What is my car worth? Should I restore it? These are age-old questions that have plagued hobbyists for decades.

For starters, if the primary concern in owning a collector car is its value, you're in the wrong hobby. If you want to make money, play in the stock market, or buy futures. There are plenty of better ways to invest than buying a collector car. Now, don't get us wrong. Many cars increase in value, and many a hobbyist has made money selling their car. But, many have lost money, too, especially after lengthy restorations.

If you only need an informal valuation, there are a number of guidebooks on the market. Beware of those produced by well-know publishers of "used car" value books. Those publishers frequently don't have the staff with expertise in the collector car field. Select one of many from publishers that specialize in this market. For example, Old Cars Price Guide, by Krause Publications, has been around the longest and is fairly complete.

If your insurance company insists on a formal valuation, you'll want to get a good appraiser. Look for a certified appraiser who makes his living in the appraisal business. Don't use a buddy who has a piece of letterhead and belongs to your car club just because he is inexpensive. Unless he regularly appraises cars, attends auctions and car shows, and has an in-depth knowledge of the market, the number you'll get could be wildly inaccurate, and you could lose a lot of money should you ever have a claim. Instead, check the services section of any major hobby publication for the name and contact information of certified appraisers.

A word of caution: beware of any appraiser who claims to be licensed. No state offers an appraiser's license for valuation, and only the state of Michigan is working on a valuation appraisers license, as of the time of this writing. Claiming non-existent credentials is a certain red flag as to the appraisers credibility!

Note that most auto appraiser trade organizations are loosely organized. In some cases, they are based on organizations more oriented toward furniture and real estate rather than automobiles. There is nothing wrong with an appraiser belonging to such a group, but whether or not an appraiser belongs to an organization is not as important as you might think.

Ultimately, one of the best appraisals you can have is simply a full set of photos. Use your camera or digital camera and shoot an entire roll of film. Take pictures of every corner, the underside, engine compartment, trunk interior, as well as all four sides of the exterior. Have the photos developed and date them. Keep the photographs along with the negatives or disc in a safe, fireproof lock box. Be sure to take a new set when you make any important improvements to the car, and shoot a complete new set every couple of years.

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