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Defining classic cars and who deserves the plates

Defining classic cars and who deserves the plates

Can you define a classic car? Is it just any old car out there or is it a vintage car that is well-taken care of? Confused? I know, I am. How do you put a label on it?

When does a car become a classic?

The Department of Motor Vehicles in almost every state seems to agree that, “…to obtain a Classic Vehicle plate, the vehicle must be twenty years old (model year) or older and currently registered…” in the corresponding state. So, in general, every car can be considered a classic, as long as it is at least 20 years old, regardless of its costs.

However, the California DMV thinks differently. According to the state agency, a legacy plate can be issued for any vehicle, regardless of the year of manufacture, without replacing the Year Of Manufacture (YOM) license plates.

This means that any car can enjoy the luxury of having a Legacy plate. However, it does not entitle the owner to the same benefits as the YOM plates. The YOM license plate rules out any auto, trailer, and motorcycle, manufactured after 1969, and 1972 for commercial vehicles. In essence, it means that if your “Classic Car” is 20 years old it can qualify for a Classic Plate in some states, but not in others – California being one of them.

What are the benefits of the YOM license plates?

The YOM license plate gives you the right to operate your vehicle in full capacity, without being restricted to participation in historical vehicle activities. One instance would be the Specially Constructed Vehicles (SPCNS) of vintage cars – replicas or any homemade vehicle, i.e. not produced by a licensed manufacturer or re-manufacturer.

Defining classic cars and who deserves the plates
Photo credit to

So what else do you get by having a Classic Plate on your car and why everyone is trying to get one?

Well, the big downside of classic/old cars is the amount of smog that they produce. Additionally, if you want to have one with full operating privileges, you have to make sure it passes the Smart Test. This is where the legacy plate comes in. It allows you to skip the emission test and head for the streets.

Do we want unmaintained classic cars to hit the roads?

Imagine this. You have invested in a well-maintained vintage car. All parts are in place, it runs smoothly. You only need to fill up that big and demanding gas tank.

Now imagine this. Your neighbor next door has an old Chevrolet Chevelle from the late 70s. It has some rust on it and peeled-off paint. The lights are dimmer than they used to be, but it drives…..Ok, it drives. But does it mean that it should be skipping the smart checks and have the same privileges that other classic cars have?

Photo credit to
Photo credit to

I will leave this to your judgment. Yet, think of this. A well-treated classic car should be able to distinguish itself before the law from other barely functioning cars out there.

It may sound exclusive, a tad snobbish, perhaps, but we have to acknowledge and appreciate the time, money, and effort that were put into the restoration of your classic car. Do we really want to allow cars, which have not been inspected, on the road? Would you feel safe?

Which classic cars deserve the plate?

The real deal is that people are exploiting a program that was created mainly for classic car collectors. In this way, they can appreciate their investment on the road, without any restrictions. What it was NOT created for is people with old cars that can’t pass the test in general, not only the emissions regulation but the lights, the breaks, the body, etc.

As I mentioned, the purpose of a classic plate is to allow a classic car that is not up to the current environmental and/or safety regulations to be on the road with all of the rights and privileges. Now, if old cars don’t have the ability to limit their carbon dioxide emissions, should they still be operating? The carbon dioxide emissions are already hitting through the roof. Most of the emissions are a result of the transportation sector. And, yes a big part of it is due to the trucking industry, but still, cars are the next big contributor.

So what happens to all of our efforts to preserve the environment and improve the air quality by using electric and/or hybrid vehicles, when a “classic car” with a classic plate on it can swipe that off in seconds?

How much of a difference does a fuel-efficient vehicle make?

A lot. A fuel-efficient vehicle is a vehicle that needs less gas to go a given distance, and it has determined how clean the output is going to be. In most cases, a classic car needs twice the fuel compared to some fuel-efficient vehicles on the market today. They simply lack the catalytic converter to process the fuel in an environmentally friendly way.

It will cost you and society MORE to keep a vintage car on the road than to purchase a new, fuel-efficient one.

What do I mean by that? Most people tend to think that an old car is cheaper to buy, but many times this is not the case. Very often a classic/old vehicle will actually cost you more to purchase, restore, and maintain than to actually get a new one. Not to mention the long-term costs of having an old car – greater pollution, greater negative health impact, and greater chances of the car breaking.

And yet, many people choose a classic car without seeing it as a burden. This is what a definition of a classic car is for me – the pleasure of having a car that survived time and managed to stay relevant. A car that takes you back to an era where things were simpler and you could slow down. Anything else, no matter how old, should not count as a classic car.

But times change, mindsets shift, and the car culture will most likely evolve. Until then, are you wondering if your car classifies as a classic? We hope that this post was useful. And if you need to ship your classic car, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our team of experts is here to assist you and get you a free, no-obligation quote.

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