Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Restore A Classic Car Yourself

How to Restore A Classic Car Yourself

by Jennifer Chonillo, Guest Writer

Restoring a classic car involves the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears. But ultimately, it’s a satisfying experience for any classic car enthusiast. And it may help you make a profit when you decide to sell the car later on.

Car restoration is cheaper than buying a classic car

Original classic cars are a rarity in the car marketplace. Their high price tag makes them out of reach of the average collector. As such, performing your own restoration is an affordable way to own your classic dream car. You can even purchase an old classic model out of state and have it shipped to you via car shipping companies.

Like with all aspirations, you need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty before you can sit back and take delight in your handiwork. Below is a step-by-step guide to help you pull off your first classic car restoration project

Planning the Car Restoration Project

Before you start working on your vintage car, consider the following aspects:

Car assessment

What’s the condition of the classic car? Does it need a lot of bodywork or minimal restoration?


Are you going to stick to original car parts for your car restoration, or will you compromise on particular areas? Decide whether to go for original or aftermarket parts.

Budget for the car restoration

Factor into your budget everything that requires restoration. Look at the car parts, tires, wheels, paintwork, panels, and doors and the cost of repairing and restoring each of these parts. Combine the figures and add 30% to the final figure. Budgets are never fixed, and allowing yourself some wiggle room will make the restoration less stressful.

Work schedule

Do you plan on dismantling the project car? If so, consider a bottom-up approach. Take out the components that need replacing and repair. Document everything so you know where each piece goes.

Do you have an expert consultant when needed?

There’s no harm in asking for expert advice along the way. Visit online restoration platforms, check out auto expert forums, and gather ideas from car enthusiasts.

Step-by-Step Car Restoration Guide

1. What’s Your End Goal?

First, you need to visualize how you want your classic car to look by the time you finish restoring it. Check out magazines or online sites to get some ideas. You can also get suggestions from your pals or family members. Next, print the photo of the potential classy machine and hang it in the workshop or somewhere you’ll be seeing it regularly. Again, visualization will act as your source of motivation.

2. Dismantle and Label Properly

Don’t just dismantle your car and dump its parts in a pile. Chances are you won’t recall how to reinstall the parts back together. Ideally, you should take several photos and videos while taking apart your classic car. This way, you’ll know how your car’s different systems are supposed to look.

Also, put the small components in zip-lock bags with proper labeling. For example, put the nuts and bolts in zip-lock bags. The bags should have a clear, specific description of where the components were dismantled from on your vintage car. For disconnected wires, use a labeled masking tape. This will save you time and frustration when putting everything back together.

3. Tackle One Project at a Time

So, where do you start once you’ve finished the dismantling process? Note down the different projects required to finish your restoration. Given that you’ll be working on one project at a time, purchase replacement parts only when you’re ready to install them. Otherwise, the parts may get lost or damaged in the workshop.


Start the repair work needed on your car’s body. Determine whether you need new corner panels, fenders, bumpers, grille, roof, pillars, corner taillight housing, and so on. All the required metalwork should be done at this stage. Remove old panels and weld new ones back on. This will require good welding skills.


Rust may have affected the metal surface parts. You need to sand off any of the rust. Instead of the costly sandblasting of the body, a cheaper alternative is to use a poly-carbide abrasive wheel that’s attached to an angle grinder.


Use body filler on small dents that don’t exceed 1/4 of an inch. Anything deeper than that would probably need the whole panel replaced. Next, prime the body. This allows you to notice any missed dents that need body fill. Once done, re-prime that area.


Doing the paint job while the vintage car is bare-bones affords it a good look. This is because there are no large components like the engine to paint around.

4. Load the Large Components In

You’ve finished the bodywork. The paint job is complete and dry. The next step is to fix and reinstall the large parts of your car. Some of these parts include:

• Engine
• Exhaust
• Transmission
• Driveline

5. Reinstall the Brakes, Axles, and Suspension System
After put

ting back the larger components, turn your attention to the other major parts of your car. Start with the axles. Next, install a new suspension system. Next up is the braking system. If your car came with drum brakes, consider converting them into efficient disc brakes. Ignore fixing back the brake lines and the master cylinder for now.

6. Put the Fuel System In

After reinstalling all the larger components, you can tackle the car parts and systems that require lines and wires. A good example is the fuel system. This will be pretty straightforward to fix as you’ll need to route the lines around the large-sized components. The parts of the fuel system that you will install include:

• Tank
• Fuel lines
• Fuel rail
• Filler neck

7. Replace the Brake Lines and Master Cylinder

Remember, you had to hold off installing the brake lines and master cylinder while putting back the brakes. Well, this is the right time to install them. Be careful not to touch any residual brake fluid. You should put on gloves when fixing back a used master cylinder or brake lines because brake fluid can be toxic.

8. Be Careful with Electrical Components

This involves fixing and replacing anything that involves the electrical wiring system. This can be one of the slowest parts of classic car restoration. It’s time-consuming and it requires special attention. This step precedes any work on your interiors so that the wiring can be covered with all the interior items like seats and carpets.

9. Restore the Interiors

Putting back the interior components is the penultimate step after all the preceding dirty jobs. The initial part of your interior restoration is fixing the carpet kit and headliner. Next, you can put back the radio, seats, air conditioning, heater, gauges, and so on.

10. Fix and Replace the Wheels and Tires

Installing new wheels and tires is the last step in your classic car restoration process. You don’t want to install them too early in the process and risk getting flat tire spots because you’re not using them. When done last, a new set of wheels and tires add that last little bit of shine to your car.

The Bottom Line on Car Restoration

Restoring a classic car gives you a chance to hit the road with your favorite ride without having to break the bank. You’ll have to test everything and start your newly refurbished classic car to see if everything is okay. With no observable hitches, you should take it out for a ride and enjoy your hard work.

©, 2021 Jennifer Chonillo

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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