Here at Garage Dreams, we clearly love classic cars.
From truly old classics through to modern classics (and even instant classics – new vehicles that will almost certainly become collectible and desirable in the future) we think that classic motoring is a fantastic experience.
However, many readers ask:
Is owning a classic car worth it?
In this article we are going to look at the pros and cons of classic car ownership.
For the purposes of this particular discussion, we are looking at older classic cars (anything up to the early 2000s, really) as opposed to any kind of ultra modern classic like the Civic Type R (read our article here on the history and generations of the Honda Civic) or Toyota Yaris GR.
This is really an opinion piece as well; we aren’t leaning too heavily on facts and figures and are instead focusing on our own experiences and beliefs.
We hope you will find it helpful to determine if owning a classic car is worth it for you.
Table of Contents
Positives Of Classic Car Ownership
Here are some of the best reasons to consider investing in a classic car:
- Excitement & fun – Perhaps the most prominent reason why owning a classic car can be worth the investment is because of the fun and excitement that comes with driving your vehicle. Whether you are after a luxury cruiser like a Lexus LS400, or a high-revving sports car like a Honda S2000, you can have a great deal of fun and enjoyment with an older vehicle that appeals to your personal motoring preferences. Older cars can offer a purer, more exhilarating driving experience because you often feel so much more connected to the car due to the more mechanical, simple nature of the vehicle and the relative lack of driver aids and assistance. There is a thrill associated with driving older, more involved cars that you just don’t get with modern ones.
- Anticipation – If your classic is going to be an occasional/weekend driver, then you will get a thrill out of the anticipation of your next drive. This is quite an exciting feeling, and something that is worth a great deal to many classic owners. Some we have spoken to see taking their “pride and joy” out as a highlight of the week.
- Nostalgia – At Garage Dreams, we are big fans of nostalgia. There is nothing wrong with yearning for your youth, or some other period of time that has meaning for you. Classic cars can definitely help you to bring back nostalgia for bygone times. If this is important to you, then it could be a big upside of classic ownership.
- Sense of achievement – This is another upside that you should consider, especially if you are looking to buy something you always wanted when you were younger. There can be a real sense of achievement in acquiring yourself a car that you had always wanted when you were younger and not in the position to afford at the time. In our view, this is one of the most appealing aspects of buying a classic. Every time you see it in your garage or driveway, you can feel proud of what you have achieved.
Negatives Of Classic Car Ownership
It’s not all sunshine and daisies when it comes to buying and running a classic car – here are some of the negatives and downsides that you need to consider.
- Cost of maintenance and repairs – This is perhaps the biggest, most critical factor to consider. Running a classic car has the potential to cost you a lot of money in maintenance and repairs. Even if you spend a lot of time and effort examining various cars to find a good example with solid service history, you will need to factor in money for maintenance and repairs. Any classic you buy is almost certain to require a bit of spending up front (it’s Murphy’s Law that the nanosecond the title switches over to your name, you’re going to have something go wrong – sometimes minor, sometimes major). You will also need to factor in that older cars often require more frequent routine maintenance. Whether you do this yourself or you use a trusted mechanic, the cost of parts and labour can add up fast. Are you in the financial position for this?
- Inferior safety – This is something that is often overlooked by many. Safety is important, especially if you are going to be using your purchase frequently, for commuting, and for transporting your family. Older cars simply are not as safe as new cars. While there are older cars with decent safety (Volvos and Saabs spring to mind, for example) they are simply outclassed by even the most basic of current offerings. You can’t make an old car safer, beyond ensuring it is in good running condition and that you always wear your seatbelt. However, you should consider the implications of using a less safe vehicle on a regular basis.
- Lack of creature comforts – Although there are plenty of comfortable older cars, in general modern vehicles tend to have far more in the “creature comfort” department. From infotainment systems with smartphone connectivity through to superior air conditioning and time/effort-saving features, new cars just tend to have it better than older ones. If you value technology, connectivity and comfort, then a classic may not be the best option (if you are planning on daily driving it).
Mediocre performance – Some classic cars are great performers, even by modern standards (e.g. something like the Mazda RX7, Mitsubishi 3000GT, WRX STI etc). However, many older cars that had solid performance for their time are “outshone” by modern vehicles. If you care about straight line performance, for example, you might find that a modern car performs better than the older vehicles you were looking at. Modern engines are not only more efficient, but generally much more powerful as well.
What Should You Consider Before Buying A Classic Car?
Ask yourself these questions before committing – they are very important to consider.
- Will this classic be a secondary car (i.e. weekend driver) or will it be your only form of transport? An old MX-5/Miata is easy to live with if you have a new Subaru Outback parked up the driveway for your daily driving needs. However, if the Miata is to be your only vehicle, you really do need to consider the practical aspects and implications. It might seem appealing at the time of purchase to accept all the classic car tradeoffs in your daily driver. However, the mystique and “sheen” of this novelty could soon wear off, and you might wish you had purchased something newer. If your classic will only be an occasional-use vehicle, then it is much easier to deal with the negative aspects outlined above,
- Will you do maintenance and repairs yourself or will you need to rely on third parties? Because older cars can have a tendency to go wrong more often, you need to factor in the cost of maintenance and repair. If you can do the work yourself, then you may be able to save a lot of money here. However, many of us are not mechanically-inclined or lack the space/tools/resources to do DIY repairs. In this case, how well placed are you financially to cope with having to pay a mechanic to do the work on your classic? Will this cause you considerable stress and concern?
- What is parts availability like for your potential purchase? Some older cars (and even relatively modern vehicles) are becoming harder and harder to find spare parts for – sometimes to the point of near impossibility. This is something you must factor in. Whatever you are looking to purchase, you should do your homework on the availability of spares and complexity of repairs.
- What will insurance be like? This is an often-overlooked component of classic car ownership. You want to make sure you are getting the right insurance at the right price; oftentimes “normal” insurers aren’t the best placed for looking after the needs and requirements of the classic car owner. Read our guide here to classic car insurance for more information on getting the right option for your needs.
- What will your likely “cost per drive” be? Something to consider if you think you will only use a car very infrequently is your potential cost per drive. Let’s say that you buy a car for $10000, and then in the first year only drive it 20 times (this might sound low, but if you have a busy lifestyle – and based on our experience and feedback we have received from readers – this is not an unreasonable figure). In this case, every time you start the car up and take it for a drive it’s costing you $500, not including fuel, maintenance and insurance! Over time this “cost per drive” figure will average out more favourably, but if you think that having a garage queen car has now downsides, then think about this aspect of the financial impact.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of deciding whether a classic is worth the investment for you is that a lot of what is positive about classic cars is much more “esoteric” than the negative aspects. In other words, the good bits are generally subjective while the bad bits are objective.
Older cars are objectively less safe than newer cars. Older cars require more maintenance and repairs – this is a fact (if you are buying anything remotely exotic at least … don’t fall for the meme that classic Japanese cars require no maintenance and never go wrong, lest you find out the hard way).
However, it’s much harder to put your finger on the positives of classic ownership in a purely objective sense. If you just need a mode of transport to get you from A to B, then go down to your local Toyota dealership and buy the latest hybrid Corolla or Camry (or do the even more prudent thing and buy a certified pre owned vehicle) You’ll get performance that probably embarrasses most classics, greater day-to-day usability, and far better safety and fuel economy.
With that being said …
Conclusion – Is Owning A Classic Car Worth It?
We believe that if you go into classic ownership with the right mindset and financial capability, then owning a classic car is definitely worth it.
While newer cars are generally better in every regard for daily use (comfort, economy/gas mileage, safety, features and tech and so on) there is an undeniable charm and excitement to classic ownership.
The other thing to bear in mind is that you don’t have to buy “ancient” classics either. While many think of classics as being vehicles from the 50s/60s/70s/80s, there are a lot of more modern classics that are fair more suited to daily use if some of the drawbacks above might have put you off.
A vehicle such as a Mitsubishi 3000GT has some modern creature comforts like air conditioning, airbags (on some models) and so on. Realistically, you could use it every day if you wanted and were happy with the poor gas mileage/economy and need for additional maintenance.
Provide you are “well-prepared”, then classic ownership can be a great experience and thoroughly worthwhile. We find that the people who regret it are the people who think that owning an older vehicle will be a total walk in the park, and have an overly-romanticised view of what the ownership process will be like.
Make sure you have read our buyer’s guides beforehand (for any vehicles you might be considering) also get your ducks lined up with classic car insurance as well.
We would love to hear your experience of classic car ownership as well. Was buying a classic worth it for you? Leave a comment below – we appreciate any comments both positive and negative.