You’ve dreamt about it for years, you’ve (finally) convinced your significant other, and you are ready to pull the proverbial trigger: it’s time to buy your first classic car.

Understanding the initial—and subsequent—financial commitment is the first step to preparing for the complexities of becoming a classic car owner. But, there are other steps to take and things to keep in mind in order to make your purchase stress-free.

Establish why you’re buying to help you discover what to buy

Is your classic car ownership a hobby or a business venture? Some classics can appreciate in value over time, but that often requires a significant time commitment and investment of money for both cosmetic and mechanical repairs.

Unless the vintage vehicle you’re looking for is extremely rare or in impeccable shape, the price of owning a classic car can easily exceed any year-to-year increase in value. After storage and upkeep, the unexpected costs of ownership can accumulate quickly. As a first-time classic car buyer, it may be a wise idea to view your purchase as a recreational one, rather than a strategic, profitable investment.

With colder months approaching and the summer joyrides coming to an end, be aware of the time and upkeep it takes to properly prep and store your car if your winter weather calls for storage. To keep it in tip-top shape when spring rolls around again, oil and filter changes, long-term battery and engine storage maintenance, and cosmetic protection are just a few of the protocols to keep your entire car safe when it’s not being driven regularly.

Keep this in mind when researching what type of car you’d like to own. Choosing a car that you’re excited and passionate about is likely to be a more enjoyable project than purchasing a car based solely on its potential resale value.

Finding a ride as authentic as your passion

It’s extremely important to do a through inspection of your dream car before purchasing it. They can look great online or from a distance, but you may have to get under the hood and into the car to really gauge condition–and of course, take it out for spin yourself. There are also expert services that can help you do this.

Depending on the importance of originality and authenticity, you may need to “number-check” the car’s VIN to ensure it matches the VIN of the model, engine and drivetrain. Other stampings and plates on the car can identify original exterior and interior colors, equipment and trim levels, etc. Some cars are “clones” of highly regarded limited production models, and it pays to be able to figure out for yourself whether or not the seller has made this clear.

Join a classic or exotic car club

Classic car clubs are interspersed throughout the country, and joining one can come with a variety of benefits. The camaraderie that comes along with becoming a member will allow you to learn the intricacies of owning a classic from those who have been doing it for decades. Tips on maintaining and insuring your vehicle are best learned from the vintage car fanatics.

Also, car clubs provide information on entering shows, car cruises and auctions. Search online or visit local car club branches to find the right fit for you. Joining a club with members who share your interests can be a relatively cheap and easy way to get more enjoyment out of your classic. And, these groups are a socially rewarding experience. This leads to not only new relationships, but also plenty of education about your car.

Personally, I’m a member of a local Lotus owners group. Belonging to this group has allowed me to regularly meet with individuals who share similar passions and form great friendships. We also gather for other events, like our annual Halloween party. Events like these are as much fun as the track days and road trips we take with our cars.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun

A car purchase like this is supposed to relieve headaches, not cause them. Set a budget on how much you’re willing to spend, and stick to it. If you have the time, check out (or better yet: test drive) as many classics as you can; that’s part of the experience!

Finding the right fit for the right price might take time, but it’s better than rushing into a purchase that you might later regret.

The comments are yours

I’ve shared my tips for owning a collector car. So, my fellow classic car owners, what advice would you share? Leave your takeaways in the comments below.