A Buyers Guide to Finding the Right Classic Cars For Sale

Some cars are like fine wines, they appreciate with age and become more desirable to own as time goes on.  However, as cars get older so too does the increased risk of potential pitfalls like mechanical problems, bodged repairs, spurious replacement parts and the evil of all evils – RUST!

Naturally you want your classic car experience to be a breeze, fun and full of appreciative glances from passers-by on your new pride and joy.  So to stand the best chance of this happening without making friends with the breakdown man, just follow our simple buyers guide to obtaining the best classic car for you.


So, what classic car should I buy?

We all know people buy modern cars for many different reasons, for example, some people look for practical cars, some look for sporty, whist others may look for ecologically friendly models.  These choices tell the world what’s important to you and are a little window into your personality (whether we admit it or not).  So choosing to buy a classic car is a personal journey and makes even more of a personal statement about you.

So with this in mind, think about the things that are important to you.  What marquees and models are you most attracted to; what era of classic car do you favour the most; do you want a car either you or your family previously have owned; coupe or convertible; budget range – the questions are endless.  However, to make sense of it all simply jot down answers to these questions and other areas to come to mind and then start doing some research.  A good place to start is by buing some classic car magazines to read and see what grabs your attention.


I know what car I want!

Great – so you know what classic car you want.  Now comes the difficult but exciting bit – finding the right classic car for you.  Simply follow these few steps to ensure you get the best car you can:

1. Read up all about the car/s you are interested in:

  • Find back copies of magazines with full and in-depth reports
  • Search on the Internet for forums / communities dedicated to the marquee/model
  • Contact owners of the cars to get real life experiences

2. See real life examples:

  • Find out dates of local classic car shows / rallies
  • Go along and meet the owners and get to know the community

3. Finding the car:

  • Search the Internet,e.g. here at Trade Classics
  • Look in magazine classifieds
  • Ask the your local classic car club if they know of any for sale

4. Produce a shortlist:

  • Draw up a shortlist of interesting cars for sale
  • Call or visit the owners to see the cars in real life and remember the golden rule – don’t buy the first one you see!
  • Compare the cars you see on condition, price and history


Doing the Deal

So you’ve found the car/s of most interest to you – next you have to make sure you’re going to buy a good example.  So it’s important you check the following:

1. Car Condition

  • Panel fits (do the gaps look right and original)
  • Paint (look for signs of respray / accident damage)

2. Mechanical Checks:

  • Make sure the car starts from cold the first time
  • Listen for rattles when on tick over and stationary – if it goes after depressing the clutch then it could be a worn clutch bearing
  • Check for signs of rough or lumpy running
  • If the car has an oil pressure gauge then check for good pressure when hot
  • Make sure every gear can be selected from cold (stationary)
  • The clutch bites half way up or lower (high clutch travel could be a sign of a worn clutch)
  • Put the handbrake on and try to move off in 2nd gear (check clutch doesn’t slip)
  • All electrical items work correctly
  • Action a road test and check the following:
  • Car pulls up straight when hard breaking
  • Car keeps a straight line on a straight road (no pulling to either side)
  • No mechanical knocks or rattles (try going over rough road / speed bumps to check)
  • Car pulls well in every gear
  • No clunks or knocks when you press / depress the accelerator
  • Air con is cold when engine is at operating temperature

3. Classic Car Authenticity and History

  • VIN and engine numbers (do they match the logbook)
  • HPI (is it on a register or any loans outstanding)
  • Service history available and matches the car (dates / mileage / stamps look genuine)
  • Look up the MOT history on DVLA’s website and check mileage (you can see the last few years)
  • Check the colour of the car matches the V5 logbook
  • Only meet the owner at the car’s registered address
  • Does the car match the mileage – this is a difficult one to spot on a classic car but you should get a feel for it with the more cars you see and the mileages on them.  Look at the interior condition, steering wheel wear, driver’s seat bolsters etc.
  • Check the odometer mileage figures are all in line and perfect condition
  • Check the odometer increases correctly on a test drive
  • Try to speak to the previous owner on the logbook (a name / address on a Google search is always a good idea)

4. Verification

So you’ve done all you can and are happy with your chosen car – as a final step and precaution (especially if it’s an expensive car) ask a car expert for their opinion.  You may know a classic car enthusiast that can help or you can use associations like the RAC for independent and impartial advice.

5. Successful Negotiation

So you’ve done your homework and are happy with the car/s so you’re ready to negotiate.  Just follow these simple steps to buy the right car at the right price:

  • Ask the seller what their lowest price is (opening negotiation)
  • Check this price against other similar cars
  • If other cars are cheaper then include them in the negotiations and ask if the seller will match
  • If you can’t negotiate an agreed price in one meeting then don’t worry – say thank you and that you’ll think about it.  It’s always good to come away and cool off to think it through.  Walking away is the biggest secret to successful negotiations.
  • Call the seller in a day or two to let them know either way if you are still interested.  You can agree the last price on this call, or state a final price you are willing to pay.


Good luck and remember to drop us a note here at Trade Classics on your buying experience – we’ll post the most interesting ones on our site 🙂

Emma Jones


This article was written and published by Emma Jones.  Emma works for Trade Classics as an in-house journalist and copywriter and has many years’ experience in the classic car sector.  Why not write a reply on this article below – she’d love to hear your thoughts on her thoughts!