A Basic Car Restoration Checklist

For car lovers, there are fewer joys greater than taking a car you spent months restoring out for its first drive. Whether you’re revving a cherry red ‘57 Cadillac you rebuilt from the ground up or that onyx black ‘87 Camaro that just needed a little TLC, successfully restoring a car grants a sense of mastery and accomplishment unlike any other. A restored car can also be a valuable investment investment that’s worth tens of thousands of dollars more than what you paid for it. If you’re thinking about trying your hand at classic car restoration, you’ll need to know the process from start to finish to make the most of it.

Car Restoration 101: How to Restore a Classic Car Without Killing Its Value

If you’re thinking about restoring a car as an investment, you’ll have two ways to do so. Restorations that bring a car to its factory condition require expert workmanship and as many original parts possible. When done successfully, they can be indistinguishable from the original and can attract the attention of serious collectors who might make you a serious offer. However, you can also restore a classic car to functional condition, which is much easier for most collectors and can still yield a respectable return.

Average Cost to Restore a Classic Car

The average cost to restore a car will depend on the initial condition of the vehicle you purchase and what your goals are with it. While every car will be different, TLC Restorations estimates that a typical complete frame-off restoration will take anywhere from 395 to 550 labor hours to finish. According to Triple A, most auto repair shops charge anywhere from $47 to $215 an hour, while CarsDirect.com reports the average starting price to be $75 an hour. They estimate the price of a full restoration to be anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000 range once parts are taken into account.

Easiest and Best Classic Cars to Restore

The condition your car is in when you buy it will be the biggest factor that determines how easy it is to restore. A car in great disrepair might come cheap but could wind up costing far more to restore than a car in better condition. Older or more rare vehicles may also be more difficult to work with because you may have a harder time finding their parts, meaning you may have to settle on reproductions rather than originals. American muscle cars such as Chevy Camaros and Mustangs are some of the most popular choices for restoration thanks to the widespread availability of parts and the large support communities around them.

Where to Start When Restoring a Car

The first step to any successful car restoration is to know what you want out of your vehicle. Your choice will be different if you want a beauty for the show circuit or a beast for the roads, so you’ll want to keep your goals in mind when making your initial purchase. Once you know what you want, you can then choose one that is within your ability to restore. If you buy one that is too far gone, you could waste all of your time on a hopeless project and sour yourself on future ones.

Car Restoration Mistakes to Avoid: What Not to Do

Many people who are restoring their first car rush into the project and make costly mistakes which are easy to avoid. They may skip important steps, break or misplace parts, or even put themselves at risk of injury or death because they don’t approach each step of the restoration process methodically. Restoring a car to its original glory doesn’t have to take blood, sweat, and tears if you take your time throughout the process. Doing so can save money in addition to some unnecessary battle scars.

Classic Car Restoration Checklist: Step By Step Process

Most classic car restorations follow a similar pattern, which you can use to guide yours.

Make a Plan

Restoring a car will take a significant investment in time and money, so you want to make a thorough plan out every step before beginning. Create a budget for time, materials, space, and labor you expect to use so you can obtain the necessary parts, people, and facilities. This will likely serve only as a baseline estimate, but you’ll at least have an idea of what to expect at every stage. Your plan can also keep you on track and less likely to cut corners throughout your project.

Strip It Down

Document your car with photos and videos before you start stripping it down and as you go along. Once you begin removing parts, label them and take more video and photographs, which will make reassembly easier. If you are going for a full restoration, you’ll have to remove every part from the chassis and elevate it either on a rotisserie or axle stands. However, you’ll only have to remove the parts you wish to replace for a a partial restoration.

Repair the Body

Strip the paint off the body of the body of your car by sanding it off or using an acid bath. Inspect the body for any rust that needs to be removed or dents that need fixing. Once you have removed any rust and repaired any dents, you can then spray the car with a primer then sand away any uneven parts. Once the car is dry, you can then repaint it, then carefully sand away any imperfections.

Change the Engine

Depending on what type of restoration you’re pursuing, you’ll want to either replace your engine with a new or upgraded version, or you can save on costs by switching out a few key parts. Check to see if the drive train needs to be replaced and if it is suitable for the engine you choose. You’ll want to carefully rebuild the engine if you take it apart and then test it before installing it in your car. You should also replace old belts and any other parts of the engine that may be worn out.

Rebuild the Car

After you’ve stripped the car down piece by piece and replaced or restored every one, you’ll need to put it all back together. You’ll want to start with the moving parts such as the transmission, engine, and suspension. You can then install the wiring harness and other electrical components, making sure they are grounded. Then you’ll want to install the doors, windows, and interior components, such as the seats and carpet last so they don’t get damaged.

Restoring a classic car can be a business decision as much as it is a labor of love. Bringing a car back to factory condition can give you an appreciating asset as well as a new toy, along with the experience and confidence necessary to do it again in the future. It’s important to take your time throughout the restoration process so you don’t make any mistakes, which could cause delays or damages if you aren’t careful. By doing the process right from the start, you can be sure you’ll have a car you will love and which other collectors will want to make their own.