How Much Is Your Classic Car Worth?

To accurately find out how much a collectible car, truck or motorcycle is worth in value, there are many important factors to consider. Everything from the retail pricing of the classic car to the provenance must be considered even if you are only getting a quote for classic car insurance. Other important factors to consider include the overall condition of the vehicle and the classification of the car.

Before we get started, let's talk about some of the important terms you'll need to know in order to appropriately value a classic car, whether you're buying a classic car or you're selling a car that you own.

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Important Terms to Know

The first thing to discuss when finding out how much your antique car is worth is the definition of the word value. For most people, value can be defined as "the monetary worth or marketable cost of an object." However, there are plenty of other factors that come into play when estimating the value of a classic or modified car. Each of these factors can affect the cost and coverage of your collectible car insurance, so it's important car owners understand them.

Relative worth describes the factors that make a vehicle more or less valuable to an individual, whether that's a retail customer buyer or a seller. Relative worth can include anything from the memories you share with the vehicle to the history of the car, including the current financial state of the buyer and the seller. These things may be very important to one person but meaningless to another; that's why it's relative worth. However, the relative worth may lead an individual to believe a used car is worth more than it actually is.

Another important term you'll need to learn, to value your classic car, is market value. The market value of a vintage car is the average estimated cost a typical interested buyer would pay for a used car and what a typical seller would accept in an open and competitive market. Saleability is defined as the ease with which a new or used car may be sold. When a car, motorcycle or truck is suitable for sale, it is considered salable.

There are various ways to determine the market value or saleability of a collectible vehicle. For example, the matching numbers of a used car include the numbers on an engine, chassis, transmission, and other significant components of a vehicle. When these numbers are all the same as when the vehicle was built, they can impact its value. This is particularly important for a modified car, where the parts may not have matching numbers.

Where market value and relative worth combine is in determining the provenance of a vehicle. Provenance generally means "place of origin", but the definition is a bit different in the world of classic car insurance. In this case, provenance refers to the documented history that supports any claims made about the car, its accomplishments, or ownership. Provenance is important for determining a collector vehicle's worth, and can contribute to the relative worth of a vintage car; for example, a used car may have belonged to a notable person or have been involved in a historic event, either of which could affect the value of the antique car. When assessing the value of your classic car, it's important to consider appropriate insurance coverage that reflects its true worth. Stated Value Insurance is a valuable option to explore. With stated value insurance, you can establish the value of your classic car upfront, ensuring that you receive the agreed-upon amount in case of a covered loss.

Now that we know some of the important terms used during the process of valuing your classic car, we can get started!

Throughout this article, you'll learn how to value a classic car in a series of three steps. We'll also provide you with information about where to consult for classic car insurance advice and we'll discuss several of the possible hurdles you may run into while determining the value of your used car.

What Impacts Antique and Classic Car Values?

The best way to value an antique or modified car involves following three simple steps. These steps are classification, condition, and comparables.

During the first step of classification, you must classify the vehicle, taking the following into consideration:

  • What is the car, exactly? What is the make, model, and year?
  • Does it have the proper markings and components?
  • During the second step of condition, you need to determine the condition of the car or motorcycle:
  • What physical state is the car in?
  • How is the cosmetic appearance?
  • How well does the vehicle operate mechanically?
  • Is your vintage car historically accurate (and if not, are the changes meaningful to the value)?
  • The third step involves scoping out comparable vehicles:
  • Which similar models have sold in recent months?
  • How much did similar models sell for?

Whether you're the buyer or the seller of a classic car, it's important to know the classification, condition, and comparables of the collectible car you are pursuing.

Step One: Classifying a Collectible Car

It may seem reasonable to list the make, model, and year of a vintage car and expect that it should sell at the same value as other cars of the same make, model, and year, but many other factors must come into play. This is where classification comes in.

As part of due diligence for the buyer, classifying a collectible car is meant to protect a buyer from purchasing something that is overpriced or even misrepresented. While it is fairly easy for car collectors to identify many different types of antique cars, it becomes a bit more difficult to classify limited production, one-off or modified cars. It may be difficult to tell whether or not a collectible car is truly authentic or a clone.

Muscle cars, race cars, and larger classic cars must be accurately identified since these popular collector's items and are more likely to attract replicas. In order to get your money's worth and ensure you're paying for an authentic classic car, it's important to decide whether or not the car you are pursuing is in fact the real deal and not a clone or a fake.

When you're purchasing an authentic antique car, you want to make sure that it is actually the same automobile that the seller is making it out to be. For example, if you are selling a Jaguar XJR and representing that it is the same car raced on the track by Bob Tullius in the 1980's, then it really needs to be that exact original vehicle, not one of his backup cars and not something that was constructed to match that car's configuration from scavenged parts.

Classifying a car is so much more than spotting a fake (or 'tribute'). As a buyer, you should be able to identify the model and equipment of the car -- is it supercharged or not? Is the collectible car a rare model with a bigger engine and synchronized transmission? These may seem like minor details to someone who is outside of the car hobby, but they will impact how much you pay.

Many cars may appear to be identical when they're side by side, but looking under the hood is just as important! To properly classify a vintage car, you or a marque expert should confirm several things, including the major components of the car, the numbers (including the VIN), documentation and provenance of a vehicle.

Firstly, confirm that the major components are in line with the marque or model. Are the engine, rear end, transmission, interior, paint, trim, and other items in line with the marque?

Secondly, check the numbers. Make sure the VIN, parts numbers and build numbers are all appropriate to the car or model. Do these numbers match the engine numbers and chassis? (Assuming they should... a matching range could be just as authentic as a true match for some cars and your advance research should clue you into things like this).

Thirdly, confirm the documentation of the classic car. Ensure the car's history and ownership are all documented with a paper trail, including all titles, registrations, photographs, bills, log book, and verbal history. Obviously, more documentation is always better than less and you can't have too much of it.

Step Two: Verify the Condition of the Vintage Car

While it may seem like a no-brainer to look into the condition of a collectible car, there's more to it than meets the eye. The condition of an antique car cannot be determined by simply viewing its exterior. While it may appear to be in excellent condition, some of the most important factors are going to be hidden from view.

The seller may claim that a car is in "good" condition, but what "good" means to them could mean something completely different to you. To ensure you're both on the same page, make sure you do your homework before you begin searching for a collectible car. Read all you can about the car you want before you begin searching and meeting with sellers. Learn about the car's weakest and strongest points and be sure to ask plenty of questions about each car you're looking into.

As we mentioned earlier, there's a lot to be said about an antique car's overall condition in more places than just under the hood. Learn to spot costly hidden issues such as engine noises, excessive suspension movement or clunks, rust in locations known to be a problem in your target car, poor bodywork, chassis damage, and incorrect components. Hire professionals to check the condition of a vintage car if you're don't know what to look for.

Never assume a classic car is in good condition from photos alone -- always view it in person or hire an expert who can look at it for you. Refer to a number of sources for rating criteria and cost (they will vary by source so averaging from the lot can be helpful). By doing all of your homework and learning as much as possible about the collectible car you're interested in, you'll save yourself plenty of headaches further down the road.

Step Three: Consider the Comparables

You would never purchase a new house without first checking out the comparables, right? In fact, your broker wouldn't even let you make an offer without researching comparable sales in the area. The same goes for purchasing a classic car. You may think a car is worth a certain amount of money until you check out comparable sales. Considering comparable sales ensures your offer is in line with fair market value.

To determine the market value of an antique or modified car, past sales must be reviewed. Going over the sales of classic cars tells you what similar models are selling for and which direction the market is headed. Sellers will point to advertisements with asking prices. Anyone can ask for any value, but what matters is what was actually paid. The two numbers seldom are the same, and a buyer should weigh those values accordingly.

In this day and age, a wealth of market information is generally at your fingertips. You should compare cost guides (most are available online now), online ad listings (restricting your results to completed sales is usually accomplished by checking a box on the search form), auction and private sales results (web sites that aggregate all the major auction houses' results make this easy), and seek out the opinions of other car collectors (taking a bit of care as the enthusiasm of fellow experts on web forums may exceed actual experience).

Determining the market value of a classic car can be a tedious and time-consuming task. However, given the amount of money involved, it is always worth the effort. It's very important to review information in as many places as possible to ensure you're making the most educated decisions possible.

Steps to Determine the Market Value of a Classic Car

We have several recommendations for making this as smooth of a process as possible. Let's discuss these strategies in more detail.

As stated already, interested buyers should take the time to obtain information from other collectors and look into price guides, auction results, and if you can find and verify them private sales results. Buyers should never rely solely on one resource since results may be skewed, so it's important to look in as many places as possible and base their conclusion on the resulting bigger picture.

Price Guides for Antique Cars & Classic Cars

Value guides are great resources because they're hugely accessible and tend to be very detailed for many makes and models of vehicles. However, they don't cover every variation of the more limited or esoteric vehicles throughout history, which is a definite downside.

Fortunately, these guides make great starting points for beginning your investigation. We recommend using several price guides and not just one since each guide prices vehicles differently. Multiple guides help to give you a better idea of what the vehicle is worth.

Using the Kelley Blue Book

The Kelley Blue Book was a well-known classic car value guide. Since it launched in 1962, it has been informing values, pricing and sale of new and used cars. In 1993 the blue book became a public publication, and is now synonymous with the term "price guide". While their antique car print publication is no longer available, their online tool can help determine the selling price of most antique cars 25 years old or newer.

Other Value Guides

Thankfully, there are plenty of other price guides for antique cars available online these days. Some good value guides include:

How accurate is the classic car book value?

Value guides and book values are a great way to get a general idea of the cost of a collectible car, though they're not perfect. Even the most reliable value guides can't take into account the thousands of variables that go into every car sale. That's why they're best used as a rough guide, rather than complete fact. Here are some of the factors that could affect a car's value versus its book value:

The Classic Car Dealer

Each car dealer operated differently, even if they are selling the same antique car. A value guide can give you a ballpark figure of what a particular car is worth, but the exact price can vary a fair bit with the dealer you choose. Some will be open to haggling the price while others will be very stubborn. Knowing the book value can help in starting negotiations, but the rest is up to you and your people skills.

Antique Car Age and Condition

No two cars are exactly the same, especially not vintage cars. One model might be a perfect replica, the other might have seen years of heavy use and neglect. The classic car book values are usually dependent on the cars being in excellent condition, meaning that you may be able to find cheaper models that need more work. If the car you are looking at is not in pristine condition, the book value is not a great marker of how much you should be paying.

Vintage Car Modifications

While some owners will neglect their antique car, others can tinker away at them for years. Depending on the age and condition of the car, you might find that models have various modifications to maintain performance, or even to amplify it. Again, book values are based on a car in premium condition, so any changes or modifications should shave some of the cost off.

Using Auction Results to Determine the Value of a Collectible Car

Auction results are another great resource for determining the market value of a classic car. In order to find a good comparison, you should look for cars that are similar to the one you're looking to value. Many auction websites take the time to post results on their websites which makes them hugely accessible. Car collector magazines and newspapers also publish sale amounts.

Unfortunately, not all antique cars show up at an auction, so finding a perfectly comparable vehicle may be a long shot. This is particularly true for modified cars. That's why auction results are a great starting point but aren't the best way to fully determine the market value of a vehicle. It's important to remember that you should avoid relying solely on auction results for conducting market research -- many factors could come into play before a vintage car finally sells, including the time the car was run through the sale, the weather during the time of the auction (for outdoor auctions), the condition of the vehicle, and even the color of the car. Auction websites may not include any information other than the final value, so it's hard to determine value with accuracy and precision based solely on auction data.

A couple of publications that are likely to share sales costs include:

This site aggregates all auction results from the major auction houses and archives the results over time

Believe it or not, eBay is now a mainstream forum for many classic and exotic cars. Restrict your search to "Completed Listings Only". You can also expand your search to include auctions where there were bids but the reserve was not met. The high cost reached is what buyers were willing to pay. As such these are worth considering as data points in your overall evaluation.

How to Use Private Sales Data

If you can get it, private sales data is useful but, as its name implies, private sales are generally unreported and kept 'under the radar'. Note that reading ads in the back of your favorite classic car magazine is useful to give you an idea of what sellers are asking, but it doesn't tell you what the cars actually sold for once the negotiation started.

It's best to look at the ads over a series of several months to see which cars have sold and which ones are still listed. If a car has been listed for several months and still hasn't sold, it may indicate that the asking price is too high, or too high for that car's condition.

When a car does sell, feel free to contact the seller to ask for additional information. Ask them about the set cost, condition of the car, and any unique features that it may have had. Don't expect a response, but if you can get one, and you trust what you are told, it's more information that you can use.

Obtain Information from Other Collectors

Other classic car collectors hold the key to valuable information that can make the selling or buying process a whole lot easier for you. When you speak to other car collectors who share the same car collecting interests, you can combine their knowledge with your own to help you come up with a ballpark estimate of the market value of your car.

Other classic car collectors are paying attention to the same data as you, but they might know something you don't. Maybe they know to look in places you haven't checked yet or maybe they've been collecting cars for years and have more experience than you do. You never know--they may know someone who has previously sold a car similar to the one you're inquiring about! However, don't forget that if that sale is private, its also unknown to the world at large. Use this knowledge as the basis for further exploration to try and find public justification for the amount you're selling for.

The next time you attend a car show, consider chatting with other event attendees. Networking is another useful tool..

How Relative Worth Comes Into Play

As we discussed earlier, relative worth includes factors that make a vintage car more or less valuable but may or may not affect the overall value. Relative worth is impacted by the motivation of the buyer and the seller and their reasons for pursuing a sale, including the buyer or seller's personal finances, time, and health status. Additionally, relative worth includes nostalgia and the history of the car.

All of these factors are important to buyers and sellers and it's nearly impossible to avoid assigning relative worth to a vehicle. However, just because a car is worth more in your eyes, doesn't mean it's going to actually sell for that amount.

Relative worth may also tempt you to make a spontaneous purchase if your dream car just so happens to appear before your eyes. To avoid losing the car, you may be willing to pay well over the market value.

However, you should know that the car's relative worth may be greater than market value and you may not be able to recover any premium you paid. If a vintage car has sentimental value to you, you may be willing to overpay for it. Maybe you picked up your partner for your first date together in the same car or maybe your dad had that same classic car growing up. Whatever the case, not everyone will agree with your relative value or see things from your perspective.

Consider the Restoration Cost

If you think you can restore a car and then sell it with the classic vehicle restoration fees factored in, think again. Even if you spent thousands of dollars on a restored or modified car, you cannot expect a buyer to pay for additional restoration fees. The rule of supply and demand states that, if your classic car is available in its original, unmodified condition, a restored version is not likely to attract a bigger price. Especially since a fully functional unrestored, antique car is worth more than a picture-perfect restored example. Instead of purchasing a modified car for more than the buyer thinks it's worth, the buyer may end up waiting for a classic car being sold at market value.

The Bottom Line

Since there are no set costs for classic cars, buying and selling isn't always easy. However, using these tips will help you to make a more educated decision before selling your collectible car or purchasing one of your own.

A fair selling amount is one that makes sense to both the buyer and seller, and you can do your part by participating in the three-step process of classifying the car, determining its condition, and comparing the sales of similar examples.

When you do finally make the decision to purchase a vintage or modified car, truck or motorcycle and the headache is over, Leland-West can help you find the right classic car insurance. We specialize in vintage car insurance and modified car insurance, as well as coverage for race cars, street rods, muscle cars, antique cars, or other types of vehicles. Our collectible car insurance rates fit your desired budget -- we get that you shouldn't pay more for a vehicle that isn't intended for daily use. Our pricing structure recognizes that.

At Leland-West, we offer you low premiums, agreed value auto insurance coverage, deductible options, flexible usage, a personalized claims service, more than 25 years of experience, and superior ratings from our customers.

We get that owning a classic vehicle is your dream and that you shouldn't have to pay more for insuring your collector car. Why pay for classic car insurance with services and features you don't want or even need? We're here to help you to insure your car for only the services you'll be using.

To learn more about the ways in which we can help you, please contact us today.

Stated Amount Insurance

Stated amount insurance is a term used to describe the kind of payout an insurance company offers after a claim. Stated amount is often confused for agreed value, and is not used to determine how much an insurance company will pay for a claim. Understanding the difference between stated amount insurance and agreed value is important for anyone looking to insure a classic car.


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