Restoring a classic car is an expensive task that must be entrusted to a trained and specialized mechanic to forestall costly mistakes that may increase your liability. According to the Special Equipment Market Association, consumers spent approximately $1 billion in 2020 alone on accessories and customization parts for older vehicles.
It is estimated that there are about 9.4 million pre-1990 vehicles currently on the roads today. Car restorations are a good option for people that wish to retain their older vehicles, and more and more car owners are restoring classic and antique cars to either their original state or with modern parts and technology.
While the idea of restoring a classic car by yourself may seem tempting, it is always a good idea to hire a reputable car restoration shop near you to do this job. Classic car restorations are labor-intensive, stressful, time-consuming, and expensive endeavors that require a lot of patience and extensive knowledge of automotive repair and maintenance. Also, restoring your classic car without the right equipment, tools, and safety measures in place exposes you to several hazards, including physical injuries from power tools and exposure to a wide range of potentially harmful industrial chemicals. On the other hand, hiring a professional auto restoration mechanic ensures that your classic car is expertly restored or customized to your specifications and can be safely used for whatever reason you decided to restore it in the first place. This can be pleasure driving, utilizing the car as a collector item, or entering the classic car into a car show. A professional auto restoration mechanic will also provide you with detailed documentation of the restoration process, which is very useful if you intend to sell the restored car.
However, before you retain the services of any classic car restoration shop near you to help restore your vehicle, it is necessary to get positive answers to certain questions before signing the dotted line. This way, you can be sure that you will end up with a reputable auto restoration mechanic, and not one that is more interested in taking money from you without doing a satisfactory job. These questions are:
Are You Licensed, Registered, or Certified?
Most states, including California, Florida, Michigan, and New York, require some form of registration or licensing from individuals and facilities that carry out auto restoration services for compensation. Before retaining the services of any classic car restoration shop, you should always make sure that the facility and the mechanic that will work on your vehicle are duly authorized to do so. You can contact your state's consumer protection agency to find out the licensing or registration requirements for auto restoration mechanics and facilities in your locality, specifically regarding the restoration of classic cars, and request proof from the facility or mechanic to verify that these requirements have been adequately met.
It is also a good idea to make sure that the auto restoration mechanic or facility that you intend to work with has been certified in automotive repairs, maintenance, and servicing. ASE certifications obtained from the National Institution for Automotive Service Excellence are the most accepted credentials in the automotive industry, and mechanics and facilities that are ASE certified are generally considered better and more experienced regarding auto repair services. You can also get further assurance of an auto restoration mechanic's level of professionalism by asking if the mechanic belongs to a trade association. Examples of these associations include the Automotive Service Association and the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Mechanics that belong to a trade association are usually required to adhere to a strict code of ethics, and these associations also ensure that their members are held accountable for any acts of misconduct or poor service delivery. Note that you should always request proof of certification or membership in a trade association from your auto restoration shop or mechanic.
How Much Does Classic Car Restoration Cost?
Classic car restorations are typically an expensive endeavor and a full restoration will cost you an average of $30,000 $70,000 while restoring a car that is still in working mechanical condition can cost you between $10,000 and $15,000. Several factors influence the cost of classic car restorations, and these include:
- The overall condition of the car's body and frame
- The age of the car
- The number of parts needed for the restoration and the availability of these parts
- The quality of the restoration
- The types of customizations that you may require
Listed below are some common classic car restoration cost estimates:
- Car frame stripping - $1,500 $7,500
- Body damage repair and paint prepping - $1,550 - $5,500
- Mechanical restoration - $10,000 $35,000
- Car painting - $7,500 - $15,000
- Car reassembly - $3,000 - $14,000
- Car interior repair and restoration - $2,000 - $7,000
You can save money on the total cost of restoring your classic car by considering the following tips:
- Get and compare quotes from several classic car restoration shops near you
- Scavenge junkyards and vehicle salvage centers near you for usable parts
- Buy any parts that you can afford as soon as you can. The cost of auto replacement parts always go up, so it is a good idea to take advantage of any good sales deals that may come your way
- Find out if the old parts of the car are worth anything and sell them instead of just throwing them away
What Are Common Classic Car Restoration Expenses?
When you retain the services of a classic car restoration shop, the total expenses associated with restoring your car are typically covered in the quote or estimate that this facility or the auto restoration mechanic provides before the work begins. This quote will usually include the cost of obtaining any required parts as well as the auto restoration mechanic's labor costs. However, sometimes the specific parts that you require may no longer be unavailable or difficult to obtain, thereby requiring the auto restoration mechanic to use other replacements that may end up costing more than you initially budgeted. Therefore, it is always a good idea to get a written contract that details your expectations for the job, the estimated total cost of the job, and payment arrangements. This contract should also include a clause that requires the auto restoration mechanic or facility to always inform you before making any deviations from the agreed-upon terms of the restoration job. This way, you are kept abreast of any developments that may affect the total cost of restoring your classic car.
Who Will Do the Work?
Depending on the size of the classic car restoration shop, your car may be worked on by either a single auto restoration mechanic or several mechanics. Considering the amount of money involved in classic car restoration, it is always a good idea to know who exactly will be in charge of the job. This way, you have a specific point of contact for any inquiries or complaints that you may have regarding the restoration process. Make sure that any mechanics involved in restoring your classic car are duly registered or licensed in compliance with the requirements of your state of residence. If your car will be worked on by several mechanics, then it is a good idea to make sure that they are supervised by a certified mechanic, who should also be actively involved in the actual restoration job.
Note that you should never assume that every mechanic or technician in an auto repair facility is certified simply because the facility displays a certification logo. However, if an auto repair facility displays an ASE Blue Seal of Excellence logo, then at least 75% of the mechanics and technicians that work there are ASE-certified and each area of service that the facility offers is covered by at least one ASE-certified mechanic or technician. Regardless of this, you should always confirm that the auto restoration mechanic in charge of your classic car restoration is duly certified.
What Qualifications Should a Classic Car Restoration Mechanic Have?
The minimum educational qualification for auto restoration mechanics is a high school diploma or its educational equivalent. However, many employers usually require these mechanics to also complete relevant automotive-related programs in a higher education institute. When employed, these auto restoration mechanics generally undergo on-the-job training at the hands of more experienced mechanics for six months to two or three years. They are also generally expected to continue their training throughout their careers to be able to keep up with emerging automotive materials and technology.
Many professional auto restoration mechanics that wish to prove their skills and competency do so by obtaining certifications from organizations like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and joining trade associations like the Automotive Service Association and the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
Will You Provide References?
It is important to ask for references before you finalize any hiring arrangements with a classic car restoration shop or mechanic near you. Note that you should always do this, regardless of if the mechanic or restoration facility was referred to you by a trusted friend, family member, or a professional organization like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Request no less than three verifiable references from these auto restoration mechanics or facilities and be wary of the ones that are hesitant to provide this information. A reputable auto restoration mechanic will readily provide you with the contact details of past clients that can vouch for the quality of their classic car restoration skills as well as the level of their professionalism on the job. In many cases, these mechanics and facilities will also offer you before and after pictures of classic car restorations that they have completed to the satisfaction of these past clients.
You can also get independent reviews on the classic car restoration shop or mechanic near you that you intend to hire through websites that allow interested members of the public to post reviews and testimonials on individuals and companies that they have had business dealings with. Examples of these websites include Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Google Review. Finally, it is also a good idea to contact the Office of the Attorney General in your state of residence to find out whether any reports or complaints have been made classic car restoration shop or mechanic, and the circumstances behind these complaints, if any.
Quick Facts about Classic Car Restoration Mechanics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups mechanics that are involved in the restoration of vehicles under the automotive body and glass repairers subsector of the automotive industry. Below are some quick facts about these mechanics:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Classic Car Restoration Services
Is It worth Restoring an Old Car?
Whether or not it is worth restoring an old car depends on your reason for doing so. If you have a strong personal or sentimental attachment to the car, then it is absolutely worth it. This is usually the case for cars that are heirlooms and have been passed down from at least more than one generation. Similarly, if you are restoring a car to add to your collection or to finally drive the car of your dreams, then restoring it is also worthwhile. However, if you are restoring an old car simply to make a quick profit, then it may not be worth doing so. This is because it is very unlikely that you will get a return on your investment as soon as hope to, unless you plan to do an incomplete and unprofessional job just to make the car look fully restored.
What Types of Restoration Services Do You Offer?
Many professional classic car restoration shops offer a wide range of restoration services, which include:
- Body restorations
- Paint jobs
- Mechanical repairs
- Interior restorations
- Classic car servicing and maintenance
- Chrome and specialized plating
- Custom fabrications
You should always make sure that a classic car restoration shop offers the specific types of services that you need before dropping off your car with them.
When Restoring a Classic Car Where Do You Start?
The specific process for restoring a classic car usually depends on the state of the car and your desired end goal for the restoration. Once you have determined your end goal and communicated this to the auto restoration mechanic or facility, then the restoration job is generally done through the following steps:
- The car is carefully dismantled and each part is properly cataloged
- The chassis and parts are assessed and either repaired or replaced
- The chassis is reassembled
- The car's engine, transmission system, exhaust, and other large components are reinstalled
- The body panels are reassembled and the other parts of the car are reattached or reinstalled. These include the axles, suspension, brakes, fuel system, electrical and wiring harness
- The car is painted and buffed. Note that some auto restoration services may paint the car and its parts before installing the large components
- The car's interior is repaired or restored
- The car's exterior trim is reassembled and the repaired or restored interior is installed
- New wheels and tires are installed
- The car is test-driven and fine-tuned until everything is in perfect working order
Does the Entire Restoration Need to Be Done at Once?
No, it does not. Classic car restoration is an expensive and time-consuming process, and many car owners usually decide to restore their classic cars in phases. In some cases, the car owner may decide to get the car to a drivable stage first, before continuing the body and interior restoration at a more convenient time. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to follow the advice of your auto restoration mechanic or facility on the best ways to carry out your restoration and save costs at the same time.
Is There a Difference Between a Collision/Body Shop and a Restoration Shop?
While collision/body shops are similar to restoration shops, collision/body shops mostly focus on repairing damages to newer car models, while restoration shops specifically focus on restoring classic or vintage cars and returning them to their former glory. As such, even though some collision/body shops can perform restorations, it is advisable to always have your classic car restored by a professional auto restoration shop.
How Long Does a Restoration Process Take?
The length of time that it will take to fully restore your car depends on factors that include, but are not limited to, the model of the car and the type and quality of restoration that you want for the car. As such, it is not uncommon to see restorations that range from several months to a year or more.
Make sure that your auto restoration mechanic keeps you regularly updated on the progress of your car restoration. It is also a good idea to visit the facility from time to time to inspect the ongoing project.
What Is the Best Old Car to Restore?
When contemplating the best classic cars to restore, factors like the cost of carrying out the restoration, the ease of locating replacement parts, and the car's potential aesthetic and resale value have to be taken into consideration. With that being said, some of the best classic cars to restore are:
- The 1932 Ford
- The 1955 1957 Tri-Five Chevy
- The 1958 1971 Austin-Healey Spring
- The 1961 1966 Ford Thunderbird
- The 1963 1965 Buick Riviera
- The 1964 1972 Chevy Malibu
- The 1964 1973 Ford Mustang
- The 1964 -1972 Chevy Chevelle
- The 1964-1972 Pontiac GTO
- The 1967 1969 Chevy Camaro
- The 1967-1969 Chevy Camaro
- The 1967-1972 Chevy C-10
- The 1968 1970 AMC AMX
- The 1968 1970 Dodge Charger
- The 1968 1972 Chevy Corvette
- The 1968 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass
- The 1968 1976 Triumph TR6
- The 1970 1974 Dodge Challenger
- The 1970 1974 Plymouth Barracuda
- The 1978 1982 Chevy Corvette
- The 1979 -1985 Fiat Spider