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Utilizing Online Sites Like Vendue House and Bring a Trailer To Help Buy Used Cars 

When looking for a used vintage car to buy, there are a few key aspects that any prospective buyer should know. While there are several general factors to look out for, these factors can be different for buying a vintage car in person versus online. For example, in person, a prospective buyer may have to haggle to reach an agreed upon price. Whereas, with online car auction sites like Vendue House or Bring a Trailer, the process of bartering is mostly unnecessary. In addition, the process for buying used vintage cars is completely different than that of new cars.  

While there are similarities, vintage cars often have specific areas of deterioration that new cars simply don’t have. Although it may seem like one needs to be an expert mechanic to buy a vintage car, it is quite the contrary. As long as you’re willing to put in time, the process can be easy for anyone. One of the best ways to go about buying a used vintage car is to make a checklist. This can help to keep the process quick and simplified. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the top things to look for when buying a vintage car.

What to Look For When Buying a Vintage Car: Rust  

Rust comes in at the number one spot on the list of things to look out for. While this may not be common with post 1990s, it was quite common prior. This is due to the widespread use of galvanized steel that took place 30 years or so ago. This is not to say that you won’t find a pre-1990s vintage car without rust, but rather that it was more common during that time period. Although rust may not seem like a big deal, it is one of the most time intensive and cost prohibitive reasons for purchasing a vintage car. If you are going to do it yourself the right way, it will take both welding expertise and a large time commitment. If a shop is going to do it for you, it could turn out to be quite expensive. In addition, small rust spots can often be indicative of a much larger issue with the car. On the other hand, if a car only has a few spots of rust here and there, it isn’t the end of the world. Small spots can often be fixed with fiberglass and bonds (although this is not ideal). 

When looking for rust, there are a few places to check out on the car. On first inspection, prospective owners should check window seals and the seams along the body of the car. These are common places where rust can occur due to the fact that they hold moisture very well. Often times if a car is garaged or covered properly during its life, these places will not have as much rust as if they weren’t. Rust on the seams can also point out the fact that the car may have been left out for a long period of time, or parked near the ocean. While it isn’t a structural issue most of the time, seam rust is definitely something to be wary of.  

The second place that buyers should look is in the trunk and on the floorboard of the car. This involves lifting up the carpets and any insulation to get a good look at what is going on. Often times, rust in the floor can go unnoticed. But, not only is it a safety issue, it can also lead to the need for a full floorpan replacement. Last of all, buyers should take a good look at the underside of the car. If you have access to a lift, use it. If not, this might involve getting on the ground and using a flashlight to create a clear picture. Buyers should look for rust not only on the underside of the car, but on the frame and any mechanical parts. While rust is common underneath vintage cars, the extent of it will determine whether or not it is worth buying.  

What to Look For When Buying a Vintage Car: Condition and Aesthetics  

This is usually the first step when buying a used car, it can often be overlooked. When checking out a used car to buy, buyers should give the car a complete walk-around; scrutinizing all of the areas of the car. On the outside, buyers should look at the paint condition, tire-life, any physical damage, panel alignment, and any indication that the car may have been in an accident. If it passes, the next step is to take a look inside the car. Buyers should look for the condition of the seats and trim, whether or not the electrical systems are functioning (brakes, turn signals, reverse lights), and if any pieces are missing. While seats and trim can be easily replaced, electrical can be a much more in-depth task. This specifically applies to any European cars that were produced from the 60s and on (I’m talking about you MG and Triumph).  

If all looks good on this front, buyers can move on to the engine bay. Before going in depth, buyers should feel if the engine is warm. This can be indicative of the seller starting the car prior to your arrival. If you can, make sure to ask the seller not to start the car until you get there. This is to make sure the engine fires up on the first start or if it has issues. If all is good, it’s time to take a look at the engine bay. If you’re not a mechanic, you’ll probably have a tougher time identifying parts within it, but there are some basics to check out. Aesthetically, buyers should look at the condition of the engine. Is it clean and are all the parts there? Take a good look around with a flashlight and look for leaks of any kind. If it’s black its oil which is never a good sign, If its green, it’s usually coolant, which is also not the best sign. One thing to keep in mind is that a suspiciously clean engine can be cause for skepticism regarding other issues.  

What to Look For When Buying a Vintage Car: The Test Drive  

If all looks good with the rest of the car, now it’s time for the test drive. While test driving a car is a great way to see the overall condition, make sure you’re serious about purchasing the car before doing so. The first step of the test drive is to get in the car and turn the key to the accessory position. Buyers should look at the various gauges and instruments on the car to see if they are functioning. If not, make sure to ask questions about which ones work and which don’t. Gauges can be easy to replace on most cars, so don’t let a non-functioning one deter you from the car. If all the lights and instruments work, you’re clear to start the car. After starting, buyers should step out and listen for any sounds that aren’t right. This could be everything from buzzing to clicking and anything in between. These can be symptoms of a part not functioning properly on the vehicle. While it may not be a big deal, try to find out where it is coming from to determine if the car is safe to test drive.  

If all checks out, you’re ready to go. The most important step with test driving a car is to first, test the brakes. Start by letting go of the brake and moving slowly. Now, get a feel for the brakes and whether or not they’re in good shape. If they feel like they’re stopping the car, you’re good to start driving. Once driving, get a feel for the transmission. If it is a manual car, how does it shift? Are there any grinding noises? Does the clutch have life in it? It it’s an automatic car, do the shifts feel smooth? In both cases, buyers should try both low and higher speeds to get a good feel of the engine and transmission. This could involve pulling onto the freeway for a short period of time.  

Next, get a feel for the steering. See if the wheels turn when the steering wheel moves, and how much play there is between the two. Once all these are done, buyers should put the car through a mild stress test. For vintage cars, you should definitely be careful with this one. Never push a car past its limit, but you should get a good feel for whether it can accelerate and decelerate well. All of these tactics will help buyers to create a solid picture of what the car looks like from a mechanical perspective.  

While this list is definitely not the only guideline to use, it is a good place to start. Buying used vintage cars may seem like a task reserved only for the experienced, but anyone can do it. With the basic factors of what to look for in mind, buyers can make a checklist to bring with them when checking out a vintage car. If the car passes all these steps, it may be time to make an offer.