Problems Buying a Classic Car? 4 Common Issues (Explained)

Who wouldn’t want a classic car? It’s the next best thing after an antique and everyone immediately recognizes one.

However, it’s expected that a car from 30 years ago would be susceptible to some unique problems.

Keep reading to know more about problems to expect if you’re buying a classic car.

1. Regular Overheating in the Engine

Classics are almost inseparable from overheating problems. Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to see cars parked by the roadside because of overheating.

Generally, this happens in cars when the cooling system becomes faulty. However, in classic cars, it is not always a case of malfunction. Often, overheating occurs because classics have sub-par cooling systems.

Since technology constantly improves, cooling systems have gotten a lot more durable and efficient over the years. Hence, with a classic car, you can expect it to overheat more often and quickly than a modern one.

Their reduced durability also means the components of the cooling system are more susceptible to damage.

Common scenarios include faulty radiators, leaks in the cooling system, broken water pumps, and bad radiator fans. Other culprits include thermostat issues and blown head gaskets.

Some examples of classic cars that might overheat are the Chevrolet Corvette, the Ford Mustang, and the Porsche 911. Understandably, these classics sure have lots of horsepower, so their faster speeds allow them to generate more heat.

Add their massive horsepower to their ancient cooling systems and you have a big overheating issue. However, we’re pretty confident that their modern ‘descendants’ handle the heat a lot better.

Speaking of classic cars, there are some cars that feature dickie seats you must see.

2. Severe Onset Rusting Issues

Rusting is a common process for cars. So much so that even with good maintenance, most cars rust with time.

However, it occurs without warning in classic cars for two major reasons. The primary reason they rust is that they were manufactured with less durable materials.

These metals are more prone to rust as opposed to modern cars, which are usually coated with zinc.

The second reason is that classic cars are quite old, and rust usually comes with age. When you consider they were manufactured 25 to 49 years ago, it makes sense for them to rust.

The joy of a beautiful car exterior is short-lived for many classic car owners because of severe rusting.

Also, although there are many reasons for rust, classic cars’ lesser durability and greater age are the ones that stand out. Hence, remember the older any car gets, the greater the possibility of rust.

These are some classic car models with notorious rust issues according to Hot Cars:

  • Dodge Dart
  • AMC Hornet
  • Jeep Wrangler CJ5
  • Jaguar XJ6
  • BMW E21

Check Also: Cute names for classic cars.

3. Brake Pad Wear and Brake Fade

Many road accidents are linked to faulty brakes. Classic or not, this is one problem to look out for in any car you plan to purchase.

Few things are as risky as driving a car with a faulty brake.

Like most problems, brake issues can develop with time. However, the most obvious cause of brake problems is wearing and tearing. In wearing, no car has a better experience than a classic.

Consider the wearing, coupled with the fact that they were made with less standard materials relative to modern vehicles. That’s why there’s a higher risk of brake problems with a classic car. However, we wouldn’t blame anyone as it’s only natural for brakes to wear out.

When brakes get worn out, the braking distance of a vehicle increases. This also means the stopping time increases significantly. This phenomenon where brakes decline is known as brake fading.

The only solution to a braking system decline is to replace major brake components.

Another symptom of brake fade is a soft or throbbing pedal. Even if the brake pads have been replaced a few times, they may not be in the best condition. Thus, monitor the brake system when scouting for a classic car.

4. General Engine Problems and Failure

The engine is perhaps the most important thing to consider in a classic car or any car in general.

However, unlike modern car engines, classics may have weaker engines with shorter lifespans. That, coupled with the fact that they are old, means it’s almost impossible to get one with a great engine.

The regular overheating we’ve already discussed doesn’t help matters either. It may even be the major contributing factor to their short engine lifespans.

Nevertheless, factory-installed engines aren’t the major problems car buyers have to worry about. That’s because most classic cars would have had an engine replacement at least once.

The new problem stems from the fact that you may need to replace the engine again at some point.

As you probably already know, new engines are quite expensive and may even outweigh the amount spent on the car.

This fits perfectly with the description of some classic cars that might be cheaper to buy, but expensive to maintain.

Not to scare you, but it takes tremendous effort and high-level maintenance to cope with a classic.

In summary, these are some symptoms of a malfunctioning engine:

  • Knocking sound
  • Excessive smoking
  • Overheating
  • Loss of power
  • Overall delayed engine response

As with anything, the key to an enjoyable experience with a classic car is maintenance.

Related: Problems With Buying a Brand New Car (8 Most Common Issues)

General Pros and Cons of Classic Cars

Most pros and cons of classic cars are somehow related to their age.

As such, their biggest advantage may simultaneously be their biggest disadvantage. So the irony is that although they are simple machines, they lack the needed complexity for modern roads.


  • Unique design
  • Possible value appreciation
  • Raw driving experience
  • Limited editions
  • Reduced depreciation


  • Limited safety features
  • Severe rusting issues
  • Expensive to maintain
  • Engine overheating
  • Engine failure

Related: Problems With Older Cars? (7 Most-Common Issues)

What Do the Reviews Say?

Hot Cars mentions the Buick Roadmaster Estate as one of the most reliable classic cars to buy. While it may not be a muscle car or the most eye catchy vehicle, it’s quite a functional one.

We have a list here of the best and worst years for Buick Roadmaster.

Other reliable classics include the Ford F150, Ford Crown Victoria, and the Plymouth Valiant.

Of course, no list of impressive classic cars would be complete without the Ford Mustang. They describe it as having “excellent driving dynamics, and tons of power from its mighty V8 engines”. It also is a reliable classic car relative to the others.

Hot Cars also describes the 1974 Jeep Cherokee XJ as “unbeatable” in terms of reliability. With these ratings, it’s obvious that many classic vehicles are reliable despite their lesser quality relative to modern cars.

This reliability may partly be the reason they are still coveted, despite the impressive technological features of modern cars. Think of it this way: you’d only have excess electrical problems if you have excess electrical components, to begin with.

What’s the Resale Value of Classic Cars?

Cars generally diminish in value as they age. Some classic cars may appreciate while others decline like regular cars. So, the older and rarer classic cars become more valuable.

This means vintage cars (which are just older siblings to classic cars) would generally appreciate value with time. All thanks to car collectors, vintage cars keep remaining valuable.

These are the resale values for some classic cars across different model years.

Model Price ($)
1982 Ford Mustang 3,000
1980 Toyota Celica 2,400
1982 Ford Escort 2,100
1984 Chevy S10 Pickup 2,700
1988 BMW 325 3,200
1984 Chevrolet Cavalier 2,300
1975 Porsche 911 64,700

Regular classics may be cheaper than their modern successors. However, older and rarer vintage cars pose a business opportunity, as many enthusiasts buy to sell. Many people assume that all classic cars appreciate value over time, but this is not true.

So, it’s important to know that different classics respond differently to the market as time passes.

Related: 7 Popular Sports Cars for Girls (With Pictures)

Final Thoughts

Refurbished classics would be better for everyday modern driving. Although they won’t give the exact raw performance they used to, they’d be conducive enough for the road.

Also, with a refurbished classic, many of the problems listed in this article become reduced. There’s such a high frequency of problems related to durability.

Hence, it’s obvious that the major difference between modern and classic cars is the quality of production materials.

Additionally, it’s best to take these cars for maintenance checks regularly, primarily to readjust the brakes.

Also, classics cannot keep up with modern safety features as time passes. This means they may also violate federal safety standards if you drive them in our modern era. Again, this is where refurbishment comes into play and it’s another reason classics might be expensive.

Refurbished versions are more expensive because they are equipped with modern functionalities which are quite expensive to add in.

If you buy a classic car before it’s refurbished, you’d have the opportunity of deciding its design. Ultimately, refurbishment equips old vehicles with modern performance while maintaining the retro style.

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