Secrets of Successful Car Restoration Projects

March 27, 2012

When working on a complex car restoration project, mistakes can be costly. Learn how to manage car restoration projects efficiently.

One of the most common mistakes made during car restoration projects is overestimating one's own capabilities. If you attempt a step in the process that you think you are capable of, but are not, you will not only have wasted a good deal of time, but may have to pay a professional even more money than you would have had to in the first place. Here are some tips on saving both time and money in your restoration project.

  • Acknowledge your limitations. Just because you know how to change your oil doesn't mean that you are a mechanic capable of rebuilding an engine. You need to take steps to prepare yourself to do the job if you do not have the existing knowledge needed to do it. Mechanics and body shop technicians go to school to learn their trade, and have done the same types of projects many, many times. Identify from the start what portions of the project you are comfortable doing yourself, and what portions need to be done by a professional.
  • Set your budget. This is critical, as it is tempting to always just add one more feature, one more bell or whistle to the project. Do your research before even buying your restoration project car. When you are actually buying the car, make sure that it is inspected carefully so that there aren't any unanticipated surprises. If you know what you are looking at spending before you even get started, and know your limitations, you will be much better prepared for the overall expense and will not be surprised by a costly task that needs to be done.
  • Seek your own financing. Car restoration finance is another thing to consider. Some shops have their own financing, but you can use actual banks or loan institutions using the car as collateral when it is a good investment. You can save a lot using your own financing options rather than the higher loan percentage rates of the shops.
  • Plan ahead. Rarely does any do-it-yourself project go according to plan. There will be some element of the project that will not go as you think it should. There is always something that comes up that was not anticipated. Make sure that your budget can accommodate this.
  • Have the proper tools. Take an inventory of your current car restoration tools to ensure you have what you need. You will be making several trips to the local hardware or tool store in the midst of the project, and these can be frustrating and time consuming. Figure out what you need to purchase and what you can rent.
  • Work methodically. Everyone has their own method of organization, but the restoration of a vehicle is not the project to be blasé about. Even if you are not an organized individual, by working methodically you will save yourself costly mistakes.

By following these tips, you will prepare yourself as well as you can for the project at hand. You will limit time consuming set-backs and maximize the money you have budgeted.

Car Restoration Tips to Save Time and Money

During the actual restoration, there are several specific items and techniques that will save you time and money.

  • Coat the carburetor. The carburetors on classic cars have a coating called dichromate to protect them. This was originally applied at the factory. You can replicate it with some spray paint that produces the same patina. Simply disassemble your carburetor then clean it thoroughly, putting in new gaskets while the part is dismantled. Apply the spray paint before reassembling and putting the carburetor back in the car.
  • Repaint the emblem. A classic car isn't complete without the proper emblem, but years of wear will have most likely affected the painted areas. You can make them look as good as new quite easily. First, clean off the old paint then apply model airplane paint on the affected areas. Apply with a very fine brush. Add the paint drop by drop, letting it flow through the painted area. This way, you can avoid brush marks on the emblem.
  • Use reproduction belts and hoses. If you're going to do a full restoration, even the belts and hoses should have the proper logo of the original manufacturer. Rather than spending a lot of money on a hose or belt from the original manufacturer, opt for a reproduction instead. These are readily available and cost a great deal less to help you carry out your restoration on a budget.
  • Save all bolts. Use as many of the original parts as possible. Not only will they look better in terms of preserving the original appearance but they'll also save you money on replacements. It's not too difficult to restore them to their original condition. Remove the bolts and soak them in a chemical cleaner before using a wire brush to remove the remainder of the dirt and rust. Once they're clean and dry, spray with clear coat paint and put the bolts back in. The cleaned parts will look like new.
  • Polish the lenses. It doesn't matter whether the lenses over the lights are clear or colored but over the years, they'll have undergone some wear and tear and will probably be scratched. As long as they aren't too damaged, there's no need to spend extra money replacing them. Clean them thoroughly and use fine grade metal polish on the lenses. This will take out small surface scratches and return the lenses to their original condition.
  • Use steel wool. Steel wool is an incredibly useful material which can save you time and money. Use extra fine 0000 grade steel wool for glass, chrome and stainless steel to clean the surfaces. It will clean the various pieces of trim but will not scratch them. It's especially good on stainless steel when combined with chrome cleaner and can easily remove overspray from many different surfaces without any damage.

Restorations That Add the Most Value

While there are all the standard items that have to be restored normally, like the frame, the doors and engine, there are several little extras that can go a long way in increasing the value of the finished product.

  • The frame. When restoring the car, start with the frame. Strip it down, coat it and paint it to the original condition. Going all original in a restoration adds to the value, even if it is not a part you see right away.
  • The upholstery. Putting the upholstery back in a beautiful finished product adds a lot to the car. Use a color that was available on the car. Padding the springs and making it more comfortable doesn't hurt, but having the type that was available with your car at the time it was made is an important step.
  • Body detailing. Bring back all the original trim items, such as a hood ornament on a Pontiac. If your car had one, getting an original hood ornament will bring up the value. Use all the original chrome and wood trims. Bring them back to their original luster or replace them if they are too far gone. The end result should be all the trim it had on the showroom floor.
  • The interior. The interior should be painted in the same color as the outside or in the corresponding color that it came with. The dashboard, whether painted or upholstered, should look the same. The headliner should be in the coordinating color that goes with the paint and be of a good quality fabric. Trim around the edges of the headliner may have to be custom worked, but if you go this extra step, your value goes up.
  • The sound system. More than likely you are not going to have the original radio in the car. Replacing it with a quality sound system will definitely bring the value up, but use discretion. You don't want to take away from the beautiful looks of the car by adding a boom box in the dash. A small quality unit can be installed and the stereo speakers placed out of sight in the back where the old speakers were originally.

Discretion is the key for anything that is not original in the car. If you change a few things, you don't want to overpower the sense of a classic automobile. You want to enhance the car and have some extras that weren't available, but do it very low key.

Car Restorations Kits

Car restoration kits can help your restoration project. These kits come with all you need in one box to start and finish a part of the restoration. Do some background checking to make sure that the company is reliable and the parts are quality. It always pays to take the time to do a little homework and get the best for your money.

  • Body kits. Car restoration supplies can come in all sorts of kits. One is the chassis and body bolt kit. Available for a lot of different types of vehicles, this kit comes with every bolt, nut, screw and washer you need to get your car assembled.
  • Dash kits. If your dashboard is split but not in need of recovering, you can get a kit to help you to fix the split, and make the vinyl look like new. If your dash is leather covered, you can also get a kit to restore the leather to its original look.
  • Light kit. Headlights and clear plastic restoration may seem impossible, but there are kits that will make those faded and cloudy plastic lenses look new again. When headlights have faded or become cloudy with age there is a fix in a kit. Sometimes the same kit does both.
  • Glass kit. Do you need to replace that entire windshield or does it just have a crack or nick in it? You can use a kit to repair that nick or crack and make it invisible, without the cost of finding a replacement windshield and installing it.
  • Paint kit. A paint preparation kit is a way to get your car ready to paint, using less money and less fuss. Get all you need in one kit to clean, prep and get a base coat on. This will have your car ready to go to the shop and be painted
  • Fuel tank kit. Your fuel tank may need to be cleaned and refurbished. You can get a kit for this to get the gas tank ready to be attached and filled.