A classic car is not your average run-of-the-mill vehicle. Unlike most cars, these treasured vehicles tend to be older and increase in value over time. Collectors seek out these cars.

When is a vehicle considered a classic? That depends. Definitions vary widely, with car collector organizations, individual insurance companies, and states all having their own rules for what is considered a classic car.

Read on to learn the answer to the question, “when does a car become a classic?” And find out whether you need classic car insurance coverage.

Key Highlights
  • Car collector organizations typically define “classic car” based on age (between 1915 and 1948, for example) and special qualities.
  • Insurance companies may define “classic car” as being 25-30 years old and of interest to collectors or historic interest.
  • States may also have their own rules to define “classic car” based on age and type of vehicle.
  • Insurance for classic cars offers protection in ways a standard auto policy wouldn’t: reimbursement of the car’s value even if it appreciates, specialized repair and towing coverage in the event of a breakdown or if the car needs special parts.

What makes a car a classic?

When does a car become a classic? There is no single definition of what makes a vehicle classic. The Classic Car Club of America says a "Full Classic" is a fine or distinctive automobile built between 1915 and 1948. By this club's definition, most classic cars had special qualities when they were produced.

They were:

  • Highly-priced
  • At the top end in terms of quality
  • Built-in limited quantities

The club flatly states that mass-produced assembly line vehicles cannot be considered classics. This differs sharply from insurance company definitions, which tend to view cars as classic so long as they are roughly 25 to 30 years old and of interest to collectors. Examples might include hot rods and muscle cars.

How old is an antique car? The Antique Auto Club of America says the definition of what constitutes an "antique" vehicle has changed over the years. In 1974, the rule was widened to include all cars that are 25 years old or older, and that standard remains in place today.

Finally, American Collectors Insurance has its own definition of classic car years. It lists three types of special cars:

  • Vintage: manufactured between 1919 and 1930
  • Antique: manufactured in 1975 or earlier
  • Classic: manufactured in 1990 or earlier

Frequently asked questions about classic cars

Is a 20-year-old car a classic? Some insurers and car organizations might say “yes.” In general, though, auto insurance companies consider a vehicle to be eligible for "classic" status once it is at least 25 to 30 years old, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

However, car insurance companies have their own definitions. For example, you are eligible for state farm classic car insurance if your vehicle is age 10 to 24 and has "historic interest," such as a hot rod or muscle car.

Once a vehicle like this is 25 years old, it is an "antique" in State Farm's eyes and is no longer eligible for classic car insurance.

Meanwhile, over at Nationwide, cars are eligible for classic status if they are at least 20 years old but not more than 40 years old. They also must meet other criteria, such as being kept to their original design and specifications.

Geico classic car insurance is available on cars from model year 1995 or earlier that meet other criteria.

Individual states may have their own rules as well. In Texas, a car is considered to be “classic” if it is at least 25 years old, for example.

The type of vehicle can also make a difference. For example, how old does a truck have to be to be a classic? The answer can be different than with a car.

Hagerty Insurance offers collector and classic car insurance on cars that are model year 1979 and older. But it offers collector truck and SUV insurance on vehicles that are model year 1996 and older.

Progressive classic car insurance is offered through Hagerty, in an arrangement known as “Progressive Classic Car by Hagerty.”

Classic car insurance can be a good investment for owners of special vehicles. This type of coverage protects your classic cars in ways that a standard auto policy does not.

For example, classic car insurance reimburses you for the car's value. Unlike most vehicles, which depreciate as the years roll on -- classic cars often increase in value.

These policies also tend to allow you to bring your vehicle to a specialized repair shop should it need to be fixed. Such shops often charge much higher costs than a typical repair shop, but the sellers of classic car policies understand the importance of specialized service if the job is to be done right on classic cars.

Finally, these policies might offer coverage for special types of towing that are guaranteed to protect the car in the event of a breakdown and coverage for specialized -- and often expensive -- spare parts.

How old does a car have to be to be an antique? As we mentioned above, the Antique Auto Club of America says "antique" cars are those that are 25 years old or older.

By contrast, American Collectors Insurance says an antique car is one manufactured in 1975 or earlier.

States may also have their own rules. For example, in Rhode Island, a car is considered an antique if it is at least 25 years old.

Some states also may use terms other than “antique” in describing older cars. Colorado says a car has achieved “collector” status – and qualifies for a “collector vehicle” license plate – if it is model year 1975 or earlier or meets other criteria in a lengthy explanation posted on the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles website.

What age is a car vintage? As we mentioned above, American Collectors Insurance considers a car to be “vintage” if manufactured between 1919 and 1930. However, definitions may vary.

For example, as with antique cars, states may have their own rules for what qualifies as a “vintage” car. Your vehicle qualifies for vintage status in Utah if it is at least 30 years old, is primarily a collector’s item and meets other criteria.

This depends on your state. Most states impose sales tax on classics, but some states, like Montana, don't. In some states, the sales tax for classic, antique or vintage cars is the same as any other car, but in other states, the amount differs for classics. Check your state sales tax laws so you'll know what to expect.

Yes. Many vehicles reach antique or vintage status and last longer than 30 years.

Final thoughts: How many years old is a classic car?

If you are a lover of classic cars, you know there are significant time, money and emotional investments put into those vehicles. Classic cars, antique cars and vintage cars bring a sweet nostalgia and sentimental value that often exceed their financial value to classic antique owners. They're practically part of the family.

Knowing whether or not your vehicle is a classic antique is important for more than just prestige. It may mean a classic car insurance policy is more suitable than a standard auto insurance policy. As you now know, when a car is considered a classic varies by the organization but also by the state.

If you're still not sure if your car is a classic, speak with your insurance company so they can help to ensure you've got the proper coverage.