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Car Restoration – A Complete Guide To Restoring Classic Cars

We all fancy owning an original classic car. However, it is becoming more difficult to purchase one- considering their high pricing and shortage in the market. The incredibly insane prices mean it’s now more difficult than ever for the average folks to purchase one. For this reason, car restoration is quickly becoming one of the most affordable ways through which car enthusiasts can own their dream car.

With a bit of planning, mechanical skills, patience and of course, the right tools for the job, even the most complex cars can be restored. If you’re passionate enough to bring your car back to life, the project will bring not only immense satisfaction but also great financial rewards. Conversely, it could be a crushing disappointment if you’re not thoughtful and careful.

If you’re planning to restore a classic car but do not know where to start, you’re in the right place. This essential guide covers everything you need to know about car restoration. As you read through, you will find practical advice that will help you get started and guide you to the end of your project. This will not only make the process easier but also cut out frustrations regardless of the type of car you wish to restore.

We will divide the car restoration process into three main sections to make things easier and ensure a smooth workflow. These are:

  • Project planning
  • Interior restoration
  • Exterior restoration

 

Planning Your Restoration Project

Just like any other project, successful car restoration requires careful planning. You need to assess the car and determine whether restoration is a viable option. Moreover, you need to understand that the scope of restoration differs from one car to another. As such, every project will require a unique approach. Here are some things to consider before committing your time and money into a new project.

Find the perfect car

This is a very important step that determines the scope of your project. The condition of the car dictates the amount of time and money to be spent. If you want to cut down on the renovation costs, we advise that you find a car that starts rather than buying an old non-running car. This helps you eliminate expensive mechanical repairs and significantly reduce the amount of work to be done.

Determine your budget

After assessing the condition of your car, make a detailed list of everything that it requires. We’ll share a pro tip here- do not be too cheap. If you really care about the standard of your fully restored car, then go for quality spare parts, wheels, tires, paint and other accessories. Additionally, remember to take labour costs into account. Once done, add at least 30 per cent the final amount to your estimate. Most car restoration budgets overrun by a small figure, so you need to be well prepared.

Location

If you do not have a garage, you need to find a spacious area where you will work on the project. As you will realise after stripping down the car, the car parts take up a lot of space in your workshop. So you will need to prepare a good sized area for the project.

Plan your work schedule

Before embarking on your project, create a detailed plan of the work to be done. Allow enough time for every step so it will be possible to work within the deadlines. It is also important to ensure that the project timelines do not conflict with your commitments. In most cases, a complete and thorough car restoration project could take up to one year or more. The key here is being realistic and setting achievable goals.   

Tools and Equipment

One of the biggest outlays most people face when renovating their vehicles is finding the right tools and equipment for the project. So, unless you are planning to outsource restoration from a car specialist, make sure you acquire the all tools prior to starting work. Some tools you cannot do without include screwdrivers, wire brushes, drill and drill bits, floor jack, sockets, wrench, pliers, sheet metal scissors, and electrical tools. In some cases, you might require jack stands, grinder, blowtorch, welder, engine cranes and engine tools. Owning or having access to these auto-tools will keep you on schedule throughout your project.

Ensure the availability of replacement parts

Although it is difficult to identify everything that needs replacement at this point, research the best places to buy different parts when needed. A shortage of auto parts could stall your project for weeks. This often happens if your car model is particularly scarce. When looking for the auto part providers, do not rely on companies advertised online alone, but broaden your search to local stores. It might help you save a few bucks.

Similarly, if you are planning to give your car a unique style or theme, then make sure everything needed for your car project’s aesthetics is available. The restoration is more likely to go smoothly after eliminating potential stumbling blocks.

Enlist professional help

If you have a close friend who has experience in restoring cars, you can ask them to guide you through the process.  It’s always a good idea to contact car enthusiasts and professionals for advice before making decisions. When looking at a potential purchase, for instance, an expert will help you choose the best car. Alternatively, you can visit online restoration forums or join clubs where you can get help from car lovers who have worked on similar projects before. Professional guidance saves you time and a lot of headache in the long-run.

Interior Restoration

Before stripping the car’s interior, there are some things you need to keep in mind. These include:

  • Acquiring a manual of the vehicle, or if possible videos showing its interior composition.
  • Document everything as you dismantle the car. Ideally, you can take pictures during the process so the rebuilding phase will be easier.
  • Label everything as you strip the car. It will save you a lot of time when it comes to reassembling.
  • Clean the parts and store them in a place they won’t get covered with overspray or dust.
  • Don’t throw any part away even if it requires replacement. You might need to compare the parts when purchasing.

 

The amount of work required when it comes to interior restoration depends on the condition of your car. In most cases, it involves removing the floor and door panels, vacuuming out the car’s interior and cleaning the inside with a cleansing solution. For the car seats, you can choose to install new ones or do some re-upholstering on the current ones. Additionally, you need to check whether the gauges and switches can be fixed. If not, consider a replacement. How about the car’s sound system? You can choose to fix and re-install the original radio or use an entirely new sound system with modern capabilities.

Although interior restoration should ensure your car’s interior looks great, it does not necessarily mean that you should use all brand new parts. In fact, you can find most parts in garages and scrap yards. You only need to clean them carefully before installation. Undamaged door panels can also be restored if the vinyl is in good condition. Simply put- you do not have to break the bank if you’re smart enough.

Engine System and Electrics

Before dismantling the engine or gearbox, start by draining away all the fluids. Otherwise, you might find yourself in an extremely messy situation. Depending on the type of car you’re restoring, use an engine crane to make the job easier.  Next, check the engine connections, but remember to label the wires as you remove them- as we highlighted earlier.  Check whether all electrical components are working and if not, determine those that need replacement.  Most wires degrade over time, especially if they were exposed to moisture.

At this point, you can turn your attention to the car’s battery. If it was left dormant for a few weeks, you can charge it and see whether it works fine. However, if it was not in use for three months or more, consider replacing it.  For the gearbox, jack the car up or flip it on its side and remove everything including the steering rack and brakes. It will be easier to check which parts need a refurb or complete replacement.

Seized Components

You will realise that most moving parts corrode when left standing for a long period. These parts can easily break and therefore need complete replacement. Similarly, fluids such as brake fluid should be changed else the systems will not work properly. In some cases, you might spot mound in your car’s interior, especially if it was left in a shed for years. You can scrub it off using a regular cleaning solvent and a piece of cloth.  Remember that mould could also be an indicator that the cabin is not fully watertight. To avoid inconvenience in future, consider plugging it.

Now that we are done with the inside, let’s take care of the exterior. This section will guide you through restoring the vehicle’s outer surface.

Exterior Restoration

As you know, a great first impression lasts forever. The first thing that people notice when they see a car is its appearance. So if you are renovating a car, especially with the intent of selling it, you better give it a top-notch exterior look.

One thing that most people do not realise is that there is more to exterior restoration than body and paintwork repair.  Depending on the condition of the car, a complete exterior restoration means removing the car’s body panels from the frames and removing every trace of old paint through chemical treatments. Once done, apply a grey epoxy coating on the panels before repainting them. 

Another important but highly expensive aspect of exterior restoration is rust removal. In most cases, rust can be easily removed through sandblasting. However, you might be forced to replace the exterior part at times. In places where only a single part of the panel appears rusty, you can cut away the affected part and weld in a new sheet of metal.  Alternatively, you can remove the rusty pieces and send them to powders coaters for stripping. This might require you to cough out a few more dollars, but when done properly, it makes the metal part more durable.

Once all the rust has been removed, it’s time to repaint your car. The most exciting thing about this part of restoration is that you can do virtually anything you want. You can get some original factory paint and add flaming graphics on the outside. If you fancy some racing stripes on your car, then go for it.  Be authentic – most automotive stores offer a wide variety of colours to choose from.

The job doesn’t end with body and paintwork repair. Think about every other part that makes up the car’s exterior- the windshield, gas cap, mirrors, headlights, taillights, door handles, hood latches, bumpers, and more. All these parts should be checked and repaired or if necessary, replaced completely. 

If you wish to achieve satisfying results, then you have to tackle exterior restoration head on.  Learning how to hammer out dents, rebuild body panels and restore paintwork requires patience and practice.

Wrapping it up

The process of restoration varies from one car to another. It also depends on the condition of the vehicles as well as what you (or the owner), wants from the restoration project. Therefore, not every project will follow this process, but if you’re going to restore your car fully, you must prepare for some tough but highly rewarding work.

If you’re passionate about mastering the art of car restoration, consider investing in metalwork and welding training courses. The two skills come in handy during restoration.  Alternatively, you can outsource some of these jobs from skilled personnel to achieve a great finish. Either way, you want to stand back and admire your work at the end of the project.

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