How to Figure Out the Value of a Classic Car

Determining the value of a classic car will require a different process than determining the value of a typical car. This is because classic cars gain their value based on a different set of criteria. For example, while altering a normal car or putting in new features will increase it’s value, classic cars should be restored with original parts in order to gain value.

One reason it’s important to know the real value of a classic car is because you don’t want to pay too much for a classic car that isn’t worth what it is listed at, or you may want to invest in collecting classic cars and you don’t want to overpay for your investment.

Without a specialized knowledge of classic cars, you will need to follow several steps in order to determine the value of whichever class vehicle you’re evaluating. Follow the easy guidelines below in order to accurately determine a classic car value.

Part 1 of 3: Check online for classic car value

The first thing you should do is check the listing for the value of your classic car or the classic car that you’re interested in purchasing. This can be done online or with an official price guide.

Step 1: Research the value of the car. Look up websites online that will give you the value of the classic car you’re trying to price.

NADA is considered the industry authority on valuing classic cars and it is a wonderful site for getting a general idea of the worth of your classic car.

  • Select the MAKE of your vehicle from the dropdown menu
  • Choose the year of the vehicle from the dropdown menu
  • Enter your zip code into the Zip Code field
  • Click on Go
nada guide for classic car
Image: NADA Guides
  • Tip: The search results should give you a price range for your classic car in the area that you live. However, remember that there are many conditions which can impact the value of your car, especially the condition of the car in question.

Step 2: Read the official price guide. Check the official price guide for the value of your classic car. NADA’s guidebook is a great place to start and can be found here.

The value listed in the guide will help give you an idea of how much a particular classic car is selling for at that time.

Part 2 of 3: Evaluate the car

No two cars are the same, so just knowing the year, make, and model of a vehicle won’t give you an accurate valuation of your classic car. Since each car has been maintain differently, had replacement parts, and has been driven a different distance, each car will be in its own unique condition. Looking over the car and taking notes about what you find is a great way to learn the details about the condition it is in.

car rating  chart

Step 1: Use a rating system. Using a standardized condition rating system can be extremely helpful when evaluating the condition of a classic car.

Above is standard list of ratings you can give a classic car after inspecting it based on the Chet Krause rating system which has been adopted as the standard in the class car industry.

autocheck history report
Image: AutoCheck

Step 2: Request paperwork for the vehicle. You should ask for the VIN so that you can look up the history of the vehicle on a site like www.edmunds.com using their VIN Check.

Check for official receipts of regular maintenance of fluids like oil changes and part repairs.

Step 3: Make sure that the engine runs. Start the car and listen for any unusual noise coming from the engine or smoke coming from the exhaust.

When you press down on the accelerator, note if the engine revs up smoothly or not. Be wary of any hesitation or delay in throttle response.

Step 4: Take the car for a test drive. Be sure to drive it enough so that you can get a feel for how the car brakes, turns, accelerates, and idles. Use the turn signals and put on the seatbelts to make them work. Take note of the following:

  • Is the speedometer and odometer working?
  • Are there any unusual noises coming from the vehicle?
  • Is the steering smooth?
  • Do the gears shift smoothly?

  • Tip: Any usual performance by the car should alert you that the car may need repairs, which decreases the value of the vehicle. If you need help, you can have a certified technician come and do a pre-purchase inspection on your car.

man inspecting car holding a clipboard

Step 5: Check the exterior of the vehicle. You will want to make sure that the exterior of the vehicle meets your standards. Some things to specifically look for are:

  • Scratches, dents, rust, worn chrome, or obvious bodywork repair
  • Check that all of the lights work
  • Inspect the condition of the tires for abnormal wear and make sure they match
  • Open and close the trunk to make sure it works
  • Maneuver the mirrors
  • Inspect the paint job for any discoloration or mismatched paint

  • Tip: Any obvious alterations or part replacements that aren’t from the original manufacturer will decrease the value of the classic car.

Step 6: Check the interior. It is also important to inspect the interior. You can look specifically for:

  • Wear and tear on seats, floors or mats
  • Seatbelts
  • Turn on/off the AC/Heater
  • Check the glove box/light in the glovebox
  • Sunvisors
  • Locks, door handles
  • Check the windshield wipers

Step 7: Check under the hood. Even if you’re not a professional mechanic, you can look for the following clues that will signal you that there’s a problem with the engine.

Release the hood with the lever beneath the steering wheel that has an icon of the car or the word “Hood” on it. You should look for the following:

  • Oil leaks
  • Oil quality
  • Coolant leaks
  • Corrosion
  • Damaged hoses

Remove the dipstick from the engine and check the quality of the oil by looking at the color of the oil on the dipstick. The dipstick will normally have a curved loop that you can use to pull the dipstick out. If the oil looks any color other than a golden, light brown, there may be trouble with the engine.

Look for any other liquid leaking from the engine. This may signal that a hose is damaged or there is some other type of engine problem.

After reviewing the car, make sure that you review your notes and speak to a professional or the owner if you have further questions about the condition of the vehicle.

Part 3 of 3: Assess the authenticity

A classic car with all of the authentic parts and paint will have a high value whereas a classic car with mismatched paint or newer replacements parts will be worth less. Check the authenticity of the vehicle to help you determine it’s value.

Step 1: Request documentation. Ask the owner for any documentation that will prove where the car was manufactured.

Ask about previous owners and whether any repairs were done. If there were repairs, ask for documentation that proves authentic parts were used during repair.

Step 2 Consider having the vehicle appraised: You can also hire a professional automobile appraiser to come out and evaluate the authenticity and condition of the car.

This will typically cost between $100 - $200, but it may be worth it to get an accurate evaluation.

After gathering all of this information, you should have a good idea of the value of the classic car in question. Of course, for some, there may be sentimental value to a classic car for nostalgic reasons. The market value is determined by the condition, usability, and authenticity of the vehicle, but its emotional value may be much higher depending on the owner’s relationship to the car.

If you need help evaluating the car, you can have a pre-purchase car inspection done by one of our professional mechanics at YourMechanic. They will be able to give you a professional opinion on the quality and condition of any vehicle and help you determine whether there are any problems with the car that aren’t immediately apparent.


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