Restoring a Car? Read This for Better Results

You have found that dream car, and she is a beauty. The lines, the style… everything you’ve imagined.

Except for that rust.
And the ripped interior.
And the engine that may or may not run.

That old classic you’ve found can become the car of your dreams, but there is quite a bit of work between where you start and where you hope to end up. Depending on the condition of the car, restoring a car can feel like rebuilding it from scratch. Here are some tips to make that process more manageable.

Price it Out and Break it Down

Planning will go a long way in your success and enjoyment of the project. The first decision you need to make is how much money you want to spend on this. This means how much money in total, not just on the car. It is key to have that number in mind from the very beginning, as it will affect what car you buy. A cheaper car might be tempting, but pay close attention to how much work it will need.

As you break down your final budget into the price of the car and all the different parts and tools it will require, this is the best time to decide if this DIY project is for you. If this is a “passion project” that you have wanted to do for a long time, that is fantastic. Read on and enjoy! If it is just a project to save money, you might discover in this budgeting phase that purchasing a rebuilt title car (also referred to as a rebuilt/restored title car) from a used car dealer could be a better investment in the end.

Once your budget is established, take a look at your calendar. Being realistic is key in avoiding frustration! Where will the car be parked during the process? Make sure it is somewhere that you don’t need for a while! How much time can you realistically spend on the project? Break it down into phases and map out a timeline. It will feel much less intimidating if you take the time for this work in the beginning.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

Imagine your car is a teenager on Snapchat—so it will want pictures from EVERY possible angle.

The pictures aren’t just for the memories or before and after shots. Those will be treasures, definitely. But, pictures will also help you in the process, especially as you start taking things apart and putting them back together!

Set Up Space(s)

If possible, set up two separate work areas. One will be for mechanical and bodywork, while the other is for electrical and upholstery work. This keeps things organized and makes it possible for you to work on more than one project at a time.

Keep Everything

As you start to dismantle (taking pictures at every step!) hold on to everything and try to label as you go. You might think something is beyond repair or unnecessary, but don’t be too sure yet. Keep it, label it, and put it with whatever it was attached to in the first place. You can throw it away once you’ve replaced it!

Work from the Inside Out

Generally, this is a good order as you attack the project:
Pull everything out of the interior, even the dashboard. If possible, pull the dashboard with all the instruments still mounted, but if not, break it down piece by piece. Just keep everything together and label it. Oh, did we mention that you should take pictures too?

  1. Wiring: Labeling the wiring is critical. It is worth the extra time at this stage. Also, make a note of any wires that are damaged.
  2. Engine Gearbox and Transmission: Drain any fluids before this step. Hopefully, you can get your hands on an engine crane for this step!
  3. External Panels: Bumpers, wings, trim, and clips come off next. Be careful with those clips! They can be tricky to track down. Then, off comes the hood, trunk, and doors. Scrubbing around the hinges will make everything remount more smoothly later.
  4. Windows: A rubber seal is all that stands between you and glass removal. If the car is old, those seals might be fairly dry and possibly cracked, so a butter knife should do the trick. Find a safe place to store those glass panes.
  5. Headlights: You won’t be needing those for a while. Set them aside and make note of their clarity.

Plan ahead and Order Now

As you dismantle the car, keep a running list of parts you know you’ll need to order. The supply chain can be challenging, so once you know you’ll need a part, put the order in as soon as possible. Not only will this help avoid the frustration of waiting in the future, but it will give you a clearer idea of your budget as you move forward. If you can find one location for your parts, it will keep things simpler.

Find the Fun

Tackling a DIY car restoration project is no small thing, but it can be a thrilling and fun challenge. Try to remember that when you find an extra screw, hit your head (again), or can’t figure out how on earth to reattach, connect, or hang something. You are rebuilding a car that took a team of people and lots of machines to build the first time. Be patient with yourself and find a way to laugh at the process. One piece at a time, it will come together and be a car full of memories before you even hit the road with it.

Need more tips? Or want a road-ready rebuilt title car? Contact us at TJ Chapman.