Car Restoration Basics

Car restoration has become more than just a hobby. It's a thriving business that's fed by automotive clubs, auctioneers and everyday car enthusiasts who want to experience the thrill of driving a vintage car like it's brand new.

The first step is choosing a car you want to restore. Again, consider your personal dream car -- if you had a time machine, what car would you bring back to the future? When we hear the term "restoration," we often think of the classic American car from the 1950s, 60s and 70s -- those are the cars that many auto enthusiasts grew up lusting after. However, any type of car can be restored, from classic BMWs to the iconic DeLorean sports cars of the early 1980s (speaking of time machines). Still, keep in mind that the more obscure and rare the car is, the more difficult and expensive it will be to find parts for it [source: Second Chance Garage].

There are a number of questions you should ask before buying a car to restore, including:

  • Does it run safely on its own?
  • What works and what doesn't?
  • Is there rust or leaking?
  • What shape are the tires in?
  • How long have you owned it?
  • Why are you selling it?

[source: Second Chance Garage]

Of course, restoration means more than just making a vehicle's exterior look nice. A full factory restoration involves replacing nearly every part on the car with a newer, better working one, from the gauges in the dashboard to the lining of the trunk walls. In many cases, restorers aim to be as historically accurate as they can -- that is, making the car look exactly like it did the day it rolled off the assembly line.

Also, make sure you have the right tools for the job. You'll need tools like clamps, hammers, screwdrivers and torque wrenches, among many, many others, but you also may have to buy things to cover incidental jobs like sanding, welding, buffing, polishing and painting [source: AJ General]. Again, you can find out what tools you need for the job in guide books and on various Web sites.

In the next section, we'll look inside the car and find out what it takes to have a top-notch restored interior.