Last month we discussed the how to (hey you got an early start on the how to issue) on buying a used classic car. Now that you have one located it is time to inspect the car. First step forget everything that everyone has ever told you about what ; look for when buying a used car. These tips do not apply to a classic.
Rule 1: Know what the car is worth.
If you're buying a car, and have no reasonable idea of its market value it's like fishing in a boat with hole in the bottom; you're sure to sink before you reel in the big one. If you're looking for one of our Future Classics you already have an idea of the market value. If you desires run else where then one of the best sources of information about a cars worth is Old Cars Price Guide. This monthly magazine lists nearly every models value in a price scale from 1- being a non driven classic to 6 being useful only for parts. Pick up this guide and know the car's value scale before you go to view the car.
Though many sellers will go by the Old car Price Guide, do not judge a car by their scale. Sellers tend to up their cars value. Most restored cars that are for sale are in a number 3 condition. And if it is driven it is not a number 1, no matter how fine the car is. Very few number 1 cars exchange hands, and when they do it is for large sums of money.
Rule 2: It Doesn't Matter if Runs.
Hot rods can cause a problem. This flame job would have to be removed.
If there is one big difference between buying a used car and a classic car, it is the running condition of the car. An engine that is missing and smoking like it about to turn wheels up from lung cancer may cause you to look else where when buying a used car, but should be used as a bargaining tool when buying a classic car. In fact, when you arrive the last thing you should check is the running condition of the car.
Rule 3 Body Condition
Rust is the biggest concern in buying a classic car. A classic car is at least 25 years old. That will mean that unless the car has been kept sheltered all it's life, rust will most likely be some where on the car. There are three types, Surface rust, fixable rust and body rot. Surface rust is the most common and easiest to fix. The rust as the name implies is limited to the surface; it may be eating it away under the paint, causing it to bubble up, but has yet to damage the metal surface. It can be easily sanded away before the metal is treated to remove it. When the metal is pressed on the surface rust will not give way.
Fixable rust is rust that is limited to a spot on the body. Some model like 1968-1970 Dodge Chargers are more acceptable to this type of rust in areas like the rear window and rear quarter panels, due to water run off. Fixable rust may have started as a damaged area, and has eaten through the metal. However, the surrounding metal is strong and able to support repairs.
Body rot is the worst of the lot. The metal has decayed to the point that it is deteriorating and will easily crumble when touched. The surrounding metal is also weak and will not support repair, and will require a replacement of a panel. If body rot is located in areas like fenders or doors you can use this a bargaining tool. However, if the body rot is located in the quarter panels, you may want to look else where or use it as a major deduction from the price as replacing quarter panels are more difficult and expensive than replacing fenders. If the body rot is in the floor pans, unless the car is extremely rare, (like a 1969 Trans Am) it would be wise to reject this car. Anyone who has ever replaced floor pans knows what kind of pain this is. Note that some cars like the 1970 Hemi Barracuda used special fenders and quarter panels with larger inner wheel wells which can add to the repair cost. So keep that in mind when looking at these cars.
Rule 4: Condition of Interior:
If your looking at a generic model like a Camaro, Mustang or B-body 1968-1974 Mopar, then interior trim condition is not that much of a concern, as replacement parts are easily found. But if you're one of those who go off the beaten trail, and want to be restoring a 1977 T-bird, then pay close attention to the trim. Reproduction covers for this type of model will have to be specially made, if you can find the material. Over all factors to watch for in the interior is dash pad condition, especially with cars that are off the beaten trail. Replacement dash pads are impossible to find, same goes for headliners.
Avoid cars with no interior as interior trim can be hard to find.
Also check the condition of the seat springs, look for sagging and broken springs, and broken seat backs, missing headrests, and seat belts. Missing seat belts are concerns even in cars like Camaros and Mustangs as seat belts were date coded. Little missing items like these are surefire headaches waiting to build. Another thing to watch is the rear shelf, because so many 1960-70's cars were butchered to installed rear seat speakers. Watch for cracks in the steering wheel, or that it has been replaced with a custom unit. A custom billet wheel that cost two-hundred bucks may be cool to look at but ruins the interior of a restoration, and some wheels may be hard to find. Get in the car and fire it up, and make sure the gauges work. Tachometers and especially clocks have a tendency to fail as they get older. Give the interior a final inspection looking for items such as missing arm rests and trim, this especially true for models where there is not a ready supply of reproduction parts. Use these missing items to deduct from the price.
Rule 5: Wheels
Four flat tires with the correct Ralley wheels-No big deal. Four brand new tries mounted on chrome wheels -Big mistake. It is better to have to put wheels on the car to get it home and have the correct wheels , then it is to have the incorrect wheels and good tires. Wheels are date coded and some wheels like the 15x6 inch units on the 1967 Camaro can be very hard to locate. If the car you are looking at does not have the correct wheels ask the owner of their whereabouts, they may have forgotten that they stored them away, and would be willing to sell them, or even let them go with the car. Also, check for missing wheel rim and hub caps or wheels covers. Wheel covers are very hard to locate.
Rule: 6 The Test Drive
There are two rules of thought on this. Some feel that to fully evaluate a car's condition you must take it on a test drive. Others (like my self) are not concerned if the car drives. I usually get in, fire it up, and see if it will go forward and backward, and that is the only test drive I am concerned with. You can look under the car and see if there is frame damage, which is a better indication then a test drive. If you are buying a car to restore, what do you care if the tie-rods are shot, they are re going to get replaced anyway.
Rule 7: Look at the VIN
I remember a white 1972 Trans Am sitting on the side of the road for sale. It stayed there for over a month. It looked straight, paint was good interior was fair. What was wrong? The VIN looked as if had been sawed in half to make it appear to be a true Trans Am (by the way the VIN said it was a 1973 model). This one I ran from. You should do the same. No matter how good the buy seems or the condition of the car, if the VIN seems altered, doesn't match the one on the title, or in some way makes you uncomfortable forget the car. There is no car worth the trouble of a phony VIN plate. Unless you would like to see your pride and joy being hauled away by the police when you find that your car is stolen. Be sure of the VIN, it usually the first item I check.