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How to Decide What to do First when Restoring a Classic Car



Now that you have found the car or truck of your dreams, you’re ready to plan your restoration. As described earlier, there are several ways to go about restoring a vehicle. Since we are gearing this article toward the novice-to-intermediate restorer, we are going to assume you have purchased an operational vehicle and you will be driving as you restore. Now, those are a big assumptions, but you can adapt the following information to just about any type of restoration.

First, you will want to focus on the areas that need the most attention to make the vehicle a safe daily driver. This usually constitutes a focus on the mechanical systems first. However, if your driver’s side door is falling off, by all means, repair that first!

Buy a manual!

Before you start anything, BUY A SHOP MANUAL! I can’t stress this point enough. A factory shop manual is your single best investment when doing your restoration. Looking up a project and studying it prior to doing the work will pay many dividends and make the process a lot smoother.

Parts and tools

Reviewing the work before starting the project will let you know what parts and tools are needed to accomplish the task. Even better, the manual will give you insight into whether or not your skills will allow you to accomplish the task yourself or if you need to farm the work out to a professional.

The best place to start when looking at mechanical systems is the braking system. This type of work is well within the capability of most hobbyists. Brake tools might be the only hold up, but a good set of brake tools can be had for less than $50.00.

Start by inspecting the brakes and wheel bearings, then move on to shocks and front-end components. Front-end components consist of ball joints, tie-rod ends, springs, idler arms, strut bushings, control arm bushings and steering boxes. You may have all or only some of these items, but a systematic check of all these areas will give you an idea of what course to take in making your vehicle a safe daily driver.

Continue the inspection until all of the mechanical systems have been evaluated and a list of required parts has been compiled. Your list of repairs can now be broken down into two groups — one of things that you can do and one that requires professional service, such as a front-end alignment or other task outside your abilities.


Next, budget your repairs. Decide what you can do as one project, such as the brakes. The brakes might be a split job, where you do the work but the drums or rotors go to the machine shop. This job is where good planning pays off. You will need to coordinate machine shop services and parts in a way that keeps you on the road. In this case, a second car or a good friend who drives should be part of the plan.

Focus on one area at a time. Brakes, suspension, front-end, and so on and so forth. Budget and plan each section by determining what work you will do and which will go out. This is the best method for accomplishing your goals and not overlooking something, which can be the case when trying to do too much at once.

These may sound like simple practices, but consider pulling your project into your garage and blowing it apart, only to find the cost of the larger project stalls you or that you can’t perform an element of the work. Keeping your project on the road is your best bet. Now you know how and why this is the key to being a happy hobbyist.

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