How to Restore a Classic Car on a Budget

March 11, 2020

For the novice, classic car restoration should be a fun, leisurely process. Learn how to restore a classic car on the cheap.

Classic Car

Learning how to restore a classic car only requires a few simple steps, but implementing them will take time and budgeting. Time is an important factor in full restoration projects since it can take around 1,000 hours to fully restore a classic car. You're going to need a lot of parts which won't always be easy to find and will cost significant sums of money. However, there are ways to accomplish the task without breaking the bank.

Finding Your Car
First of all, you need a vehicle to restore. You can cut down on the amount of work and money you need to spend on the restoration by buying a classic car that's already partially restored, or a project that someone hasn't had the time or money to finish. However, you will pay more upfront for this. Alternatively, you can scout around for a complete project that will need a lot of work but which won't cost you much on an initial basis. Talk to other classic car enthusiasts who may be aware of a potential project, look at magazines and check any online ads. Don't be in a hurry to make a choice. The more work you have to do, the longer it will take and the more you'll spend on parts.

Finding Parts
You need a number of replacement parts when you restore a classic car. If you're lucky, you will be able to salvage some of the parts already on the car and in the engine. However, there will still be a lot of items that you'll need to buy.

Contact vehicle salvage centers in your area to see if they have a similar vehicle. If so, find out what parts are available. This will be the cheapest route. Also, check online to see if anyone is parting out a similar vehicle for spares or repairs. This can be a good source of cheap parts.

You can also find a wide range of cheap parts online. The best places are through online car collector groups, where members offer parts for sale.

Restoring Your Car
The only way to restore a classic car on a budget is to do the work yourself. That means you need a place to do the work, such as a garage, where the vehicle is shielded from the weather. You also need a full range of auto tools, the owner's manual and plenty of experience. Talk to friends or other enthusiasts who have restoration experience and might be willing to help or teach you.

Undertake as much of the bodywork yourself as possible. How much you need to do obviously depends on the condition of the car, but there will certainly be some cosmetic work involved. Keep money aside for a professional paint job to finish the vehicle, although you can do the priming of the body yourself. This will save on the overall paint costs.

Expect to take about a year to restore a classic car. Don't try and rush the project. Always take time to locate the cheapest sources for parts before you buy and do as much of the work as you possibly can yourself.

How to Plan Your Restoration Project

You should make a number of decisions and evaluations to before starting to work on your car.

  • Assess the car. Have you bought an old rust bucket or an accident damaged car? Perhaps it is in good running order but the bodywork has been better days. Maybe you bought a vehicle that had been off the road for a long time and needs minimal restoration. The amount of work the car needs will determine the scope of the project in time and money.
  • Decide on authenticity. You have a list of the parts you need for your project car restoration. How much you spend will depend upon whether you are a stickler for original or brand parts or whether you feel you can compromise on certain areas of your project. Decide which parts must be brand name or original, and which parts you can buy at a lower price.
  • Do it yourself. Do-it-yourself projects depend on the amount of skill you have. If you are not a trained mechanic, you might have problems diagnosing and fixing some jobs on your project. Doing it yourself can save you money, but if you need a professional to fix your mistakes that will cost more than going to the pro in the first place. If you know that at some point you will need to engage the services of a professional, include the cost in your budget.
  • Determine your budget. Take an inventory of everything that needs to be done. Take auto parts, accessories, paints, tires, wheels, panels and doors, professional help and what each of them costs into account. When you finish assessing the assessment, you will have arrived at a budget figure. Take that final figure and add 30 percent. Most budgets over run by a small amount, but if you factor this in you will not have any nasty surprises.
  • Plan your work schedule. Work out the plan of your actual work. Does the project car need to be dismantled? If so, work from the bottom up. Remove the parts that need replacing and restoring. Catalogue them as you go, so you know where each piece goes. It is very easy to forget a nut or a bolt and end up with a jar of spare bits. Allow enough time for each step, so you are not rushed to completion.
  • Ask for help. If you have never undertaken such a project before, with all the best will in the world you can still mess up. If you have questions or issues, always ask an expert for help. Visit restoration forums on the internet or join online project car clubs and get advice from other project car lovers who have been right where you are now.

Related Questions and Answers

Where Are Good Places to Find Antique Car Parts?

You're looking to restore an antique car, but you don't know where to find antique car parts. One good place to start your search is going to be by finding local car clubs that cater to that particular make of car—e.g. Ford, Dodge, Chevy, etc. Another good source of antique car parts is going to be eBay Motors. Kanter Auto Products has been in business since 1960 and has a very extensive selection of vintage and antique car parts. With parts for makes such as Edsels, Hudsons, Henry J, Crosley and DeSoto, you're sure to find what you need at Kanter Auto Parts. is another online source for your almost every need in antique car parts. Whether you're restoring an Auburn, Edsel, Diamond T Essex or Hupmobile, among others, Antique should be one of your first stops online. This is just a small sampling of the available sources for what you need.

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