For some auto enthusiasts, restoring an old car is the ultimate achievement. If you’re a DIY fan, giving an abandoned vehicle a second chance on the road is a great way to put your skills (and patience) to the test.
Before investing too much of your time and money into a project car, check out these tips.
The Right Setup
Before you pick out a project car, it’s important to have a solid space to work on it. A wide, clean, and safe area is ideal. Gather materials for detailing ahead of time, as well.
Where to Look
You should look in many places to find the best project car you can. Include places like these in your search:
- online listings (Craigslist, eBay, Kijiji, etc.)
- cars shows
- automotive swap meets
- scrap yards
When searching for a car, check out the average price range for similar models. This’ll help you gauge conversations about price with the seller. Wherever you look, don’t rush into a sale. Keep your options open and do a thorough assessment of the vehicle before making a commitment.
What to Look for in a Good Project Car
Even though you’re going to bring it back to life, a good project car should still look reasonably salvageable before you start working on it. Knowing the condition of the car’s inner workings is very important, because this’ll give you an idea of how many parts need replacing. The exterior matters, as well. Avoid a car that needs heavy bodywork, like panel replacement.
Remember to look underneath the car to check for rust on the frame. Surface rust (and sometimes scale rust) is fairly easy to remove, but penetrating rust or rot, especially on the frame of the car, is a big red flag. (No pun intended.) Be wary of a fresh paint job on a scrap car, because this could cover up underlying issues.
Don’t rush your inspection. Sellers may not know—or choose not to reveal—everything about the car. Take the time to look at every inch yourself, inside and out. If you have a friend who’s worked on a project car before or is a mechanic, bring them along for a second opinion.
Run a Background Check
If a car catches your eye and you’re happy with the price, ask to see the vehicle’s identification number (VIN). This’ll confirm important information about the car, including its manufacturer, model year, make, configuration, and class. With these details, you can figure out what kind of replacement parts you may need.
The VIN will also reveal any recalls, registrations, thefts, and insurance coverage associated with the vehicle. If the vehicle has no identification or it has suspicious paperwork, save yourself the headache and keep looking.
Know Your Limitations
Whether you’re a first-time DIY-er or amateur mechanic, understand your capabilities. It’s not a good project car if you lack the confidence to restore it. If you find yourself excusing multiple issues, you definitely don’t have the best project car. Continue your search to find a more reasonable workload.
Keep an Open Mind
Try not to fixate on one specific model. If you get your heart set on a particular classic car, for instance, you may never find what you’re looking for. Parts are also more available for some cars than others, so even if you find your ideal model, you may spend ages trying to locate the parts you need to restore it.
If you can find them, these models are examples of ideal first-time project cars:
- Honda Civic
- Toyota Corolla
- Mazda Miata
- Lexus SC
- Nissan 370Z
- Ford Mustang
Having the Best Project Car Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Ask for Help
Good project cars never end up getting finished because eager DIY-ers rush into the work without doing their research, resulting in irreversible mistakes. It’s better to swallow your pride and ask for help before starting than asking how to fix a mistake you’ve already made. Reach out to your local auto shop or explore online forums with other car enthusiasts for advice on how to complete restoration tasks. For more DIY tips and automotive news, check out our blog.