If you thought buying and selling a modern automobile seemed like a daunting task, then you should investigate the rating process when it comes to classic cars. Try not to let the appearance of that 1988 Chevrolet Camaro trick you into thinking that it functions perfectly. Even though it has a slick, smooth design, it may also have an array of irreversible mechanical problems underneath its hood. A prudent classic car shopper knows how to research the fair market value for a worthwhile automobile while avoiding the lemon that nobody wants. Reputable classic car publications have developed a price guide that rates a car's value based on six different categories, according to their conditions ranging from "pristine" to "clunker." In addition, many classic car owners join local associations that will help assist in educating beginners before making a down payment.

To appraise a car before selling or purchasing it, the car owner can determine what category it fits into by judging its condition on a scale of one to five, using five as the highest value. After assessing the values of each category, the car owner calculates the grand total of all twenty categories, and then compares the points to a one hundred point maximum.

Use the following chart for a basic category valuation to determine the car's fair market value:

  • Category 1: Perfect shape. The car would earn 90 to 100 points.
  • Category 2: Near perfect shape. The car would earn between 80 to 89 points.
  • Category 3: Good shape. The car would earn between 70 and 79 points.
  • Category 4: Average shape. The car would earn between 60 and 69 points.
  • Category 5: Fair shape. The car would earn between 40 and 59 points.
  • Category 6: Poor shape. The car would earn 39 points and under.

How to Rate the Exterior


  • The appraiser should stand roughly 2 to 3 feet in front of each headlight and taillight. Inspect the side panels for bulges, waves, or other damages incurred as a result of incidents, road debris, or shoddy body repair.
  • Examine the car's paint for blisters or signs of rust. Pay close attention to the wheel wells, rocker panels, and headlights.
  • Obtain a sizable magnet and move it over the various body parts to check it for body filler, previous damage, and other signs of rusting.
  • Closely examine the vehicle for uniform gaps around the doors, trunk, hood, and other inconspicuous parts of the body.


  • Examine the doors for worn hinges. If the car door sags, then this is an indicator that the hinges need to be changed. In addition, look for signs of cracking around the weather seals, and other signs of aging, such as paint blisters.

Hood and Trunk

  • Carefully examine the car's hood for any rippling, indentation, and rusting. Check the carpeting in the trunk, and around the wheel housings for rust. In addition, check the latches to the hood and trunk to ensure they are properly aligned.


  • Closely look over the convertible tops to ensure that the original material remains. For instance, if the convertible was originally manufactured with canvas, vinyl, or any other type of material, then ensure that the top still has that same material. Be sure that the material has not become worn down, unstitched, or ripped. Check the convertible's raising mechanism, and ensure that it fits snugly in place.
  • Examine the top of the vehicle for dents, scratches, or other signs of damage.
  • Inspect the condition of vinyl covered metal-topped cars. Be sure to seal it tightly without ripping or damaging the material.

How to Rate the Paint, Glass, and Trim


  • Check the car's paint to see if it reflects a high gloss, or if it has become dull. See if the finish has a smooth or rough texture. Examine closely for runs, cracks, and drips in the paint. Check a classic car resource guide to see if the car is painted in its original colour. Check the doors, inside of the hood, and trunk to see if the colour matches on the outside.


  • Closely inspect all of the chrome plated trim pieces to see if the chrome has lost its shine, and whether the base metal has started to show. Check to see if the headlight and taillight housings have become poorly pitted. Keep in mind that pitting on die cast parts can not be easily repaired. Closely inspect the grill for existing damages and broken parts. In addition, check for missing and dented stainless steel paints on the body's side panels.


  • Check for factory markings on the glass for an indication of originality. Check the weather seal for cracking that would allow moisture to enter into the seal, thus causing sufficient water damage. If a crack does exist, then check for signs of water leakage along the dash and around the inside of the rear window. Carefully check the glass itself for chipping, cracking, and discolouration.

How to Rate the Interior

Dashboard and Instrument Panel

  • Carefully inspect the condition of the dashboard and instrument panel for signs of wear and aging on the plating, knobs, and switches. Note if any knobs are missing, functional, and in good condition. Inspect all of the switches, including the lights, horn, wipers, air conditioning, and radio.
  • Grade the lettering around the knob plate, and determine whether the letters have become missing. Examine the gauges for originality and functionality.
  • Look over the dashboard to determine if it has become cracked or split.


  • Examine the overall condition of the door panels, seat coverings, and the headliner. Note if the interior coverings are made from the same original material. If the interior material does not meet the original specifications of the car, then it will lower the value of it, even if in good condition.
  • Be sure that the car seating has a good foam foundation underneath its covering.

Floor Coverings

  • Check to see if the car's carpets have become worn, soiled, or torn. Determine if floor coverings fit the original colour and pattern, or if they have been replaced.
  • Carefully inspect the step plate on the car door's coverings, and note if they have become deteriorated or missing.
  • Pull the carpet back and inspect for rust along the metal floor.

Interior Trim

  • Determine if the interior trim meets the car's original specifications.
  • Inspect the car for missing door handles and window cranks. Determine if the door handles and window cranks are in working order.
  • Inspect the power accessories for functionality. For instance, if the windows, locks, seat mechanisms, antenna, and side mirror adjustors work properly.
  • Note the overall condition of the window moldings. Determine if they meet the car's original specifications.

How to Rate the Mechanics

The Odometer

  • Check the car's recorded mileage on the odometer. See if the recorded mileage appears to be accurate in accordance to the owner's service records.
  • Check the car's brake and clutch pedal pads for heavy wear, which is a good sign for a high mileage vehicle. A well-worn driver seat also indicates that the car has been driven a lot.
  • The vehicle's wear and tear should relatively match the miles recorded on the odometer.

Brakes and Steering

  • Determine if the car feels safe to drive on the highway by testing the brakes and steering. If the brakes fail to stop within a reasonable distance and requires the driver to pull off to the side of the road, then it might be time to replace the brake pads. The same principle applies if screeching persists.
  • Determine if the steering is tight. If the car does not remain in a straight line with minimal correction, then certain steering components may need to be replaced.


  • Check the condition of the clutch if the car has a standard transmission. See if it engages smoothly, and if it fully disengages the transmission.
  • If the car is equipped with an automatic transmission, then check if the shifting points transition smoothly or if they seem to slip while accelerating. In addition, check the transmission fluid to see if it's a bright red. If it's brown with a burnt smell, then the transmission fluid should be changed. It may also indicate that the transmission has internal damage.


  • Check the chassis to see if it has signs of recent restoration, such as over-cleanliness and a new paint job. See if the transmission or rear axle leaks oil. Inspect the shocks and suspension for signs of rusting.

How to Rate the Engine Operation

  • Check to see if the engine runs after starting the car. If it does not start the engine, then there is no way to appraise the engine or most of the car's mechanical components. If the engine does not start, then it's a clear indicator that it will need to be rebuilt or replaced.
  • If the car engine does start, then listen for sounds that may be expensive to fix.
  • Look for any smoke emissions from the tailpipe. Blue smoke is indicative that the engine is burning oil.
  • Check the oil pressure while the engine is running. Note if the engine pressure sits at mid-range.
  • Check the engine's oil to see if it is clean, or if it's thick and black. Thick and black oil indicates that previous owners failed to regularly change the car's oil. This is a clear indicator that the car was poorly maintained.

How to Rate the Engine Compartment

  • Carefully look over the engine compartment, and note whether it's clean. Pay close attention to the car's accessories and whether they are in original and good condition. Inspect the engine compartment for fraying and other unoriginal wiring.

How to Rate the Car's Authenticity, Special Features, and Desirability


  • Evaluate the car's authenticity by conducting research on the original car using a variety of available resources. Take note of its accessories, including the special wheels, wheel covers, and other luxurious items.
  • Determine whether these extras originally came with the car. Even if they are attractive, it does not mean that the accessories are authentic. If the accessories are unauthentic, then it will subtract from the value of the car.

Special Options

  • Take note of the car's special options during the time of its manufacturing. For instance, if the car has a higher horsepower engine, then its upgraded trim and interior package will add value to the car. In addition, its sliding sunroof and overdrive transmission may count towards the value of the car. Price guides should assign a higher premium for these features, either individually or in combination with one another.


  • Price guides can only offer public information; however, nothing can provide the desire to purchase the vehicle other than what comes from the future owner.
  • The present owner can assess the desirability by inquiring with prospective buyers and other classic car buffs.
  • If planning on purchasing a classic car, then consider what value it offers to your life. Ask whether the family will be affected by bringing it into the driveway. Determine if it will remove one of the aspirations you have chosen to acquire on your life path.

Follow these links to assess the value of classic cars:

  • NADA Guides: The online price guide for all classic, collectible, exotic, muscle cars and trucks.
  • Autotrader Classics: An online social networking website dedicated to all classic car buffs. Autotrader Classics provides buying and selling guides, how-to articles, appraisal guides, and a dealership locator for all parts, accessories, and mechanical components.
  • Hemmings: The world's largest classic car marketplace that offers classified advertisements, publications, guides, tips, and an events calendar for all collector car buffs.
  • Auto Appraisal Group Inc. (PDF): An authoritative document that helps beginners identify a bargain deal at a vintage car auction.
  • Classic Cars and Money: Read this article to learn how to make money with a classic car.