6 cardinal sins of car restoration

car restoration

You’ve decided you want to take on a car restoration project. Maybe you’ve found the deal of a lifetime on a Chevelle that’s just like the one your dad used to take you to get ice cream in. Here are a few of the pitfalls you should avoid before starting your project if you want to avoid bankruptcy.

Not getting a professional inspection before buying

Even professional restorers ask for second opinions on some brands. Just because its the car of your dreams and its “dirt cheap” doesn’t mean you should go for it.

Even if it runs and drives well, underneath the hood it could be a Frankenstein patchwork of different pieces put together just to get you to hand over your hard-earned cash. The frame could be reconstructed and poorly welded. It may not even pass inspection to be street legal.

Even if it is safe, if it has none of the original parts and you value authenticity, you’ll have a hard time returning it to stock condition. You won’t have the original parts to serve as a reference, so you’ll be forced to obtain the original manuals and parts catalog for that car. In some models, that can be a challenge.

Assuming the car is safe, and it has all its original parts, it could still have rust in unseen places. Rust is public enemy number one on restoration jobs. Rust means you’ll have to get sheet metalworking done for you, which is one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of car restorations. It is also one of the parts that require more skill, and therefore, less likely to be perfect.

Even if you are quite a handy mechanic, skimping on an inspection is something we wouldn’t recommend.

Authenticity over safety

We understand the urge of some restorers value authenticity over anything else. But is being authentic more important than breathing? if that’s the case, then you are more hardcore than we are.

For those of you that value living more than being authentic, we recommend you forego original brake lines and hoses and install new ones. Even if you find brand new original ones, they’ve most likely sat on a shelf for decades. You shouldn’t trust your life to decades-old rubber. This is one aspect of car restoring where ignoring authenticity is not frowned upon.

In every instance that you have to choose between being authentic or being safe, you should always choose safety. Remember you are not only endangering your life but the life of others as well.

No Ziplocks and no photos

If you are restoring the car yourself and you finish reassembly with screws still on your work table, you didn’t “improved the design” or “removed weight,” you probably made your car less safe for no reason.

It’s is important that every time you disassemble anything you place every screw in a ziplock, ad an identifying tag to it, and take a picture with your phone to catalog what goes where.

Disorganization will add many manhours to your project that could be avoided by being methodical. Create folders in your phone detailing the disassembly process of each part with pictures, or even a video, and just retrace your steps during reassembly.

Doing it to make money

Very few people are able to make money off car restorations unless they are fully devoted to it. If you bought a classic car to restore it so you can sell it for a profit, chances are that, unless you did most of the work yourself, you’ll end up disappointed.

Unless you found a super rare collectible car on sale, it is going to be hard for you to get it to a restoring shop and then sell it for a significant profit. Car restoration should be done because you want it for yourself, you enjoy the work, or you have an emotional connection to the car.

Having said that, if you have enough elbow grease and the right skills available, it’s possible to make a profit. In order to do that, it’s essential to pick the right car for the right price. That’s one of the reasons not to skip the inspection.

Taking it to the car restoration shop and forgetting about it

Restoration is a charge by the hour business. You should be in contact with your shop at all times. If they are missing a part to move forward with the project, you should call your suppliers ASAP. Every day your car sits on someone else’s garage is money off your pocket.

Many times an original part will be hard to find, and your restorer will suggest you get a reproduction. If your restorer can’t reach you to ask for your decision on such problems, they will have to put your project on hold, so make yourself available to them, don’t be a stranger.

Trusting too much

Get every quote in writing, verbal agreements might still be binding in some states, but they are difficult to enforce. Before entrusting your project to a restoring shop, sign an agreement between both parties. This will protect you from irresponsible shops up to a point.

Avoid working with shops that lack a catalog. Always check a restoring shop’s previous achievements to ensure their work is up to your standards. Check with previous customers to ensure they left the shop satisfied. See if their shop is organized. If all the tools and parts are lying on the floor disorganized and the shop is dirty, chances are that the finished cars that leave their doors, do so in the same condition.


There are many things that can put a serious dent on your restoration project. These are some of the more serious ones that you should avoid even before the start of the project.

Remember that a car restoration project’s success depends heavily on preparation. Do your homework and be prepared, don’t trust anybody, and always ask for second opinions. If you need skilled craftsmen to help you finish a part of your restoring project, you can find some here. From upholstery to sheet metal working, you should be able to connect with skilled professionals to assist you in the parts of your project you don’t have the expertise to do yourself.