garage queen that never quite gets finished?

    We hate to say it, but expect disappointment. Not every car you view will be a good buy, but it’s worth taking the time to find the right one for you.

    Finally, don’t overlook mechanical or cosmetic issues as these could be costly surprises if not considered before purchasing. Engine or corrosion issues will require a significant amount of money to rectify, so try to have an idea of what you need to – and can – invest to get the car to where you want it to be.

    A parting thought

    While there’s a lot to consider, the main thing is ensuring you’re going to really enjoy your classic and everything that comes with it. Avoiding problems that will cause you grief is important, but so is taking joy in your purchase. Join a club, meet other classic owners, plan some drives. Life is short – put miles on it!


    We’d love to hear from you about your experience of buying classic cars, and what advice you’d offer to others. If you’d like to share this with us for future articles along these lines, just send us a message below.