Do Due Diligence Before Getting Behind The Wheel

It’s more than the style of classic cars that make them so different from modern cars – it’s also the quirks each old car seems to have that gives them their personality and sets them apart from other cars.  While some quirks will make a classic car more fun and unique, there are others that can put you and others at risk. No two classic cars seem to behave exactly the same way, and some have traits that can be dangerous, especially if you’re not aware of them beforehand.

Some old car quirks can be dangerous, for example, an accelerator that sticks or headlights that turn off unexpectedly.  Do your due diligence and try to find out if the classic car you’re thinking of buying has some unexpected traits before you get behind the wheel. 

Talk to anyone who owns a classic car, and I’m sure they could tell you all about it’s personality traits.  My ’62 Chevy Impala was one such car.  To unlock the driver’s door, the door lock didn’t work properly so I had to use a long nail with a hook at one end.  I would wiggle the nail past the driver’s side window molding, wrap the hook around the window button and pull up to unlock the door.  This took some finesse.  The trunk had a missing lock and the only way to open it was to use a screwdriver and poke around inside the area where the lock should  have been.  If I was lucky, I could find just the right spot inside the opening and pop the trunk open.  The worse trait my Impala had was if you went a bit too fast in reverse, the accelerator would stick !

A friend of mine had a car that when you rolled down the window, the door would automatically open, and another friend told me about his ’65 Ford Falcon Ranchero that would pop out of third gear when going downhill.  As you can see, these “personality traits” can be quite hazardous !

You may be asking yourself why on earth would people tolerate these problems and not get them fixed?  I can only speak for myself.  I bought that Impala when I was very young.  In fact, it was my very first car.  Back then, it wasn’t considered a classic, it was just an old used car I bought for $300….something to take me from point A to point B.

The truth is, I did not have the extra money to fix the car, so instead I learned to live with it’s dangerous trait.  One day, I got stopped at a “Safety Check Point” on my way to work….and my car failed.  The Highway Patrol  inspector discovered my car had a broken frame…..I wondered what that clunking noise was.   From that point on,  I was prohibited from driving the car unless I made the repairs.  I didn’t have the money to fix it, so I sold it on a junk slip.

I think I was lucky that with all the problems that car had,nothing horrible ever happened to me or someone I shared the road with.  I’m certainly not proud of the fact that I put myself and others at risk.  I was very young and very dumb.  I do think that if the person I bought the car from would have told me about the accelerator sticking and the broken frame, I would never have bought it in the first place.  Remember that old saying “BUYER BEWARE!”.  This is now, and has always been, very good advice!

When trying to find out what quirks (problems) a classic car has, the best source is obviously the current owner.  Whether or not you will be told about the car’s personality largely depends on the personality of the current owner.  Is this an honest person or would he/she be reluctant to disclose the problems for fear of not making the sale?  It’s hard to say, but you should do your best to persuade the current owner to be honest with you about any quirks, especially those that can be hazardous.

One thing that might work would be to let the seller know that “little” quirks are not a problem, and will actually make the car more special in your eyes, but you don’t want to risk having an accident that might be preventable.  Emphasize that there may be family members riding with you, and if there are any serious quirks such as a braking issue or something weird like a door flying open without warning, you really need to know about those things so you can fix them before anyone gets hurt..

One thing to keep in mind is that a car that is driven daily will probably have less problems than those cars that sit most of the time.  For the most part, if there was anything really dangerous about the car, odds are it will have been taken care of already.   I wouldn’t assume this, however (remember  my sticking accelerator?) and definitely ask the seller to tell you about any personality traits that could be problematic on the road.

One thing old cars teach us is patience.

Some people might consider this a quirk, but bear in mind that if you’re used to jumping in a car, turning on the ignition and driving right away, you won’t always be able to do that with a classic car that uses a manual choke.  When I was a teenager, my dad owned a ’49 Ford 4-door sedan.  It was a big ugly old clunker of a car. Once in awhile, my dad would drive me to school in that old car and I would literally slump down in the front seat as we approached the school so my friends couldn’t see me.  In addition to the embarrassment of being seen in that car, I remember what my dad had to go through just to get the thing started.  Unlike today’s cars that have fuel injection, many of the older cars needed to be coaxed into starting through the use of a manual choke.  The process my dad went through was very similar to what is seen in the below video.


If I Were You, I Would Do As I Say & Not As I Do.

Obviously, the safest thing to do is to have the car thoroughly inspected before you get behind the wheel for any serious driving.  You can do a visual inspection and talk to the seller, but if you want to be certain that the steering, braking and suspension are all in good shape, a thorough inspection will be required.

If a visual inspection doesn’t raise any red flags, and I feel good about the seller, I will take the chance and drive the car home without doing the through inspection first.  The last car my husband and I bought and drove right away was a ’41 Plymouth Sedan (we call her Lindsey).  The gentleman we bought her from seemed very forthright in giving us the car’s history and condition, and we felt “safe” driving her the 30 miles home.  Luckily, she didn’t have any scary quirks.

The bottom line is, just like any used car transaction, you must be your own best advocate and get as much information as you can before buying a used car.  This is even more important when you’re buying a car that is old and may have been sitting for a long period of time.