7 tips for new enthusiasts

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Short of comparing the car world to another transportation-focused hobby, one of the best analogies for the automotive universe is the ocean. Owning and driving a vintage vehicle is akin to playing on the beach, and debating rod ratios and piston ring thicknesses is like exploring the Mariana Trench. The two seem worlds apart, and the process of getting from one to the other requires vast amounts of time and effort—not to mention money. If you’re currently standing on the beach, longing to wade out into deeper waters, we are here to help.

A user in the Hagerty Community recently asked for tips for an enthusiast who’s new to older car ownership and who may not be well-versed in vintage vehicle maintenance. We thought the question merited more information than a single reply could hold, so here are seven tips for those who are curious about getting into the automotive hobby.

Be realistic about your abilities and knowledge

under the hood of a Sunbeam Tiger
Kyle Smith

Despite what some folks on the internet forums would like you to believe, every car enthusiast started by asking questions and learning from others. Experience and knowledge comes with time. If you are new to the vintage car world, there is nothing wrong with admitting that. Many enthusiasts welcome the opportunity to bring more like-minded folks into the fold; ask more experienced folks to share their knowledge and you’ll rarely be met with resistance.

It is sometimes tough to confront what you don’t know, but keeping that in mind as you begin your journey into the car world will help you have a better time.

Find other like-minded folks

Motorcycle club ride
Get out and find other folks who are interested in the slice of the automotive world you are. They will provide you motivation and help beyond your expectations. Kyle Smith

If you like hoppy IPAs, you probably don’t ask your martini-loving friend for drink recommendations. Apply that same logic to your budding automotive passion. It has never been easier to find like-minded enthusiasts. A simple internet search—even on Facebook alone—will usually turn up a handful of online forums and clubs. Even if you haven’t got any money to spend on a vehicle, go ahead and join a group for the make or model you’re eyeing.

Pick out a vehicle you can afford

Pontiac GTO at Cars and Coffee
Lusting after a GTO? Consider buying a LeMans. With the exception of the badge on the fender, you may just find it has everything you want. Kyle Smith

You might adore the ’67 Alfa Romeo Giulia GT Veloce, but driving is more fun than dreaming. Instead of getting frustrated staring at your bank account balance and waiting for the Alfa market to crash, pick up a standard Giulia. This theory extends to almost all manner of lust-worthy models; many are dolled-up versions of another model that has stayed relatively affordable.

Buy the best that you can afford

Field-find Corvair
This might look like a cheap way to get into the hobby, but it’s a terrible starting point for someone new to vintage cars. Kyle Smith

Now that you’ve picked out the vintage car you want, buy the best one you can afford. It is temping—oh so tempting—to buy the first one that falls within your budget. That patinaed beauty that “needs some TLC” to run might seem like a perfect entry point, but it probably isn’t.

Go back to the first tip on this list and get serious. Does that car need more work than you can afford? Whether you’re craving a DIY project or willing to pay a shop, be critical and realistic. It may make more sense to wait and save your hard-earned cash for a better example.

Get the car (safely) drivable ASAP

Corvair on jack stands
More often than not, cars on the road are way cooler than cars on jack stands. Kyle Smith

If you do decide to dive into a project, focus on getting the car functional as soon as possible. A project has a way gaining momentum; suddenly, there’s a pile of parts in your driveway where a complete car once sat. In that situation, you must resign yourself to spending money—regular, large amounts of money—on a car you can’t drive. Some folks in this hobby live for that challenge, but it’s rare that a new enthusiast finds spiritual fulfillment in writing checks and reading shop manuals instead of motoring.

Focus on safety

Chevrolet Corvair rear brakes
Brake jobs are not the coolest curbside topic, but brakes are critical to enjoying your new hobby safely. Kyle Smith

The easiest way to fall out of love with your car is if it injures you or someone you care about. Regardless of what any seller tells you, have the car looked at by a professional to ensure its brakes, steering, and electrical systems are in roadworthy condition. If you have a tight budget, focus on safety rather than performance. If faced with a choice between rebuilding an aging brake system or revamping a tired engine, opt for the brakes.

Have fun

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is why you want to get into the car world, right? No matter what, have fun with your car. Register for your first judged show, take your first long drive, or post a photo on your favorite automotive forum. Remember—you didn’t buy a classic car for the frustration, you bought it for the fun. Go out and enjoy your ride.

Leave your tips for a budding enthusiast in a comment in the Hagerty Community below.

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