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Wilson's Auto Restoration Blog

How to Stay on Budget with Your Classic
Car Restoration

classic car budgetDetermining a budget for a classic car or truck restoration is similar to other major undertakings like planning a home remodel, a wedding or a major overseas trip.  Estimate the amount of time it will take to prepare and complete.  Then estimate the amount of money you intend to spend.  Now double them both.  By no means are we trying to scare you away from a restoration project, but rather we want you to be prepared for the inevitable.

Budgeting Your Time
Regardless of make or model you should expect a full restoration to take no less than two years to complete unless you hand over the majority of the project to a professional restoration shop.  Two years is a fair assessment even if you are retired and can work on the car every day you should still be prepared to spend around 1500 hours dismantling the vehicle, restoring each component and then reassembling the project back to working condition.

We assume that you are restoring a classic because you are an enthusiast and have a special bond with a certain dream machine.  Rushing a restoration will certainly cost you more time and money in the long run. So take your time and enjoy your new hobby.  If you are not having fun with your restoration, it won’t be as rewarding when you finally complete this undertaking.

Once you have a grasp of the amount of time it will take to make it to the end the next obvious hurdle to overcome is determining and staying on a financial budget.  Here are some tips that will help you along the way to keep your spending to a minimum.

Record Your Expenses
Start a file folder where you can keep all receipts for parts and other expenses.  Keep a few lined sheets of paper in the folder that you can record these expenses and keep a running total.  It is easy to lose track of all the things you spend money on and a running total will help you to be budget conscious as you proceed with the project.

Don’t’ Pay Someone to do Your Dirty Work
If you have been involved in any past restorations then you know that 80% of the job comes down to cleaning. Scraping, wire brushing, stripping and solvent cleaning and other time consuming tasks are necessary to get each part ready to be refinished.

Initially taking the car apart and then cleaning each component isn’t a hard task that requires a high level of skill, but it can be a time consuming process.  You can save yourself a boatload of money doing this all yourself.  The only cash you will spend will be on cleaning products saving you thousands on paying for cleaning labor.

One tip we recommend is to catalogue and organize the parts as you remove them.  Take pictures of the parts and the process as you proceed.  This can be priceless later down the road if you are not 100% familiar with the car you are working on.

Become a Smart Shopper
Buying the cheapest car you can find will often cost you way more in the long run.  Rust and missing trim are always the priciest problems to fix.  Take your time when making the initial purchase to ensure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck.  Try to find a restoration candidate that is as rust free as possible and if that candidate is missing trim or other valuable pieces you should try to negotiate the purchase price to reflect the cost of replacing them.  If an owner gives you a hard time about your offer, it might be in your best interest to keep looking.

Set Your Expectations for the Level of Restoration
If you are expecting a Concours d’Elegance level of restoration, then be prepared to spend a fortune.  This type of restoration requires everything to be original and in perfect condition.  Show-level restorations can also be pricey, but you will be able to save by using aftermarket parts and won’t necessarily need to restore every single part to perfection.  “Driver cars” are the most common type of restoration level and is always the least expensive route to take.  The level of restoration and use of original parts is up to you.  So before you start to restore be sure you have in mind what you expect the final outcome to be and stick with it.

How Much of the Restoration Can You Do?
It is highly unlikely that any one hobbyist will have the tools and/or skills to complete every part of the restoration.  For example, unless you have a paint booth at your home you are probably going to hire a professional to complete the process.  Upholstery and mechanical work are often subbed out as well.

Before you start hiring outside help with any phase of the restoration do yourself a favor and research some DIY videos and articles online.  Chances are you will be able to accomplish more than you think which can greatly help you stay on or even under budget.

Don’t be afraid to tear down the engine or to remove the transmission or rear-end on your own.  No point in paying a shop to remove them when you can simply deliver the part itself to a shop to be worked on.  Same goes for upholstery.  It might look difficult, but there are pre-made kits available for many interiors.  You may find that the job in question isn’t as hard as you initially thought and will gain a rewarding feeling when you complete it yourself.

Before seeking outside help, we suggest taking your car apart yourself to familiarize yourself with your car’s workings and build the confidence to take on jobs you otherwise may have subbed out.  Besides what is the worst that could happen?  If you start a particular job and realize you are not able to complete it, chances are that it will not cost you any more money to have it finished by an expert than if they started it themselves.

Don’t Buy Anything Yet!
It is a huge misconception that buying parts as you need them will save you money by spreading out the purchases over time.  In reality you will spend more, way more!

Fully disassemble the vehicle and make a list of all the parts that will need to be replaced.  Once the car is completely taken apart you will have roughly 10,000 individual parts along with a lengthy list of replacement parts.  Get in touch with all parts suppliers and send them the entire list.  Be sure to let them know that the entire order will go to the lowest bidder.  You will be shocked at how much money can be saved by taking this route for replacing parts.  Even if you have to take out a loan to purchase the entire order you will still save thousands compared to buying parts one at a time.

After All is Said and Done
Staying on budget basically comes down to your patience.  Time is on your side so work smart through the project and don’t be discouraged if you temporarily run out of money.  If money is tight then do what you can that only costs you your time and labor.  When the money is available try to buy in bulk.   Taking your time and spending wisely will give you a more satisfying outcome and after all is said and done you will be left with no regrets.

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