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3 Classic Car Restoration Tips for Beginners

classic Chevrolet

Restoring a classic car is akin to competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race: It’s a challenge that takes endurance, skill and patience. The final result can be astounding, but so can the repair bills. If you are interested in beginning your first major overhaul, these classic car restoration tips can get you started.

1. Start With the Right Car

To ensure the greatest chance of success, choose your project car carefully. Photo credit: Sarah SheltonChoosing an ideal candidate for restoration may be the most important of all classic car tips. It often means the difference between a never-ending nightmare and a finished product.

A common mistake beginners often make is to become emotionally attached when buying a project car. If a sleek paint job and a set of shiny wheels is making your heart race, take a step back before your excitement blinds you to potential problems.

Avoid a parasitic draw on your wallet by using a more detached approach. Your pre-purchase inspection should be meticulous. Take a careful look under the hood, and examine the interior, from the headliner to the floor pans. Put the car on a lift or slide underneath to survey for rust, problems with the body that may be masked on the outside by paint and cracks in the frame. If possible, take the classic car on a road test.

Build a preliminary budget based on your inspection, keeping in mind that some items will cost more than you anticipate and that unexpected issues are likely to arise. Consider buying the classic only if your estimated restoration costs plus the purchase price of the vehicle equals an amount near the car’s final estimated value. If the total is higher, walk away.

2. Create Your Build Plan

After you select your vehicle, put together your restoration plan with as much detail as possible. Beyond creating an estimate of restoration expenses, this outline acts as a blueprint to help you map the sequence of your repairs. As an example, it’s usually recommended to complete major mechanical repairs and engine overhauls before the bodywork to avoid damaging a fresh paint job.

Car swap meetYour restoration plan can also help you design your desired ride and performance, then select compatible components up front to reach your goal. If you’re replacing the exhaust system, for instance, it’s best to simultaneously consider any other performance upgrades you may want.

3. Set Up Your Space

Having enough room for your project is key. A full frame-off classic car restoration can easily occupy four garage bays. Having separate sections for the chassis, suspension components and mechanical assemblies, interior pieces and the powertrain is a must.

Give yourself plenty of room to work as you disassemble the car, along with additional area to lay out all the removed pieces. Your garage should be relatively clean, safe from the elements and well-lit. If you are making due with a smaller space, take extra precautions to carefully organize and store all of your parts.

Check out all the tools & equipment available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more classic car restoration tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Shelton


Sarah Shelton View All

As a freelance automotive writer, I create articles, how-to guides, web content and white papers for online magazine site and automotive companies. I passionately believe that cars and motorcycles should be appreciated for the works of art they are, and fantasize about owning a white Ducati 899 Panigale to display in my living room. I am currently the Corvette expert at, cover alternatively-fueled vehicles and technology at, and hold the imaginary title of Formula One test driver on the back roads surrounding my Oregon home.

One thought on “3 Classic Car Restoration Tips for Beginners Leave a comment

  1. I learned long ago that if you want to restore a classic car you need to dedicate yourself to just that one thing. Find a nice apartment and rent a large building nearby with a good security system, sturdy doors and small windows. You don’t need to be mowing the grass and painting bedrooms when you need to be working on the car. Keep the rebuilt engine and tranny separate from the car until it is time to install or you might have a rolling chassis for sale. It happened to a friend of mine when he left for a vacation.

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