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Ask Joanne

Is buying a collector car a smart idea? Add to ...

I’m a novice, but I’ve always wanted a collector car. What do you think I should know before diving in? – Dean in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Attend a car show on a perfect summer day and you’ll surely walk away dreaming about driving an open-top E-Type down a country lane. Don’t worry, it can’t be helped. Before you let yourself get too charmed by the thought of owning a collectable, you should take note of a few do-and-don’ts. Admiring one of those well-kept, shining classics on the green is one thing; ownership can be another.

As with any new hobby or purchase, you’ll want to research and make sure you know what you’re getting into. Car shows, cruise nights and swap meets are social events, often brimming with participants that are only too happy to talk. Head to a few with a friendly outlook and a curious mind and you’ll learn about the joys and challenges of vintage ownership.

When you’ve determined the make and model you’d like to own, try to find out as much as you can about it before you buy.

“Lots of people go out and purchase a vehicle but they don’t have the expertise,” says Tony Lant, founder and director of Lant Insurance Brokers, specialists in insuring antique cars across Canada since 1978.

“If they don’t know the antique car field, an individual should spend time getting to know the vehicle they’re looking at, even to the point of hiring an appraiser, so they’ve got someone with past experience to help ascertain whether a particular vehicle is the one they should buy. It might be the one they want, but is it appropriate to buy based on the condition and what needs to be done to it?”

You should also check out the insurance options before you make your choice of vehicle.

“With your regular auto policy, if you have a collision and your car is a write-off, the value that’s established and in turn what you get is normally whatever is in the Blue Book – in other words, what it’s worth on the depreciated car market. With an antique car, it’s totally different; you want to make sure you have value coverage, which is proper coverage for whatever your car is appraised at,” says Lant.

With collector plates, your vehicle usage is restricted. It can’t be your daily driver for work, or picking up groceries. You’re typically required to have a primary vehicle to be eligible to insure a collector vehicle.

So what exactly qualifies as a “collector” car?

“There are so many different definitions and thoughts from different people as to what those particular vehicles are, or should be. We’ll insure them as long as they’re collector vehicles, and they’ve got to be at least 15 years old,” says Lant.

“If someone has a 1991 Park Avenue convertible or coupe, it could very well be a collector vehicle. If it’s a four-door with 400,000 miles and the individual is still using it to run to work or do shopping, it’s not a collector vehicle. It’s up to us to ensure that they qualify; that it’s a collector-style vehicle and they are using it for that activity.”

Wherever your interest lies – classic, vintage or muscle – it’s a good idea to choose a vehicle that is likely to appreciate, and perhaps cover restoration costs. Certain makes fare better than others when it comes to future value, but here are some guidelines:

1. Convertibles and other vehicles produced in limited quantities are always in demand. Also look for those that were hand-produced.

2. In the interest of maintaining value, try to find an original.

“If it’s original or has been restored to original status, that car has far greater potential for becoming more valuable as the years go on than one that’s been modified, customized or restored with deviations, which won’t appeal to future collectors and significantly affects the value,” says Mike May, a classic car owner, former appraiser and former manager of the Classic Car Museum in Victoria, B.C.

-Keep in mind that whether it’s a complete restoration, or regular maintenance, this can be a very expensive and time-consuming hobby.

Be careful, it can, and has, even led to divorce. If you decide to take the plunge, make sure you have what it takes to keep the romance alive.

E-Mail your car questions to Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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