A classic car is a vehicle of cultural and historic interest that is at least 20 years old, and maintained in a like-new condition. There is considerable debate over the precise definition of a classic car. Organizations with an interest in such vehicles may have competing definitions, and government regulators also have their own standards for determining whether a car is a classic. Such vehicles may qualify for special treatment when it comes to registration, vehicle taxes, and related matters, and thus the distinction between them and other types of cars can be important.
As a rough rule of thumb, a classic car should be between 20 and 40 years old; older cars are antiques. Furthermore, it must be kept in a condition similar to that seen on the assembly line when it was new. Some small retrofits for safety or environmental health may be permissible; for example, drivers can add restraints to vehicles that were not originally made with seat belts. These modifications should be unobtrusive.
The car must also be recognized as distinctive and of unusual quality. Cars older than 20 years old may be on the road, but they might not be considered classics if they are in poor condition, or don't have a cultural value. The car should come from a reputable manufacturer. Demand can determine whether a vehicle qualifies as a classic car; if the car is highly salable and desirable, this implies that it has cultural value, while a car that would be hard to sell on the open market may not be a classic.
Collectors of classic cars may also evaluate vehicles in terms of the design characteristics they exhibit. Cars from a particular era tend to have distinctive visual appearances, like the curvy bodies of cars from the 1950s. A car might be a classic if it has an unusual feature like the first iteration of a new engine design or a unique visual accent, especially if that feature later became common as a result of the popularity of that make and model.
For government purposes, a classic car usually needs to fit within a narrow definition set out by a vehicle registration authority. Drivers who want to qualify for benefits like exemptions from emissions tests or lower registration fees should check with the authorities to determine whether their cars qualify. If a car does not meet the standard, claiming those benefits would be fraudulent, and the driver might need to pay a fine.