Collector Cars: Reducing Risks When on the Road
Automobile collections represent a diverse array of interests, from antiques to classics to high-tech supercars. One thing all collectors share is a passion for driving. But when it comes to taking prized vehicles out on the road, collectors need to keep risks in mind to best protect their valuable investment.
To Drive or Not to Drive?
Not all owners drive the cars in their collections. Some try to keep them pristine, with as few miles as possible, to preserve their uniqueness and value. For many others, weekend cruises, motoring club rallies, or other periodic trips are part of the joy of owning a collector car.
Driving a collector car can expose owners to a variety of risks, which can be costly. Here are some driving considerations:
Personal safety. Enjoyable as it may be to hear the putter of a 1920s Model T’s engine or the throaty exhaust note of a 1966 GTO, many collector cars were created before safety standards existed. In addition, original components lack the response characteristics of modern equipment. That’s especially true of tires and brakes. Seatbelts were not required in US automobiles until 1966, and most foreign countries did not require them until as late as 1975. As a result, driving older and unmodified vehicles can carry a higher risk of personal injury. To safely operate a collector car, drivers should avoid distractions, obey local traffic regulations, and maintain speeds in accordance with prevailing road conditions.
Fatal car crashes are decreasing, thankfully, but injuries are still common. In 2019, the most recent year for which full data is available, the National Safety Council reported that motor vehicle incidents requiring medical treatment totaled 4.5 million, costing an estimated $463 billion.1 If more people drove older vehicles without modern safety features, the number of crash injuries likely would increase.
Property risk. Every collector’s nightmare is the loss of a prized vehicle, whether from a crash, theft, or other cause. Regardless of the reason, damage and loss can be costly, financially and emotionally. Many older vehicles, and even newer exotic ones, have parts that are difficult or impossible to replace with original equipment, which can significantly alter the vehicle’s value. A car’s value or rarity can also make it a target for thieves. Any kind of loss can be traumatic, particularly if the owner had the vehicle for a long time, or spent time and energy in restoring it.
Properly maintaining collector cars, storing them securely, and operating them in safe driving conditions, are a few ways to mitigate the risk of theft, as well as crashes and the injuries and property damage they may cause.
Liability risk. Damage to a prized auto is not the only worry for collectors. Auto owners are also exposed to liability if their vehicle injures someone or damages another’s property. Personal injury lawsuits frequently seek monetary damages, which can run into millions of dollars. Such litigation is stressful to defend, and it can be financially ruinous for defendants. Personal excess liability insurance can respond to such exposures, and car collectors can benefit from adding their vehicles to these policies.
Legal risk. Numerous states allow residents to register qualifying vehicles as historic. In addition to a special license plate signifying historic status, the cost of registration is generally lower than that of a vehicle used daily. But state laws usually stipulate that historic vehicles ‒ usually those more than 25 years old ‒ not be used for general transportation. Such laws generally permit historic automobiles to be driven on public roads for exhibitions, club activities, and to garages for maintenance. Taking a historic vehicle out for other uses could lead to a traffic ticket.2
Collector Car Risk Management Tips
The following tips can help mitigate some of the risks of driving collector cars:
Ensure vehicles are road-ready. Proper maintenance is critical for antique and other collector cars. Not every vehicle that starts is ready for the open road – or for high-speed driving. By some estimates, 50,000 to 60,000 Ford Model T’s are registered and still operating, even though the last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927. An original Model T’s top speed is only about 40 mph, so highway driving is best avoided.
Drive safely. Preparing a collector car for the road is one thing. It’s another to drive the vehicle safely for the road conditions. For example, old tires on wet pavement can be dangerous. A 1960s muscle car likely still has impressive acceleration, but it also might take longer to stop than a contemporary vehicle with disc brakes on all wheels. Similarly, off-roading may be a bad idea unless the vehicle is designed for those conditions. Drivers should exercise caution anytime they’re operating collector cars.
Explore insurance options. Prepare for the unexpected by discussing insurance coverage with a personal risk advisor. Insurance advisors who specialize in the needs of wealthy individuals and families often have in-house specialists who understand – and may be just as passionate about – the unique needs of car collectors and their cherished vehicles. They also typically work with leading insurance carriers that provide flexible coverage for collectible cars.
Taking the right risk management steps can give car collectors peace and mind as well as confidence whenever you’re ready to take that next drive.
1 “Injury Facts, Motor Vehicles Overview,” National Safety Council;
2 “Historic Vehicle Registration Laws,” FindLaw.com, November 7, 2019;