Find out When a Car Is Considered a Classic Vehicle

Young man waxing classic car in garage
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Have you been thinking a lot lately about what makes a car a “classic”? Are there certain qualities or qualifications to be considered classic? Is it strictly an age thing? If so, how old does it have to be? Maybe it’s a combination of age and other factors. Make? Model? Engine? How about popularity among enthusiasts? Seriously, there are a million different answers to the question, “When will my car be considered a classic?” When it comes to a few specific tasks, it can matter a great deal when your car is considered a classic. Here is when and why it is important.

A Simple Definition: Age

Here’s the simplest and broadest definition of a classic car: old. That’s right, the one thing everyone can agree on is that for a car to be a classic it must be old. Did I say, everyone? Well, not including all of those auto magazine reviewers who like to declare some brand new model an “instant classic”. We’ll ignore them for now. So, according to our simple definition, any car that isn’t currently in a showroom is a classic, including the five-year-old Ford Focus you just bequeathed to your college-bound daughter.

The “Experts” on Classic Cars

Among organizations that specialize in classic cars, there's not much disagreement. The Antique Automobile Club of America, founded in 1935, defines classic automobiles as vehicles that are older than 25 years.

The Classic Car Club of America is considered by many to have the “definitive” definition of a classic. A CCCA Classic is a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1915 and 1948. After presenting this definition, the CCCA goes on declare that there have been 1,366,843 American classic cars produced (over half of which are Cadillacs, interestingly enough).

Classic, antique, and vintage cars may be classified differently depending on the state. For example, in New York, vehicles that are 25 years or older can receive vintage historical plates, while Montana requires the car to be at least 30 years old (through 1934).

Classic Car Lenders and Insurers

If you are considering the purchase of a “classic” vehicle, it is important to know how the term is defined by lenders and insurers in order to qualify for specialized rates.

For example, The Hagerty Group, a major insurer and lending agent for classic and antique vehicles, notes that some cars may not qualify due to how they are used and the increased risk associated with that. This could include off-roading, using the classic car daily or for commercial purposes, and motorcycles with performance modifications.

Each company has its own definitions, so be sure that you fully understand 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

If you’re looking to register your classic with the DMV in order to receive special rates or a "classic" license plate, make sure that you know your state’s specific requirements. In Michigan, for example, 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. Again, each state’s rules are different, so be sure to check.

Has any of this helped? Are you the least bit clearer on when your car will be considered a classic? In the end, the definition of a “classic car” is much the same as that of beauty: It’s in the eye of the beholder. So, unless you have a specific need to define your precious vehicle as a classic, like insurance or DMV registration, you can consider your car a classic whenever you choose to. In other words, if it’s a classic to you, then it’s a “classic”.

Article Sources

  1. The Antique Automobile Club of America. "Official Judging Guidelines 2019," Page 1-1. Accessed March 3, 2020.

  2. The Classic Car Club of America. "Mission & History." Accessed March 3, 2020.

  3. The Classic Car Club of America. "About Classics: Why We Define Classics As We Do & By The Number," Page 2. Accessed March 3, 2020.

  4. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. "Learn About Historical and Vintage Plates." Accessed March 3, 2020.

  5. Connecticut General Assembly. "Antique Car Registration." Accessed March 3, 2020.

  6. Hagerty Insurance. "How to Qualify for Hagerty Insurance." Accessed March 3, 2020.

  7. Michigan Office of Secretary of State. "Historical and Authentic License Plates." Accessed March 3, 2020.