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Problems to Look for When Buying a Vintage Car

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Problems To Look For When Buying A Vintage Car

So you know where to look to find that vintage car you've always wanted. Then you manage to pin down what you think could be 'the one'. You've arranged a viewing and are taking a trusted friend along for a second opinion - but what is it exactly that you're on the lookout for?

Hopefully you will have stumbled upon an honest advertisement, well-balanced in that it describes all the best features of the car, as well as any past or present problems that may or may not have been rectified. However, there are a few unscrupulous souls out there, and as such you should always retain a degree of caution, and know how to check if the car really is as fantastic as the ad says it is. Vintage cars will come in a variety of guises, from old rust buckets to meticulously kept mint condition specimens. What sort of project you are willing to take on is of course completely your choice, but for the purposes of this article, it is assumed that your chosen vintage car is a seemingly well-restored model.

Firstly, before you go to the viewing, for a price you can obtain what is known as a Car Data Check. There is an electronic database that retains information about all registered vehicles in the UK. It can provide you with a current market valuation as well as telling you a few things about the car's history, such as whether it has ever been reported as stolen, or has previously been written-off in a smash. If ever this is a problem, generally it does not tend to occur with vintage cars.

The first indication of how well kept the vehicle is, is where it is when you go to view it. Has it been parked up inside a dry garage, store or workshop, or has it been left out in the elements? If it is outside, has it been covered? Weather will usually play a big factor in accelerating any problems such as rust and corrosion.

Bodywork On The Vintage Car

Are the panels gappy on the vintage car and do they overlap at all? This could be symptomatic of either an accident or a 'cut'n'shut' operation, whereby the car is essentially made up from components taken from other cars. This may not be particularly safe and usually has the air of a 'bodge job'. Unless the current owner has a VERY good (and backed up) explanation for this, avoid like the plague! It is also worth checking over other areas of the bodywork such as around the sills and the edges of the car doors, around the bonnet and inside the boot and spare wheel housing if applicable to your model, as well as around headlights and wheel arches. These are the places in the bodywork that can easily succumb to rust and corrosion, and are usually a great indicator for the vintage car's overall condition. Floor panels are also prone to rust and rot, so if you can access the panels themselves, even better.

If the car has undergone a paint job, it is worth taking the time to check that all the paintwork is even in colour and texture. Bubbling paintwork is an indication of underlying rust problems, and should be taken seriously. Any paint flaws tend to show up more in artificial light, so if you are at all concerned you can always arrange another viewing in the evening.

The Engine In Your Vintage Car

Once you have inspected the body, it's time to check the state of the engine. If the seller is a little cunning, he may have already given the motor a cursory start before your arrival. Starting a cold motor will reveal any gremlins, so to check that the car hasn't already been run, you can subtly feel the temperature of the bonnet around the engine.

When the engine is started, it is vital that you listen out for any persistent or loud knocking, rumbling or overtly unusual trembling around the engine block and underneath the car, and question the owner accordingly! Also take note at the exhaust emissions - dark blue or black smoke can be an indication that some engine components are worn out and will need replacing, effectively bringing the price of the car down. Likewise you should check that all engine components do not seem tired, worn or cracked, so a thorough under-bonnet check is always in order.

Driving The Vintage Car

You should always take the car out for a spin, and if you are not able to drive, listen out very carefully and note the way that the owner is steering, making gear changes, and braking. Does any particular action appear to be too laborious, or causing the car to knock, squeal or hiss when driving? Keep an eye on how well the instrument panels are performing, as rewiring a vintage car behind the instrument panel is not a job to be scoffed at!

You should never dive in and buy a car straight away, however enthusiastic you feel. Take yourself away and consider the all the options - how much repair or restoration work you think needs doing, how this will affect the asking price, how much paperwork and documented history the vintage car has. Consider your trusted friend's second opinion seriously. Once you're happy you've exhausted all the questions and queries surrounding the vehicle, only then it is time to decide on making your offer.

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