How Old Does A Car Need To Be A Classic?

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You just bought an older car to restore, but you need to insure it. How old does a car need to be considered a classic automobile?

The last thing you want to do is create any issue registering the car with your state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. Imagine waiting in line for hours just to be told you have the wrong insurance level for the car and being told to come back after the paperwork is correct. And while some insurance companies have unique ideas for what constitutes a classic car, you don’t want to have to pay more in premiums than you should. The debate about classic vs. vintage vs. antique is enough to make you wish there was just some standard national rule that everyone recognized. Unfortunately, there isn’t.

Many states and insurance companies have different definitions, but most entities agree that a classic car is between 20 - 40 years old and is being restored to its original specs. Most states allow these cars to be registered as classics, qualifying them for special insurance rates.

How should a person determine the proper classification for their older vehicle? What kinds of restrictions do states have? Can you keep the original tags and register them with the state? The confusion over classic cars can affect everything from value to how often you can drive your beauty. Some states require you to prove you own a separate car that you can use as your daily driver.

This article will examine the nuances of exactly what the difference is between a classic, vintage, and antique vehicle and, hopefully, answer some questions regarding the best way to get your car appropriately registered with the state and the insurance company.

Table of Contents


What Defines a Classic Car?

The answer to this question depends on whom you ask. Let’s explore some of the entities that have decided for their purposes to help you determine what constitutes a car to be classified as a classic.

Your State’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

In the US, every state has a Division of Motor Vehicles (Public Safety) responsible for registering all vehicles residing in the state. All of them allow for a vehicle to be registered as a classic or antique vehicle and have specific legal stipulations regarding use. Most states will require you to register a car within the first thirty days of purchase or establishing residency.

While each state has its definition, it is always good to have that information before making a trip to the DMV office with paperwork. For example, California requires antique cars to have the original emissions equipment on the vehicle to pass an emissions test (pre-1975). It will classify any car older than 25 years as a classic with special plates available. Pennsylvania will register any motor vehicle 15 years or older as a classic, as long as it is restored to its original specs. Arkansas has a cheap registration fee for any classic car over 25 years, but you also have to prove that you own a separate car as your daily driver. Then, there are limitations to how often you can drive your restored car - and if you are caught, the authorities have the right to impound your car on the spot. For an excellent review of each state's specific age requirements on vehicles and examples of the specialty plates they offer, see

Some states show a preference for ancient vehicles that were manufactured before 1930. The car or truck will qualify for a separate plate and special rates if you own one of these beauties. (There are even a few states that do not require you to register old cars annually, they offer lifetime registrations valid for as long as you own the car. (Alaska and Missouri are examples). Any state that offers a one-time fee for registering an antique car forever might even be a reason to relocate.

Here are a few things you will need to be aware of before heading to the DMV to complete the registration for your vehicle.

  • What are the age requirements for my classic car or truck?
  • Does my Classic have to pass an emissions test?
  • Do I need a title to register my classic? (Some states don’t require it for old cars).
  • Do I need proof of a daily driver that is not my classic car?
  • What is the registration fee?
  • Do I need a front and back license plate? (You might have to mount a forward bracket)
  • Does my insurance need to reflect the Classic designation?

Most of these questions can be found on the websites of your state motor vehicle divisions.

Your Insurance Carrier

Your insurer will provide primary coverage on your classic, but you will likely want more than just minimum coverage. You should check your insurance company to see the best policy for you. Most companies offer discounts, special rates, and coverages concerning antique cars. If you plan on insuring your classic, have this information ready in your head to discuss with the company. For a listing of the best classic car insurers in 2022, see

Agreed Value of Your Car

Ordinary auto coverage will not work when you're discussing providing insurance coverage for your classic. One of the reasons is that while a standard auto depreciates the older it gets, a classic car appreciates.

Your insurance company will need t know the agreed value of your classic car. Since there are no guidebooks to assess the exact value, try to determine your insurer's methodology and have an honest conversation with your agent. Some larger companies do not offer coverages for classic cars, while a few, like Geico, have separate underwriting divisions specifically for that purpose.

Inflation Guard

You will want to insure the car for its replacement value with some flexibility because your car's value will likely only increase the longer you hold on to it.

Repair Issues

Because classic car parts can be hard to find at times, and any repair may require professional restoration help, please consider these factors in determining the value of your policy.

Special Towing

Many classic cars are taken to and from car shows by a trailer. If your classic involves extra care, build a provision in your insurance policy.

Mileage Limitations

Your insurer will want to ensure your driving habits are good and safe. They will verify the makeup of your classic (restoration vs. hotrod), and don’t be surprised if there are mileage limitations regarding usage. In addition, they are likely not to insure a hot rod or custom-made kit car as a classic. Other insurers provide specialized insurance rates for these kinds of vehicles.

Don’t Be Afraid to Shop Your Insurer

Many classic car owners do a disservice by not regularly shopping with their insurers. The best way to keep premiums from going up year after year is to compare premium prices and coverages periodically.

What’s the difference Between a Classic, Antique, and Vintage Car/Truck?

Generally, a classic car is over 25 years old, while an antique is more than 45 years old. Often a vintage car is manufactured between 1919 and 1930. So, a 1972 Nova would be considered a classic but not an antique or vintage. It depends on the state’s designation and its legislative branch.