Vintage Car Parts Buying Guide

Understanding the terms vintage, antique, and collectible can be a little confusing. To begin, vintage is a term that is used rather loosely to describe an era that is past; typically, things from this era are 20 to 99 years old. Antique refers to anything that is 100 years or older. And finally, collectible describes anything, from any time period, that is worthy of collecting as a part of a hobby or as an investment.

When discussing cars, there are actual time periods that are given to describe antique and vintage cars. The antique car era starts with the origination of cars and lasts until the 1920s. The vintage car era overlaps a bit with this, and it includes cars made from 1919 to 1930. This era will be the focus of this guide which will discuss the history of the vintage car era. It will also discuss the biggest car manufacturers during the vintage car era as well as the lax safety features these cars possessed. Further, the vehicle condition rating scale will be introduced so consumers gain a better understanding of what is expected in various categories of vintage cars. The section on locating vintage car parts will help consumers tailor their searches towards finding exactly the parts they need. Finally, consumers will learn how to buy vintage car parts on eBay.

What Is The History of the Vintage Car Era?

The vintage car era began just after the end of World War I in 1919 and lasted until 1930. During this time, the automotive world was in transition from creating vehicles that were first seen as rare luxuries, and later, as commodities. One thing that impacted the popularity of the car was the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which was the first federal highway act. Although the War had negative effects on this Act, in 1921, more legislation was passed; this time, it was called the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. With this, states were given money for the building of roads. Better roads led to the capacity for more cars.

It was at this time that cars became practical for everyday use. Manufacturers paid more attention to the comfort and convenience of cars; as such, car heating and radios were installed in many makes and models. In addition, the mechanical components of a car became more advanced and a hydraulic braking system was introduced as well as power steering. Different octane ratings also debuted during the vintage era, and consumers could choose between fuels.

The Big Three

Before the vintage car era even began, the world's first mile of concrete road was built in Detroit, Michigan, in 1909. Since then, Detroit has been a leader in the domestic car realm and has been home to the nation's top producing car makers, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler.

The vintage car era was led by Henry Ford with his assembly line formation. Soon after, other entrepreneurs followed his lead with Alfred P. Sloan reinventing General Motors and Walter P. Chrysler forming the Chrysler Corporation. All these companies capitalized on the automobile's role in the life of the consumer and produced many vehicles quickly. When the Depression hit, thousands of workers were laid off and the sale of cars decreased, but this downfall only impacted the car industry for a few years.

Popular cars made during this time include Ford's Model T and Model A, General Motor's Cadillac, and Chrysler's early Plymouths.

Safety of Vintage Cars

In no way were vintage cars as safe as vehicles that are produced today. Where modern car manufacturers must adhere to strict safety guidelines, when automobiles were just beginning, there were no set rules in place. As such, there were no vehicle requirements related to windshields, doors, lights, turn signals, or seat belts. In addition, there were no pollution control devices or air bags, and brakes were often faulty.

Vehicle Condition Rating

To car enthusiasts, collectors, and investors, a vehicle's condition rating is important. When restoring a vehicle and looking for parts for it, it is important to keep these categories in mind.

Vehicle is in good or better condition than the day it was produced; flawless
Vehicle is in excellent or superior condition; near flawless
Vehicle with older restoration or original car with little wear
Very Good
Vehicle in original condition or an older, well-cared-for restoration
Vehicle showing wear and needs work or minor restoration; no major flaws
Vehicle is completely functional; may be flawed cosmetically but runs fine
Vehicle needs restoration of the motor, body, or interior; does not need many parts
Vehicle needs extensive restoration and many parts
Under 20
Parts car
Vehicle that is not restorable; used for its parts to restore other cars

When buying vintage car parts, consumers should remember the categories and plan restorations accordingly.

Locating Vintage Car Parts

It can be time-consuming to locate vintage car parts. Whether it is a tiny decal for the interior of the car or a critical component of the engine, each is important in restoring the perfect vintage car. With a little bit of care, used parts can be restored to like-new condition.

Another option is to find new old stock parts. These are parts made by the provider who manufactured them for the sale at the car dealership, so these parts are often as old as the vehicles for which they were built, but they have never been used. As such, they are considered new and in perfect condition. Because these parts are limited, demand often exceeds the supply, and the hefty prices reflect this.

There are several outlets for finding vintage car parts:

  • Online Forums: By browsing online forums, consumers can find information on any vintage car. In fact, some of the larger sites have sections where cars, car parts, and accessories can be found at good prices.
  • Retailers: There are three large retailers who are considered to be reputable sellers of vintage car parts. Kanter Auto, U.S.A. Parts Supply, and Hemmings are domestic retailers that boast wide selections of car parts for all makes and models of cars from eras past.
  • Classic Car Junk Yards: These junk yards are packed with valuable vintage car parts in all conditions, if the consumer is willing to do some digging. Usually, cars that are similar will be grouped together, so check with the owner to see how the lot is organized.
  • Car Shows: A local car show, often held at county fairgrounds, is another great place to find vintage car parts. Although these shows only last a few days, they are worth checking out because deals abound from sellers all over the nation.
  • eBay: eBay is another place to consider when looking for vintage car parts. This large, online marketplace allows shoppers to search for car parts in an organized format from the comfort of their homes. Shoppers can limit their searches in many ways, and deals are abundant here.

It is often easier to find engine, brake, and suspension parts rather than lesser known parts, such as control arms or strut rods. The cost of harder to find items varies by model, make, and year as well as how many parts were made by the manufacturer. When looking for the best prices, it is smart to shop around and compare costs. However, if the part is rare, consumers should expect to pay more for it.

The desire for acquiring vintage car parts is big with car enthusiasts, hobbyists, and collectors.Knowing where to locate vintage car parts is helpful, especially when searching for a smaller accessory, and consumers should check out several outlets and compare pricing if possible.