Classic Car Check: Fit for the “H” License Plate?

Old cars need special attention to keep up in road traffic. The care requirement counts in particular for classic cars that are applying for the “H” license plate. However, the coveted “H” is only available with an expert’s certificate. We asked DEKRA expert Andreas Lahne how this classic car check can succeed.

A classic car continues to participate in traffic like any other car. Photo: DEKRA

When temperatures climb in spring, it’s time to wake up the classic car in the garage from its hibernation. Some enthusiasts book an appointment with their trusted workshop, which carries out the necessary work. Real tinkerers, on the other hand, do the spring check themselves. They know their little darling’s special needs, and have a ton of tricks up their sleeve to get a carburetor engine running again. Removing the spark plugs doesn’t make them sweat, and they have the right care product for rubber seals in their cupboards.

In addition to these seasoned pros, there are also the people who have yet to knock on the exclusive classic car community’s door. Is there perhaps an Audi 100 Avant with a five-cylinder turbo in the garage? A Volkswagen Golf III with a VR6 engine? An Opel Astra F or a Renault Clio? A Mercedes S-Class 140 or a Volvo 850 with front-wheel drive and side impact protection system? These vehicles all date back to 1991 and may soon become classics overnight. “When a vehicle reaches the age of 30, it’s officially considered a classic car in this country. The first day of registration is the deciding factor,” explains DEKRA classic car expert Andreas Lahne, who coordinates the activities of DEKRA Classic Services.

The H license plate documents the historic character of a classic car

The newly minted classic car can then continue to participate in traffic like any other passenger car. The general inspection (HU) also remains a mandatory event. However, the proud owner can also publicly display the historic status of his classic car – with a license plate that demonstrates this special characteristic. In addition, the H license plate – “H” stands for historic – introduced in Germany in 1997 offers tangible advantages. The tax authorities, for example, are content with a flat-rate tax of around 192 euros a year. In addition, many insurers offer a more favorable rating because historic cars generally don’t accumulate as many kilometers as an everyday car. Even in environmental zones, classic cars with H license plates generally have free passage, even if regional restrictions here and there preclude access. But how do classic car owners get the coveted “H” on their license plate? “The Road Traffic Office is responsible for issuing the license plate. The application requires an operating license and positive expert evaluation in accordance with Section 23 of the Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO),” reports DEKRA expert Lahne. General inspections of classic cars and appraisals for the H license plate are part of the test engineer’s daily business.

The closer the car is to its original condition, the better

“The appraisal is primarily concerned with whether the vehicle largely corresponds to its original condition, is in a good state of preservation, and serves to maintain the motor vehicle cultural asset,” Lahne knows. There are up to 26 different components on his appraisal inspection plan. Whether a classic car has what it takes for an H license plate ultimately depends on its individual condition. In fact, the car doesn’t have to be in perfect condition when it comes in for inspection. However, it should be roadworthy without any restrictions and show no signs of rust perforation. Even slight signs of aging in appearance and technology are fine. On the other hand, accident damage or improper repair would prevent a positive appraisal. A classic vehicle with a retrofitted electric motor wouldn’t stand a chance, either. On the other hand, equipping the car with a sports steering wheel and a sports suspension can underline its ambitions for historic registration – provided that the accessories come from the contemporary sales shelf and were installed in the first ten years after initial registration.

A spring check clarifies the chances of a classic candidate

If the automotive darling is to succeed in the appraisal, it’s worth paying extra attention in advance. The first step would be a visual inspection, as is customary for the spring check anyway. What condition are steering wheel lock and license plate lights in, for example? Are the windshield wipers and washer system working? Sometimes it’s small, hidden defects that spoil the overall good impression. The lighting should work all around. The headlights’ condition also plays a role here. If the lenses have cracks and holes, condensation can penetrate the housing. Windows and mirrors are also worth a second glance. Scratches, stone chips, and stickers on the windshield will be red-carded by the appraiser if they impair the driver’s field of vision. Mirror surfaces also tend to develop cracks or blind spots after an extended period of time. In addition to a thorough tire check, it’s also important to check operating fluids. Engine oil and coolant may need a top-up. On this occasion, a look under the vehicle can provide important insight – stains on the garage floor are usually an unmistakable sign of porous spots or rust damage to lines and hoses. By the way, if the authorities ultimately grant the H license plate, it’s only a temporary success, as Andreas Lahne explains. After all, at each subsequent general inspection, in addition to the technical inspection, the expert checks anew whether the conditions for recognition as a motor vehicle cultural asset are still being met.

Spring check – Fit for the “H” license plate?

Cleaning

  • Thorough washing of the car, preferably at the self-service facility
  • Remove road salt from underbody and door entrances
  • Keep the high-pressure jet at least 40 centimeters away from the vehicle
  • Treat door rubbers and seals with a rubber care product

Miscellaneous

  • Check horn
  • Check function of steering wheel lock
  • Make sure battery is properly secured. Cover for positive terminal in place?
  • Check for corrosion on plug connections and fuses
  • Windshield wipers and washer system functional?
  • Does the 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) match the information in the vehicle registration document?

Body, windows, and mirrors

  • Check the body for rust perforation. Neuralgic areas are the vehicle floor, sills, fenders, wheel housings and trunk floor
  • Check windshield for damage. The driver’s field of vision must be free of scratches, stone chips, and stickers
  • Inspect interior and exterior mirrors. Check for cracks or blind spots

Headlights / lighting

  • Check low and high beam
  • Light diffusor / cover lens undamaged?
  • Check brake lights, turn signals, and hazard warning lights

Operating fluids

  • Check engine oil and coolant
  • Brake fluid level OK?
  • In case of a battery with sealing plug, refill with distilled water if necessary
  • Sufficient windshield wiper water available?

Rims and tires

  • Are rim and tire sizes the same as in the vehicle documents?
  • Tread depth more than 1.6 mm?
  • Check for damage to tires and rims
  • Tires worn on one side?
  • Air pressure correct?
  • Check tire age – replace after six years at the latest

Brakes

  • Is the pedal pad non-slip?
  • Does the handbrake engage securely and can it be released easily?
  • Check wear of brake pads
  • Do the brakes squeal?
  • Does the car stay on track when braking hard?

Steering

  • Are steering rack boots in order?
  • Check steering for play
  • Are there any particular steering noises?

Engine

  • Is the engine sealed tight?
  • Replace cracked or swollen fuel hoses
  • Warm up engine at low to medium engine speeds

Chassis

  • Check shock absorbers and springs
  • Is oil leaking from shock absorbers?
  • Check for corrosion on chassis parts

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