How Old Does a Car Have to be to be a Classic?

How Old is a Classic Car? 

Most people thinking of classic cars have images in their heads of cars like the 1950 Chevrolet Bel-Air or 1965 Mustang seen in advertisements or in publications like Hemmings. Everyone’s got an uncle or a cousin that says the same thing about almost any car made before the 1980s. But are 1950s Corvettes, 1960s muscle cars like Hemi Coronets and 7-Liter Galaxies or 1970s Vista Cruisers actually classics?

What Age Makes a Car a Classic

There are a number of misconceptions about how old cars are to be considered a classic. Some people assume an older car is automatically considered a classic. However, that assumption is wrong in a few cases. While there isn’t a definitive answer, there are several standards to help define when a car reaches classic status. The word classic is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an adjective meaning “Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.”

The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) applies the Oxford definition, giving the phrase an exact meaning and they have a specific list of approved cars. The requirements for a car to qualify as a classic according to their list are:

  • It was manufactured between 1915 and 1948
  • It must be a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile.
  • It may be American or foreign built.
  • It was generally high-priced when new.
  • It was built in limited quantities.

Other Classic Car Considerations

Additional factors help determine the types of vehicles that are considered a classic besides the year or make. Other factors such as engine displacement, custom coachwork and luxury accessories may also determine whether an automobile meets certain standards for CCCA acceptance. From this list of requirements, it’s clear that as far as classic car enthusiasts and organizations are concerned, a car is generally over 25 years old, but age isn’t the only deciding factor. It’s not the only way to define the term. However, the Classic Car Club of America or Antique Automobile Club of America should certainly be considered an authority.

Another collector or enthusiast club may define the term differently. Likewise, many insurance companies offer policies for classic vehicles or antique vehicles. They often define the term in a different way than other clubs do. Most of the time, their definition of a classic car is one produced before a certain model year.

Licensing a Historical Vehicle

Each state is different, so check with your Department of Motor Vehicles or state’s DMV website to see if your car is old enough to be considered a classic.  Having classic plates, vintage plates, or antique license plates will provide a significant reduction in the registration fee. That is due to the fact that these classic automobiles aren’t typically have limited use as daily transportation. 

How Are Classics Valued?

The exact value of particular collector cars is often a matter of debate. With some vehicles, there is a long track record of auction results that speak to a very high market value. The most important reason to understand the value of a collector car isn’t necessarily to put it up for sale or to finance a loan. The most important reason is to adequately insure such a valuable possession against theft, damage, or total loss.

The way that insurers go about determining the value of collector cars, vintage cars, and classics is by examining auction sales, reports of private sales and by consulting with professional appraisers. Based on the vehicle’s overall condition, miles driven since new or restored, equipment like engine size, rarity of color, special fabrics and other options these experts will rank them among other vintage vehicles in the same category to arrive at what is known as Actual Cash Value.

However, collector cars and classics tend to appreciate with age. You want to insure the car for more than it’s worth to cover future appreciation, not what it’s worth today. Alternatives include declared value or stated value, where the vehicle owner states the price and insures it at that value. A standard policy may not. Another option is agreed value. In that case, the car owners and the insurer negotiate for a value that both can live with. 

No matter which option you choose, it’s important to read the fine print. Insurance companies frequently try to add disclaimers allowing them to pay either stated value or actual cash value. Ask directly whether the agreed value or stated value policy is guaranteed to pay at that value. Ask to see the specific clause that says so. If it’s not in writing, it’s not guaranteed.

Who Sells Classic Car Insurance?

Most of those large and well known antique car insurance companies like Hagerty, you’re likely already familiar with do sell specialized policies for classic, muscle, and other collector cars, but you have to specifically ask for them. Generally, these are the main companies you have to watch out for with the disclaimers mentioned above. However, there are plenty of insurers that specialize in an insurance policy for vintage cars, specialty vehicles, and collector cars. It always pays to shop around and also check with your local car clubs. Some insurance providers have restrictions on age, type of registration, driving record, whether it’s a daily driver, a garage for the vehicle, and other requirements. 

Ways to Save Money on Insurance for Classics

Some of the easiest ways to cut down on the cost of insuring your vintage car are special policies for some car clubs, annual mileage restrictions, driving history or background of the owner, keeping it in a secure garage, and installing an alarm and/or tracking devices on the car.  Finding a specialty insurance company is pretty easy and even companies like State Farm have policies as well. 

Collector cars come under a variety of labels. However, just because they’re many years old, vintage, antique, special, even limited, exotic, historic, or extremely expensive, these labels don’t mean they are classics. Classic cars are certain cars, perfect examples of their types, and generally need to be manufactured between 1915 and 1948, or over 25 years old depending on the insurer along with other specific requirements.

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