How to Tell if a Car is a Classic or Just Old?

Article by Christian A., on August 6, 2018

Most of the time, people are left in awe when they see an old car restored to all its glory – new paint, refurbished interior, glossy panels and still in good running condition. Then, they would exclaim, “What a classic!” Then, someone kills off the mood and says it is just an old car.

There seems to be confusion between old cars and classic cars. People think that if a car is old, it is also a classic. However, while all classic cars are old cars, not all old cars are classic cars. But how can we tell if a car is classic?

The answer is it depends where you are and who you believe. Classic cars are defined differently in various places around the world. Generally, classic cars refer to old cars with some historical significance and are better to be preserved or restore than beings sent to the scrap yard. Likewise, it has been accepted that cars who are around 20 years or older can be considered as classic. Thus, if you own a 10-year old car, it is just an old car, not a classic.

In the United States, the definition of a classic car varies on each state. For example, West Virginia considers motor vehicles produced around 25 years from the present year as classic cars. In other states like Maryland, the vehicle age is reduced to 20 years. However, the car must have not gone any substantial alterations or remodeling. In Pennsylvania, a classic car is defined as at least 20 years old, as maintained or restored according to the carmaker’s specifications. Thus, a car built in 1998 can be considered as a classic in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but not in West Virginia, where a classic car should be built in 1993 at the latest.

The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), meanwhile, is more restrictive in its definition. If you have a car that is around 65 years old, you may think that it is classic car. But for CCCA, it isn't. The CCCA doesn’t mind whether a car is built in the United States or abroad, as long that as the vehicle is a “fine” or “distinctive” and built between 1915 and 1948. That would mean that a car should be around 70 years to be called as a CCCA classic. Furthermore, the car should be high-priced when it was new and was built in limited numbers.

On the other hand, the definition of classic cars also varies in the United Kingdom, dependent on two taxation issues. For company taxation purposes, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs defines a classic car as being 15 year old at the end of year of assessment and having a market value for the year of at least £15,000. For vehicle excise duties, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs gives a rolling exemption for classic vehicles that are 40 years or older (as of April 1 of every year). Unlike when assessing company taxation, the assessment for vehicle excise duty exemption doesn’t have any other qualifier aside from the age of the vehicle.

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