When Is a Car Considered a Classic Vehicle?

Young man waxing classic car in garage
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Whether a car is a "classic" is—in one sense—in the eye of the beholder. Some may define it by certain key qualities or traits. Some will base it heavily on the vehicle's age. Others may consider these factors along with other details, such as the make, model, engine, or mileage. And in some cases, its popularity among car fans will dictate its value.

But when it comes to lenders and insurers, the definition gets a bit more precise. Learn what it takes to make a car a classic in the eye of the experts, as well as why it matters.

A Simple Definition: Age

Here’s the simplest and broadest definition of a classic car: Old.

According to most car experts and fans, for a car to even have a chance at classic status, it has to have stood the test of time. (Well, except for all of those auto writers who like to declare some brand new model an “instant classic.”)

How the Experts Define 'Classic' Age

Among groups that specialize in classic cars, there are a few ideas of what makes a car a classic.

  • The Antique Automobile Club of America, founded in 1935, defines classic cars as those that are more than 25 years old.
  • The Classic Car Club of America is thought by many to have the supreme definition of a classic. A CCCA Classic is a “fine” or “distinctive” car, either American or foreign built, produced between 1915 and 1948. The CCCA goes on to declare that there have been 1,366,843 American classic cars produced, and more than half of these are Cadillacs or Packards.
  • Whether a car is classic, antique, or vintage may also vary, depending on the state. For example, in New York, vehicles that are 25 years or older can receive vintage historical plates. Montana, on the other hand, requires such a car to be at least 30 years old.

Classic Car Lenders and Insurers

If you are thinking about buying a “classic” vehicle, it's good to know how lenders and insurers define the term. That may help you to qualify for special rates.

For instance, take the Hagerty Group, a major insurer and lending agent for classic and antique cars. It notes that some cars might not count as classics due to certain risks associated with how they are used. This includes off-roading or using the classic car as a daily ride or for commercial purposes. Motorcycles with performance modifications won't count either.

Some insurers will require that you limit yearly mileage on your classic car to less than a certain amount—2,500 miles per year, for instance.

Many lenders don't deal with classic cars, so you'll have to find one that specializes in this type of loan. Plus, each company has its own rules. You should know whether you will be able to obtain a specialized loan or insurance policy before putting cash down on that “classic” car you’ve been dreaming of.

Classic Cars and State Agencies

You may wish to register your classic car with your state licensing agency in order to receive special rates or a "classic" license plate. If so, make sure that you know your state’s specific guidelines. You may find out that your intended use of the car may make it tough to deem it a classic.

In Michigan, for example, many rules apply. A “historical” vehicle must be 26 or more years old, owned solely as a collector’s item, and used only for events such as club activities, parades, and car shows.

Every state has its own set of rules in this regard.

The Bottom Line

In the end, the definition of a “classic car” comes down to personal opinion and preferences. Unless you have a specific need to define your precious vehicle as a classic, such as insurance or DMV registration, you can deem your car a classic whenever you choose to. In other words, if it’s a classic to you, then it’s a “classic.”

Just know that that your definition may not fly with state agencies, insurers, or—should you decide to sell the car—other classic car fans.