Ask the Appraiser

How to authenticate a car, and more: Ask the Appraiser

by Dave Kinney
10 August 2023 5 min read

In addition to benefitting from a trove of data, Hagerty Insider also relies heavily on the expertise of veteran market watchers, including Dave Kinney, appraiser and publisher of Hagerty Price Guide. In this column, he will answer often-asked questions about collector car values and buying and selling. Though Dave can’t put a value on an individual car in this column (that’s what people pay him to do in his appraisal business, after all), he can field questions about the appraisal process, how to go about buying and selling classics, and the industry as a whole. Have a question of your own for a future article? Ask in the comments section.

This week, we tackle questions on condition, customs with famous owners, and more details about how appraising in the field works.

Condition Query: Can you explain the condition ratings that you use in the Hagerty Price Guide/Hagerty Valuation Tools. For example, I know that #1 cars are quite rare – but how many of them are out there?

DK: We get this question a lot. I’m the one who wrote the original guidelines for our #1 through # 4 conditions, so let me walk you through them. 

I’ll start with #4. Cars in condition #4 are still decent cars, not rusty wrecks or basket cases. They might have paint problems or a replacement interior. If the car has chrome or other brightwork, it might have pitting, or possibly even be missing a piece. #4 cars run and drive, but probably have some small mechanical issues, such as leaks. If your state or municipality has a mandatory inspection, a condition #4 car would pass this inspection. Are there collector cars that are in worse condition than our #4 rating? Yes, there are. As for how to value them, start with the #4 number and subtract. 

Hagerty’s #3 condition covers most of the collector cars in the marketplace. They look very good to great from a distance, but the devil is in the details. The paint still shines but will show some flaws upon closer inspection. The brightwork, which still looks good and is complete, might need a full polish. The interior is mostly correct, but, again, there might be some wear areas on the seat bolsters. The tires, although still serviceable, show tread wear and scuffs. These cars are drivers, not show winners.

Condition #2 cars are really nice cars, capable of winning a judged car show. In my experience, #2 cars are often former #1 cars that the owner has driven and used. It will be difficult to find a flaw in the paint or the interior, but, if you look closely, you will find something a bit “off”. The hoses or clamps in the engine bay might be the wrong type. There might be a scuff mark or two on the door sill plate. Most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a #2 and a #1 condition car, but the differences do exist. 

Finally comes everyone’s favorite, the #1 car. Okay, not necessarily everyone’s favorite. Remember this, less than 1 percent of collector cars are #1 condition cars. If your car is a #1 condition car, it may have been in a climate-controlled bubble since the day it was delivered to you, and then gone over by a concours-preparation expert who replaced any tired, faded, or worn bits. More likely, though, is that it’s a freshly finished show car restored by marque experts. Let’s be real here, there is no such thing as a perfect car, but a #1 car comes as close to perfect as possible. 

And then there are the ½ grades, the #2+ or #2-, for example. These serve as a way to bridge the gap between conditions, which, admittedly can be wide between the 1-4 condition ratings.

After doing these types of ratings for more years than I care to think, I would say it’s best to err on the side of caution if you have questions. Your #3+ could easily be someone else’s #2-.  These ranking are subjective, and not just from person to person, but also from car to car. Keep in mind that build quality when the car was new can come into the mix. A Ford or Chevy from, say, 1972 or ’73 just might have been built to a looser tolerance than a Mercedes-Benz from the same year.

Condition ratings are shorthand for a complete and comprehensive look at the car and should be treated as such. 


Hot-Rod with History: Hello, I acquired a 1951 Mercury with a chopped ’49 roof. I was directed by the seller to talk with the guy who owned it in the ’50s. Apparently, when he had purchased the ’49 in L.A. in the mid-1950s there was a story that the car had been done by Sam Barris for a Mickey Rooney movie. Then, the ’49 was wrecked by the next owner, in 1960. The ’49 roof was removed and placed on the ’51. The chop is old with gas welding and lead filler. I have attempted to track the Mickey Rooney/Sam Barris thing on the internet to no avail. I am not interested in proving this is that car, just if there is a possibility such a car even existed.

DK: I can’t answer your direct question here, but I think I can be of help. First, let’s remember that appraisers are not authenticators. What you need, or at least want here is just that, an authentication. I’m suggesting you, or a friend, or someone you hire, do the authentication work here.

The first stop for anyone authenticating this car might be finding as many contemporary hot rod and custom car magazine articles as you can. Mickey Rooney was a bit of a teen idol as well, so I would look for magazine articles that involved him from that timeframe. Next, it’s time to make some phone calls and write some emails. There are museums that have interest in, and collections of hot rods and custom cars from that era. Get in touch with as many of them as possible, and ask questions. The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles and Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska, come to mind instantaneously.

From there I would find out who has written about, and who carries the flame for early Barris Brothers cars. Are there people who worked with Sam who took photos?  

The next step would be finding more information about the life and times of Mickey Rooney. Is there a museum somewhere? Fan club?

Are you getting the idea this could be lots of work? Trust me, it is. And although I value cars for a living, and don’t authenticate them, I have hired an authenticator in the past, once for a client, and once for me, for a car that was owned by a famous family.

Both times it was expensive and time consuming. But is it worth it? That’s a question only you, or anyone attempting to have a car authenticated, can answer.


Ran When Parked: Can you appraise a car without it running?

DK: Yes, and its surprising how many times I get asked this question. Often an appraiser has to work in what I call “field conditions”. The owner isn’t present, but the manager of his properties is. He can’t find the key to the car, but he knows the car ran because he put the car in the garage last week. In most, but not every case, I can rely on him to answer the questions. In my report, we might state that “according to Jim Smith. Property manager, the car runs well and he drove it on-site less than 48 hours before the appraiser viewed the car” or similar statement. If the car is just plain not running, we can also state that. We would obviously deduct for the non-running status of the car, sometimes a serious amount. If the car is said to have run last year, but will not start now, we will also make that note. 

In many ways, an appraisal is a snapshot of the value of an object in a particular place and time. We make notes about condition such as “smokes upon start-up”, but we do not go into the reasons why.


  • Cliff Ruthen says:

    I’m so pleased to be receiving the Hagerty daily newsletter again which had stopped coming for the last 2 + years, thank you so much. Cliff

  • Tom Akashi says:

    How do I contact Dave Kinney, appraiser and publisher of Hagerty Price Guide to look at a car? Original owner of a Porsche 914-2.0 with 20k miles.

  • cyclemikey says:

    I’ve always found the Hagerty condition ratings useful, but they’re sort of like a transmission with badly chosen gear ratios – small gap from 1-2, huge gap from 2-3, then a reasonable gap from 3-4.

    Extrapolation is the key, but even that assumes linearity, which may or may not be the case.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Everyone thinks their car is a #1 condition, right? I am probably with the majority and would be a #3.

  • Doug Bartholomew says:

    This article is very helpful and informative, but like that telltale puff of blue smoke on startup, it adds a whiff of confusion.
    At least one other popular old car price guide and many other publications use a 1 to 5 rating system. Certainly the Ferrari basket case featured in today’s Hagerstown newsletter must be a 5. But the appraiser only works with a 1 to 4 scale. What gives?

  • Doug Bartholomew says:

    Hagerty! Hate spell checkers.

  • jane don says:

    I have to wonder how realistic appraisals really are–both for insurance companies & private appraisals -I’ve luckily never had a claim with my old car (with Haggerty) but do wonder–I’ve got a 63 dodge & a Private appraiser valued it at $6000.For licensing –No way in Canada could I replace it for that– I would’nt even come close– so-I’m wondering how I would fair with Haggerty-

  • Luvs A Goodstory says:

    Thank you for your suggestions about the 49/51 Merc. I had not thought of museums. Would have figured that they would not talk to people off the street. Thank you again!

  • drr says:

    Not sure where the old Petersen Publishing library ended up? At the museum? That would be the perfect place to start, especially for the Hollywood connection due to proximity in the old days.

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