Write Your Own Auto History Book

Two weeks ago we got a “new” old car and a new insurance card from Hagerty. Tonight that card finally got put in the glove box. That’s good, but it should have happened last week. Maybe it would have, if we had started keeping a log book for the car the first day we got it.

The log book is a simple grade-school notebook. Believe it or not it only cost a dime, on sale at Wal Mart. It will save us a lot more than that over time, like the cost of a ticket for not having the insurance card with us.

A log book provides a history of your car, a record of your ownership and documentation of the maintenance and repairs you do. It’s a great thing to keep you busy at night or during those long winter months when you can’t play with your car. If you ever decide to sell your classic, your log book can help you get a better price for it. People love an old car with a pedigree, especially a written one.

If you divide your log book into different sections, it can help you to better enjoy the old-car hobby in various ways. In addition, it can be used as a memory jogger to ensure that you change the oil regularly or remember to buy that owner’s manual the next time you visit a swap meet.


Set aside a section of the log book for gathering historical facts about your car. Write in the VIN (serial number), the engine number and the body number. Use automotive encyclopedias or standard catalogs to find out how much your car sold for, how much it weighs, how many like it were built and other information like paint colors and standard equipment features. Since factory options and accessories make your car more valuable, make a list of every one it has.

Is your car a Classic or a milestone car? Did somebody famous ever own it? Was it designed by a well-known stylist? Facts like these are worth researching and entering in your log book. You may even want to make a list of books available on your type of car from histories to work shop manuals.


In a second section of the log book, create another type of history – a history of your ownership. When did you acquire the car? How much did you pay for it? Were you able to track down the previous owner and find out more about it? Keep a list of all the car shows you attend, all the tours you take part in and every trip to a hobby activity.

This section should also include entries on how you financed your car, insurance information, when you first drove it and so on. It’s your “baby book” for your new baby. You may want to add a list of phone numbers or e-mail addresses of people you contact when networking about your car.


A third section of your log book should be set aside to keep track of the things you do to improve your collector car. Whether it’s changing oil, adding a new factory option or making a major repair, the information will be of value to you and to future owners. You will be able to better plan your maintenance schedules, while potential buyers of the car (when you decide to sell it) will love having this information at their fingertips.

If you carry on a restoration of the car, you’ll want to document that too. Whether you fix the car up yourself or have it professionally restored, you’ll want to note the dates and type of work done during your tenure as owner. It’s interesting to keep track of all the parts you buy and all the hours you spend while fixing the car. Your costs will help you set a price when you’re anxious to sell the vehicle.


The final section in the log book should be set up as a to-do list to remind you of important things you want to do in connection with your car. This is where you can jot down the dates and locations of upcoming shows, the addresses and phone numbers of parts suppliers, the tools you want to get someday and zillions of other things that might otherwise slip your mind (don’t forget to list “put insurance card in glove box”).

Don’t get the idea that your log book has to be super well organized, extremely neat or even in mint condition. If you turn keeping a log into another job, you’ll probably stop doing it soon after you start. Instead, make very quick entries using a few words as possible. Stick the book and a pen under the seat or in the glove box and try to keep filling it on a regular (but very quick) basis. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself with a book to keep records on each old car you own.

John “Gunner” Gunnell, is automotive books editor at Krause Publications, Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide. A New York City native, John has been collecting old cars since 1972 and writing about them for almost 30 years.

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