What we’d tell our younger, car-crazy selves

Cole Ligette

One of the best things about classic cars is that they’re always teaching us. Every carburetor rebuild, track day, or parts search is a path to learning something new. The same goes for buying and selling. We at Hagerty have, collectively, many decades of experience on that front. We’ve also made plenty of mistakes along the way—or at least know something now that would have saved us time, money, or aggravation back then. There’s a rabbit hole’s worth of additional wisdom that could put a newbie on better footing, if they only knew!

So, what other advice would we give our younger selves, or those just getting started today? I polled my fellow writers to find out. Have another useful lesson? Share it in the comments.

Drive it

Sam Smith doing what we’re meant to do. Sam Smith

You only regret the miles you didn’t put on the damn thing. I spent too much time thinking, “I’ll drive it later,” or “that trip can happen next year.” Use it. Put more fuel in it and use it again. If the tires age out before they wear out, you might be missing the point. —Sam Smith

Figure out what part of the hobby suits you

Kyle smith
Sometimes the work is the best part: Kyle Smith at 17 and 29 enjoying air-cooled goodness. Smith assures us that jack stands were in use! Kyle Smith

It’s a lame trope, but I was late in understanding the notion that the “journey is the destination.” It was years of doing DIY work before I realized that was what I enjoyed most, and fighting it was fruitless. Now I buy things mainly to work on them and only occasionally drive them (compared to most). If I would have realized that sooner, I probably would have made some different investments and learned a lot more by now. —Kyle Smith

Take your time, and don’t feel any pressure

1998 Mitsubishi Montero front three quarter hero
Nathan Petroelje

Work on your machines. The value of turning your own wrenches cannot be overstated, and the slower you can afford to go, the better. That brings me to my second lesson, which is the flip side of the first: Many people have the ability to toss their project up on stands and fix it at their convenience, but that isn’t everyone. If you picked an enthusiast car as your only means of transportation, you may occasionally just have to deal with a minor issue for a bit. You don’t need to feel ashamed every time someone looks at you in disbelief when you explain that putting that car out of commission for a few days to re-do some bushings isn’t in the cards. Most of these machines are far more durable than we tend to think. —Nathan Petroelje

Speaking of wrenching … 

1970 lamborghini espada birthday 3
Take Aaron seriously on this one. He’s owned multiple Espadas… at the same time. Aaron Robinson

Go ahead and spend the money to buy the proper tool. You can’t do it right if you don’t have the right tool for the job. Also, your other tools will live longer if not used improperly as drifts, wedges, picks, pullers, scrapers, etc. Buy good tools and take care of them and you won’t have to buy tools again. —Aaron Robinson

Bonus tip: aside from the basic “every tool box needs them” implements, consider buying tools as corresponding projects arise instead of all at once. I slowly built up my set through my teens and twenties this way, and still come up with a new tool need at least once a year. —EE

work on car shop wrenching
Unsplash/christian buehner

Find someone who can help you along …

I wish I’d had someone or found someone to show me how to work on cars from a young age. My dad wasn’t a car guy, and none of my neighbors were, either, and my high school didn’t have a shop program, so I never really saw anyone working on cars around me. Now I just find the whole experience daunting and messy and frustrating, which helps explain why I’ve had a dead Volvo in my driveway for six years. —Stefan Lombard

… and that “someone” can be on the other side of a screen

Even when Sajeev hates Project Valentino, he still loves it. Sajeev Mehta

I wish I’d known how much information for my hobby was available online! Even as a kid of the 1980s, I suspect the old Bulletin Board System could have taught me more than the car magazines and library books that were currently available to me. While BBSs are long gone, at least you can still visit 10+ year old posts on forums and learn a lot! —Sajeev Mehta

Sajeev speaks the truth— spending time searching old forum archives will often get you a level of detail and information that’s hard to come by in today’s world of less-than-informative Facebook groups. —EE

Expand those horizons

I wish I would have been more amenable to modern cars. Growing up, I was dispassionate toward anything built after 1981 (save for maybe Monte Carlos and Corvettes). Boy, I was really missing out. It wasn’t until I drove an SN95 Mustang that I really started to turn the corner. Also, as far as the buying process goes, even if the listing says “You could drive it home,” bring a trailer. Get that sucker home, get it on jack stands, and then give it a once-over before you take it on the road. —Cameron Neveu

Figure out what you want, not just what’s popular

2013 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 front three-quarter
GT500s are nice, but our Conner Golden is more of a Terminator Cobra guy when it comes to Mustangs, and that’s ok. Kayla Keenan

I wish I learned not to listen to the hivemind as much as I did/do. And, to be happy with something that isn’t at the apex. Stuff like: If you buy anything without a manual transmission, you’re not a real enthusiast. No, you shouldn’t like that car, it’s not as cool as this car. What, you want a Mustang GT? Wow, guess you don’t want to get a GT500. —Conner Golden

Due diligence is your friend …

Matt’s first-ever classic is this Mini. The silver one. Matt Fink

Ask questions about the car before you go to see it. I’ve wasted a bunch of time driving out to see enthusiast cars only to be told things like, “I don’t actually have the title. Why, does that matter to you,” and “the odometer stopped working years ago, so the miles listed is way off.” One other thing: If you aren’t comfortable doing a thorough inspection, pay someone else to perform one. Even if (actually especially if) you’re buying it from a dealer. —Matt Fink

… Regarding car and seller

My worst purchase experience was a Sunbeam Alpine that was “restored.” The owner was clearly nuts, so I should have assumed his restoration was equally nutty. It was: He made it a thousand times worse than it was in its previous decrepit state. As Leno says, you buy the seller as much as the car. —Aaron Robinson

It never hurts to look at the math

Red Mazda Miata side profile
Borrowing might help you afford something better. David Zenlea

I wish I’d known more about financing when I was younger. As a person who entered adulthood during the great recession, I thought any loan was risky and that I wouldn’t have access to it anyway. The result was that I wound up only looking at the extremely disheveled cars for which I had sufficient cash. I’m not suggesting people, young enthusiasts in particular, should finance Skylines (even though I hear they do); rather I just wish I’d realized I could finance, oh, $4K and wind up with the world’s best Miata rather than a more questionable example that needed ~$5K of work. Of course, the work was lots of fun, and I learned a lot … —David Zenlea

Try different things

Eddy Eckarty vintage family car
Variety is the spice of life. Yes, I will wash my Boxster soon. Eddy Eckart

I was a dedicated muscle car addict as a child, and my first two cars were a 1992 Firebird and a 2000 Camaro SS. Then, a whole new world opened up when I drove my friend’s 1999 Miata. I had a thing against front-wheel drive till I drove a Mazdaspeed3. It took till I was in my mid-twenties to embrace all types of cars, and by then I had a lot of catching up to do. I haven’t cast aside my love for American cars—two reside in my barn, alongside models from two other continents—but I have come to appreciate a lot of different metal. So go for a ride or see if you can drive a friend’s toy that “isn’t your style.” You just might like it. —Eddy Eckart

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    Look all this advice and hindsight is like saying embrace world peace. In an idealism world yes these things can easily be done and accomplished till reality hits you right square in the butt.

    Here is the cold harsh truth. Where we are, who we have to influence us and what we can afford effects much of what we do or can do.

    Most kids today struggle to buy a rusted hulk let alone a collector car. That is really what is killing the hobby. Also the complexity and the lack of good used parts or cheap parts all contribute.

    When I was growing up we could buy a numbers matching 64 GTO hard top tri power 4 speed for $3,000 in the early 80’s. If we needed parts we could go to the junk yard and get parts not just from a Lemans but even off a GTO.

    We worked at gas stations and tire stores that sold car parts not lottery tickets and beer,

    The things facing kids that want to be in the hobby today see so much stacked against them. Many of the cars are not worth fixing up and many they can’t afford to do so. It is not like the old days you swapped a frame or an engine easily. today you needs some serious tools or to pay someone to do it.

    The best advice today is to try to hook up with people that collect cars or restore cars and learn from them. If you can work for them the better. You can earn money and learn the business at the same time.

    You can be opened minded as much as you like but what you can afford will be your main focus.

    Listen and learn from those you are working with as they will cut the mistakes and money loss.

    To be honest it is up to us that are older to be more open minded and understand the challenges of the younger hobbyist.

    They may be playing with a rice burner but that may be all they can afford. They may do some stupid things but you never made that mistake did you? LOL!

    I work in the performance aftermarket and it is even difficult to get folks to work in the industry that are willing to learn the parts and how they work. That is if you can get them to show up every day and pass a drug test.

    We have some serious challenges not only in new people to the hobby but also the regulations making thing harder and and more expensive to do.

    1) Whatever car you’re interested in, actually drive several examples so you can get an idea of how they should feel. This is important especially if you’ll likely be buying a non-running project that you can’t drive before purchase. Make sure you like the car!

    2) Projects usually don’t end well. Sometimes they do, I’ve had good luck on several and even made a little money. My most recent resurrection is going on five years, I’m into the car for double its value, and it’s still not dialed in. I’ve learned that if I can’t afford a solid Condition 3 car, I really can’t afford a Condition 5 car.

    3) Consider how a car fits into your lifestyle before you buy it. It took me 20 years to figure this out. You can buy the best example of a widely revered car that you love to drive, but if there’s no local club or mechanic support, or your family doesn’t want to ride in it, or the roads where you live aren’t ideal for the car, it can end up sitting in the garage more often than not.

    Those were all good points. Since I’ve bought and sold over 30 cars in my lifetime, I’ll add a few of my own.
    When buying a used car get a solid feel for the person you’re dealing with and who, and what, they’re about. I believe the character of the person is one of the most important things when buying a used car (or, really, anything for that matter).
    Also, it seems that the better the condition the interior is of a used car the better the overall condition of that car.
    Never buy a used Bmw. “Bring My Wallet” isn’t really a joke.

    I love my 1 Series. I bought it because the price was right and thought I would regret it. It’s been a few years and no regrets yet

    Younger self: Good news is that one day you’ll be able to afford some cool toy cars. Bad news is that the really cool ones will be priced to unobtainium. Really bad news: you’ll probably live long enough to see gasoline banned and end up riding around in a hopped-up golf cart

    Maybe save your first car that you thought was so cool, but everyone else thought was just an old junker. I regret not saving my $350.00 , three shades of primer, 327
    powered , 55 Chevy Bel air. If only we could see the future ☺️

    Some people love to restore a car to factory, then wind up selling it because they’re afraid to take it out. If that’s what you want fine, enjoy it. I have been scolded for putting over 200,000 miles on my 1989 ASC/McLaren. I’ve enjoyed every mile with friends. High Bank oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 115mph wit the top down and doing it with several friends and my daughter? YES! Parades carrying the governor or mayor or local news team with my children? Yes! And loving it! Buy a car you love and enjoy the heck out of it.

    I actually sent my poor 85 944 to Valhalla after around 12 years of ownership and nearly daily driving. Before it came to me it had been wrecked 2 or 3 times and had close to 150K (nobody was certain as the odometer was broken thru the last 3 owners). I probably took that up to 250K before the timing belt broke and crashed the valves (on top of all of the other mounting problems with the car). But I enjoyed it and probably got a lot more life and use out of it than a lot of other folks would have

    That’s why I always say, buy something old and neat, but not necessarily something that is worth a lot of money

    Thanks for the great responses-
    Well let’s say the 65 Mustang 2+2 Fastback should still be in the garage and parked next to the ‘63 turquoise and cream white topped VW bus…
    Just saying. Well I’ve been blessed with 40 or so vehicles in my 54 years behind the wheel ( legally that is!)
    Keep rowing through the gears folks ✅

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