When Is A Car A Classic?

Despite the attachment we might feel towards our cars, in the eyes of insurance companies, having an older vehicle doesn’t necessarily make it a classic. In fact, the definition of a classic car varies significantly depending on the authority making that judgment. For many classic car collectors and enthusiasts, their first car is the start of their love for older vehicles. But for those born after 1980, an early 90s compact sedan doesn’t necessarily qualify as a “collector’s item” or a classic car.

classic car

Classic Cars: Insurance

For insurance companies, classifying every car that might be a little past its prime would cause serious problems. Most insurance companies have clear guidelines on what they consider a standard vehicle, a classic car, or an antique car. A “classic car” has several defining features. According to most insurance companies, a classic car is a vehicle between 10 to 24 years old that is a rare make and model due to limited production of exceptional workmanship. Classic cars also must be used on a very limited basis, be in a restored, well maintained, or preserved condition. Some insurance companies require classic cars to be stored in a secured garage.

“But what about my ’65 Dodge?” Some might ask. “How is that not a classic car?” Such an objection is a valid point. However, insurance companies will often classify a vehicle that is 25 years or more old as an “antique car” for their purposes. Antique cars must meet the same criteria as classic cars, but with less stringent requirements on rarity.

Classic cars do not decline in value as a standard daily driver would depreciate over time. Particularly due to the requirements against driving them frequently. Thus, insurance companies will often offer an “agreed value coverage” option. Meaning that you and your insurance company will come to an agreement on what the car is worth if it were totaled or stolen, and the insurance company would pay you that amount.

Classic Cars: State Agency Definition

For state agencies, like the DMV, the age of a classic car may qualify you for a historic plate program. In Ohio, for example, the historic plate program allows owners of cars that are at least 25 years old to pay a one time $30 fee to register their car as a historic vehicle. As a result, car collectors never have to renew the license plates again for the life of the vehicle. Historic plate programs, like the one in Ohio, are a great value for collectors who own multiple classic and antique vehicles to save money and time. Historic plate programs vary from state to state. For more information, check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.

Classic Cars: Collector Clubs

Car collecting clubs have existed in the United States almost as long as automobiles have been produced. These clubs group cars into several different definitions. The Antique Automobile Club, for example, defines a classic automobile as any “fine” or “unusual” vehicles that are between 25 and 50 years old. When vehicles are 51 years old, or older, they define these cars as antique.

The Classic Car Club of America defines a classic car as an automobile produced between 1925 and 1948. Many organizations like the Antique Automobile Club and the Classic Car Club of America make distinctions between classic, antique and vintage automobiles.


From a practical perspective, defining what a classic car is mostly focused on the age of the vehicle and the agency that you work with. However, collecting cars that do not meet the age qualification for “classic” status is still a rewarding hobby that brings joy to thousands of collectors. If the car has sentimental value to you, that should be enough to call it a classic, regardless of age.

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