Aaron Widmar
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How to Ensure That Used Classic Car You’re Buying Isn’t a Rip-Off

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7 things to check so you're not getting scammed on a classic car purchase

1970 Lotus Europa yellow classic car exterior
Pictured: 1970 Lotus Europa
Photo: The News Wheel

You’ve saved up money and done your research. You’re finally ready to buy that vintage car you’ve always dreamed of owning. Just because you’re ready to make ownership a reality, though, doesn’t mean you should buy the first Pontiac GTO you come across. Like any used car, classic models can be money pits, too. Avoid financial pitfalls and scams when buying a used classic car by looking for these telltale signs.

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Examine the exterior

Take the car outdoors under full, natural sunlight to give the body a thorough inspection. Check for any signs of rust by the wheel wells, rocker panels, or undercarriage. Also, look for bubbles of rust forming under the paint or off-colored patches of rust that have been masked by touch-up paint.

Match the VIN

Did you know that the engine, transmission, and rear axle all have a portion of the VIN number stamped on them? This lets you easily verify that the main components of the vehicle are original. Make sure these numbers match the VIN on the dashboard and door jamb plaques. You should also run the VIN through a vehicle history report system and check the title history and current owner.

Check the odometer

Lower mileage cars (under 50,000 miles) should show less interior wear. If the odometer states a low number, but the carpets, headliner, gear shift, and radio buttons show signs of substantial usage, there’s a chance that the odometer has been illegally rolled back.

Look for signs of foul play

Welding lines/marks, mismatched metals or color shades, crooked components, and out-of-place paint could all be signs of clip jobs. That’s when a previous owner took parts from another car and fused them onto this classic car, making the final product inauthentic.

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Test-drive the car

Driving the car around town could reveal some internal issues that the car that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. Listen for unusual sounds and feel if the car is handling improperly. If the current owner refuses to let you take the car for a test drive, even with them riding along, you should be suspicious.

Make sure the price reflects the value of the car

Not all old cars are necessarily classics, and just because the model is a classic doesn’t mean its price should automatically be really high. Do your research beforehand to know what a reasonable price is on the model you’re buying, taking condition, mileage, and trim level into consideration.

Get a professional opinion

Just because you’ve thoroughly researched this model and think about it constantly doesn’t necessarily mean you have the same critical eye that a mechanic or appraiser would. Your enthusiasm for buying your dream car might compel you to overlook warning signs. Look for someone in your neighborhood who’s reputable and familiar with the nuances of classic cars.

Buying a vintage vehicle can be a dream come true, but being duped into buying a phony can quickly turn into a nightmare.