How to Estimate Classic Car Value

March 27, 2012

Classic car values are assessed on half a dozen criteria. Learn how to evaluate classic car value, and how to increase your classic car's value.

A classic car value can vary greatly. These inconsistencies can make it hard for you to judge the value of your classic car. However, there are several things to do that will let you understand how much it's true worth that only take a little research. Although the correct price guide is considered to be an official figure that is often used by dealers, the true value is often based on different factors.

How Classic Car Values Are Calculated

Classic cars are expensive but because they are vehicles that are no longer in production, how are classic car values calculated? It can seem like a mystery at times, especially with prices being so high. How are these prices justified? There are different ways to understand how people arrive at these figures. Most a relatively obvious but others are a little more obscure.

  • NADA Guide. The NADA appraisal guide is the main source for classic car valuations. It took over from the Gold Book, which had originally been established in 1968 to offer a coherent and consistent guide to collector cars. However, the classic car market can be quite volatile so any published guide should be taken as just that and shouldn't be considered to be set in stone.
  • Demand. Demand is the prime factor in establishing how classic care values are calculated. Of course, the car will need to be in absolutely perfect condition, fully restored and ready to show, to demand top dollar. You can estimate what to charge for a classic car in perfect condition by checking collector magazines and seeing the asking price for similar vehicles in the same condition.
  • Rarity. A rarer car will have a higher price. With a model where just a few were ever produced, and there are quite a few classic cars that fall into this category, the owner will be more or less able to name his own price especially where a complete restoration has been carried out. In these instances, simply forget any guide. If the models only come on the market every few years, the sky will be the limit as far as price goes.
  • Restoration condition. A professional quality restoration will bring a higher price than an amateur job that hasn't been well executed. In other words, the condition of the classic car has to be taken into account when classic car values are calculated. It can be hard to take these into account in printed guides.
  • Current level of restoration. A fully restored classic car is going to sell for a much higher price than one which is only partially restored. Calculating the value on a car that still needs work is tricky. To come up with a price, you need to judge how much will have to be spent to complete the job. This could range between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars and will obviously have to come off the value. The true value of a classic car can only be judged when all of the work is finished.
  • Project potential. A project car is a classic car that still has to be restored. Again, coming up with a value is tricky since the price will depend on how deep the restoration needs to be. Understandably, this will have the lowest price of any classic car but the amount of labor and money needed to complete the project has to be taken into account when assessing the value.

How to Determine an Antique Car Value

For some individuals, determining antique car value can be challenging. However, once you know some of the factors and steps involved, you should be able to do it easily. Aside from market trends and their inherent charm, there are many other factors which affect the value of an antique car. Before purchasing one to add to your antique car collection, here are some of the steps you can follow to properly assess the value of an antique car.

  • Determine the popularity. Some cars are able to maintain their value better compared to others, and this is true in antique cars and modern cars alike. This is primarily because some cars have an enduring popularity. This popularity may be based on the emotional reactions of enthusiasts for certain car makes and models. Popularity can also be determined by their overall appeal which would include their classic look and uniqueness.
  • Assess the overall quality. If the antique car was expensive when it was manufactured and first released, then it is very likely that it would have an even higher value several years or decades after. Antique car collectors and enthusiasts look for quality workmanship, well-made cars and ones more in demand. If the antique car is well-crafted and made with high quality materials, then it would probably have a value which would continue to increase in time; provided that it is maintained and cared for properly.
  • Check the condition. Antique cars, similar to other used modern cars, are also valued based on their working condition. This is actually one of the most important factors that affect the price and value of an antique car, particularly because it has been around for many years. It is very likely it has already endured several repairs or requires some degree of restoration. If an antique car needs major restoration work, then it would probably have a lower value. However, if the antique car is well-maintained and in good condition, then it would definitely be valued higher.

The closer an antique car is to its pristine original condition, the more expensive it is. However, classic cars which have been restored properly could also increase the value of the car. Possibly making it almost as valuable as one that is in original condition. Keep in mind that the quality of the restoration also matters as inferior restoration work could greatly decrease the car's value.

The value of an antique car can be determined using these factors and steps. Although some also consider the mileage of the car to be important, it actually is not very significant when valuing antique cars. This is because these cars usually have their odometers reset when they undergo some restoration work. Instead, try using these steps and you should be able to carefully assess the value of an antique car before buying it to add to your collection or as an investment.

How Accurate Is the Classic Car Book Value?

The classic car book value is a terrific way to get a general price for a specific vehicle. The price will often be surprisingly accurate. However, there are many factors that can affect the price of a vehicle which the guide does not take into account.

Any individual is free to make safe modifications to their vehicle as they see fit. These may be carried out for a number of reasons but ultimately, it means that a classic car will not be in the expected condition that the book guide is based on. This means that a modified exhaust pipe or non-original engine will shave money from the stated guide price.

Each specialist dealer will be different. The guide will provide a solid idea of what the car is worth but haggling with a dealer can directly influence the value placed on the car and the price you pay. Some will be very stubborn while others will be happy to meet you half way. The variations in human interaction can be an area that the guide cannot help you with and some dealers will inevitably be more desperate to sell than others.

Age and Condition
Two cars are rarely exactly the same. While one classic vehicle may have been lovingly restored to factory condition, another will be the victim of years of neglect and the overall sales value of such a vehicle will be adjusted accordingly. Accuracy in finding prices based on book values should only be relied upon in the event of a classic car being in exceptionally good condition.

The classic car book value does a pretty good job but to all intents and purposes, it should only be considered as a rough guide to use when buying or selling a classic car. The guide cannot take into account the large number of variables that will inevitably change the price.

4 Tips for Increasing Your Classic Car's Value

Classic car value is a very delicate subject. If you are the owner of a car that is in less than mint condition, it is very possible to improve its value, however you should be very careful. While proper restoration is a very difficult and time consuming process, decreasing the value of a classic car is very easy and is often done without the owner even realizing it.

  • Check for matching numbers. The most valuable classic cars are those that are not only in flawless condition, but more importantly are equipped with all of their original factory parts. Number matching (or "numbers matching") refers to a car in which all major parts including the engine, transmission, and rear axle and in some cases even the alternator, carburetor, distributor, water pump and cylinder heads all match the original parts numbers listed for the car. Should you need to replace or repair any of the major parts of your classic car, trying to replace them with parts from the same type of car, year and model will help preserve as much value as possible.
  • Use old stock parts. While newer, more recent parts may function more efficiently, as well as boast superior durability, using them on a classic car can be catastrophic to its value. In order to maximize the value of your classic car, try and use new old stock parts, or parts that were manufactured during the same time period as the car yet have never been used. If you are unable to locate them for the parts you need, you may want to consider looking for a parts car, or a car of the same year and model as yours that is in poor condition. These cars may be nearly worthless themselves, but the parts you may be able to salvage from them can help improve the value of your own.
  • Repair the body. One of the best ways to improve the value of your classic car is by restoring the body. Repairing dents and rejuvenating tired paint can lead to large increases in value.
  • Keep detailed maintenance records. Not only do well kept, detailed records help prove the great condition of your classic car as well as the work put into restoration, they can explain any parts that don't have matching parts numbers, as well as give a window into the life and potential future of your car. People like to know the histories of the cars they buy, and having a detailed record might be enough to coax a few more dollars from a potential buyer.

While customization can make a car more suited to your tastes, it can be devastating to the value of a classic car. For maximum value, always try and keep your car as close to original specifications as possible, using as many original parts as possible.

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