When Does a Car Become a Classic?

Is there a classic car in your garage?

If you’ve got a much-loved older car in your garage, you might be wondering: “When does a car become a classic?” In the UK, HMRC considers cars older than 15 years to be classics, but insurance companies and classic car enthusiasts each have their own criteria.

Here, we look at what makes a car a classic, whether classic cars are exempt from MOTs, and how owning a classic car affects your insurance and tax responsibilities.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

When is a car considered a classic in the UK?

Every country and classic car insurer will have its own definition of when a car becomes a classic. 

So, at what age does a car become a classic in the UK? HMRC considers a classic car to be at least 15 years old, with a market value greater than the list price and at least £15,000. That could mean a car manufactured as recently as 2007 could be classed as a classic. 

While that’s a simple enough government clarification, insurance companies have their own set of criteria. Some have a cut-off of 15 to 25 years, while others decide whether a car is a classic by its make, model or rarity.

For serious car lovers, there are several other classifications which offer more specificity.

  • Pre-1919: Veteran cars.
  • 1919 to 1930: Vintage cars.
  • 1931 to 1945: Post Vintage cars.
  • 1980 to 2000: Modern Classic cars.

Is my car a classic at 25 years old?

According to the HMRC and some insurers, yes — but your local classic car club might disagree.

Classic car owners looking to meet other enthusiasts or get the inside lead on tracking down those all-important spare parts often join classic car clubs. Each of those clubs has its own specifications on what age or model of car makes the cut. 

According to the Classic and Historic Motor Club, which is a member of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, eligibility for club events requires that a vehicle must be at least 30 years old on the 1st of January of the current year. 

At the Traditional Car Club of Doncaster, however, a 20-year-old car allows you full membership. 

If it’s a classic car club you’re interested in joining, it’s always worth checking. Your prized classic car may just sneak in. 

When is a classic car exempt from paying tax in the UK? 

Gov.uk states that you don’t need to pay vehicle tax on any vehicle built before 1st January 1982. 

If you’re unsure of when the vehicle was made, but it was registered before 8th January 1982, you’re also exempt from vehicle tax. In addition, the car must not have been altered in substantial ways. This includes changes to the engine, axle, body or chassis.

If your car was built before January 1982, you must apply for a vehicle tax exemption, otherwise known as putting it into the “historic tax class”.

However, regardless of the age of your car, if used for hire, reward or commercially for trade or business, it will not be tax-exempt. Contact DVLA if you’re unsure as to whether your car qualifies. 

If your classic car remains on display or in a garage and is not used on the road, you can make a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification). Vehicle tax will only have to be paid should the car return to the road. If your classic car qualifies for a SORN, you will get a refund on any remaining months of your annual tax bill. 

When is a classic car exempt from an MOT in the UK?

An MOT is a mandatory annual test for safety and emissions on cars of a certain age. According to gov.uk, you don’t need an MOT if:

  • the vehicle was built or first registered more than 40 years ago
  • no “substantial changes” have been made to the vehicle in the last 30 years. This can be checked by reading the full guidance on MOT exemptions for historic vehicles or consulting a historic vehicle expert. 

Unlike applying for a tax exemption, you don’t need to make an application to stop getting your yearly MOT. However, the car must still be kept in a roadworthy condition. Failure to do so means that your insurer could refuse to pay out in the event of an accident. 

What do I need to know about classic car insurance?

Although you may limit your classic or vintage car to the odd weekend run, as with all cars on UK roads, insurance is a legal requirement

Howden offers specialist classic vehicle insurance with tailored policies considering the individual requirements of your classic car and your personal usage. 

These policies include:

  • Limited mileage discounts
  • An agreed value
  • UK and European breakdown
  • Cover club member discounts
  • Multi vehicles and much more…

What age is a classic car for insurance?

It depends on the insurer. Some will follow HMRC’s guidelines and consider a car older than 15 years to be a classic. Others, meanwhile, will use a list of makes and models to determine if your vehicle falls under the classic category.

What are some key factors considered in classic car insurance?

Here are some essential details to remember when looking at classic car insurance

  • An agreed upfront valuation. 

You and your insurer must be on the same page when it comes to the value of your classic car. This will ensure that you’re correctly reimbursed for your loss in the event of a theft, fire or accident. 

Consulting an expert with no financial interest in the car, like a car club, is a good idea to get you on the right track. 

  • Where will your classic car be stored?

Your classic car insurer will also want to know where your classic car will be kept overnight. 

In the event of theft or fire, for example, whether the car was kept at the same postcode as your home address or in a private garage elsewhere may have a bearing on your payout. 

  • Modifications or upgrades.

All modifications should be listed for insurance purposes, as they may change the value of your car. 

Substantial changes to the engine, interior and or body parts may have significance in terms of the car’s vintage authenticity and, therefore, its value (and even tax status). 

  • Added security features.

Because classic cars are unlikely to have come with the security features we take for granted in modern cars, you may want to look into additional security systems. 

Security features or tracking systems approved by your insurer may see your premiums lowered. They’re worth looking into to avoid theft and increase the chances of getting your car back should it be nicked in the dead of night.

  • How much driving does your classic car do?

Because classic cars often see less road action than most people’s everyday run-arounds, their limited mileage also means you may pay less for your insurance. 

  • Who will be the insured driver?

Driver age will also play a part in your insurance quote. Statistically, younger drivers have more accidents, which could see older drivers paying lower premiums.

Older drivers are often thought to be more experienced and careful on the road. In addition, because classic cars are often a passion project, older classic car owners tend to have the time and finances to pay special attention to both the maintenance and safe operation of their vehicles.

The good news is that most of these factors mean that classic car insurance is often more competitively priced than the average insurance policy.

To recap:

Given the emotional ties we have with our cars, any older vehicle with nostalgic value could be considered a classic. Whether it’s the distinctive design, the special memory it triggers, or the fact that the car is out of production, everyone is likely to have their own ideas of what makes the cut.  

However, it’s only when it comes to insurance, tax, licensing, or classic car club membership that the technical classification really matters. So, if you have a classic car, or are thinking of buying one, key dates, makes, and models all become important. 

Protect your pride and joy today with a competitive classic car insurance quote from Howden.

Also read:
Is classic car insurance a specialist insurance?
Classic cars – a good investment?
What is classic van insurance?