14 Awesome Truck Restoration Tips From Someone Who’s Done It

Trucks are some of the funnest vehicles to own, especially if they’re a classic truck. They are beautiful pieces of history that no one seems to ever get tired of. They can have a lot of uses from hauling loads from one place to another to just simply having a joy ride down main street. If you’ve decided to take the path of restoring an old truck, you’re about to encounter a very frustrating and extremely rewarding experience.

I have owned several trucks throughout my life, one of which I half way restored and one of which I completely restored. The thing I love about classic trucks is that they’re not terribly difficult to work on and the restoration cost is doable. I completely restored my 1968 Chevy Pickup while I was a college student. So I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough, but I was able to get it done in about a year and a half. I ended up selling it to a family in California who still occasionally sends me pictures of them enjoying it.

Here’s 14 awesome truck restoration tips:

  • Budget Time
  • Budget Time
  • Join Forums
  • Hang Picture of End Goal
  • Join Forums
  • Do A Lot Yourself
  • Join Forums
  • Sell Extra Parts
  • Join Forums
  • Use Local Classifieds
  • Wait For Shipping Sales
  • Anything Covered With Carpet Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect
  • Don’t Cut Corners
  • You Will Get Frustrated

From my experience of restoring my classic truck, as well as several other classic cars, I’ve been able to get a good idea of some helpful tips and tricks that will make restoring your truck a lot easier.

Budget Time

Having been there before, several times actually, I know how much time it can take to restore a classic car. Classic trucks are no exception and will require several hundred hours, perhaps over a thousand hours to restore depending on your experience and level of expertise.

If you are in a relationship, restoring a truck is something you need to discuss together. The process of restoration takes a lot of time and sometimes partners don’t appreciate that.

I recommend the two of you sit down together and have an open conversation about what your intentions are, how much time you’ll be spending working on the truck, and what your partner expects in return. Remember to stick with the time you discussed; if you don’t, that will lead to frustration and hard feelings between the two of you. You don’t want your project to cause contention that will ultimately lead you to having to sell it.

Budget Money

Budgeting money may be an obvious tip when it comes to restoring a classic truck. But there’s a lot more to consider about budgeting money than meets the eye.

Obviously restoring a truck is going to be pretty expensive, even if your truck is in decent shape. You will most likely be spending tens of thousands of dollars to get it to look the way you want it to. Before you dive into a project like this, budget your money and see how much you can afford to spend on your project. Do the math and see how long it will take to do the truck restoration according to your budget and assess if it’s worth it to you.

You’ll also need to consider your partner in this. In fact, your number one priority with your truck restoration should be openly talking with your partner about money. Money is a funny thing; it can bring us a lot of joy and can also be very destructive. The second leading cause of divorce and break-ups is money, so tread this matter carefully with your partner.

A restoration project has a tendency to bring up a lot of arguments among partners because of how much it costs. Be sure you have the approval of your partner before you begin and be completely open about how much you’ll be spending. And most importantly, stick to your budget. You don’t want to end up in a divorce or breakup because of your truck restoration.

Join Forums

The internet made it possible for me to do all of my restorations. With the internet at our fingertips, we can figure out how to do just about anything on any truck restoration.

Forums may seem a little outdated because a lot of them look like they’re from 1995, but they’re actually an excellent source to restoring your truck.

I recommend joining online forums specific to your truck. If you have a particular questions about your classic truck, chances are that question has already been discussed and answered on the forum you just joined. It’s also nice to just read through them to get additional helpful tips specific to your truck.

Hang Picture Of End Goal

Before you get started on your truck restoration, take a few minutes to browse the internet at particular styles of trucks you like. Know exactly how you want your classic truck to look when you’re done.

Once you find a picture of what you like, print it out and hang it somewhere you will see it often. This can be anywhere in your work space, your bathroom, the hallway, or anywhere you’ll know you’ll see it a lot. If needed, print several pictures of it and place them in different places.

This will provide a source of motivation to you and remind you of what your end goal is. Though it may seem a little silly, it actually works quite well. If you’re constantly seeing a beautiful truck hanging on the walls of your home, how could it not remind you about what you’re working towards and what you will eventually have?

Take Tons Of Pictures

It’s easy to think that while we disassemble everything on our classic truck restorations, we’ll remember where everything goes. The truth is, you will not remember where everything goes, even if you’ve done it a thousand times. A simple part that is placed in the wrong spot can cause a lot of damage.

I once had a friend who attempted to do his own engine rebuild. He put all of the nuts and bolts into a large buckets. When he attempted to piece it back together, he used too long of a bold and ended up cracking the engine head. It can be pretty serious if you use the wrong parts.

During the disassembly of your truck restoration, take pictures of every single part that you take off. Take a picture of it before you take the part off. Use scotch tape to label every single wire so you know exactly what it does. Place bolts into plastic baggies that are labeled so you know exactly where to put them when you’re reassembling everything.

This will make the process of putting your classic truck back together so much easier and will save you hours of work. I literally take hundreds of pictures during my restorations and it has helped me tremendously.

Do A Lot Yourself

A lot of people assume that once you get into a car restoration, you need to have a lot of professional help. The fact is, there’s actually a lot of stuff you can do yourself on a restoration, especially a truck restoration.

Classic trucks really aren’t that complicated, especially compared to trucks that are produced nowadays. You can actually do most of the restoration yourself. The internet has given us an endless reservoir of information and will be able to teach you any skill you need to know to fix up your classic truck.

The only two things I don’t recommend you do yourself is an engine rebuild and body paint. Those two components are best left to the professionals, no matter how good you’re at with DIYing.

Don’t Buy Everything At Once

It can be easy to get excited and want to buy everything you need all at once so you don’t have to worry about waiting to find the parts you need before you can start working again. It seems that would be ideal and convenient while you’re working on your project.

My father-in-law and I made this mistake. During our classic car restoration, he bought everything he thought he needed. Well, life happened and the restoration took a lot longer than expected. Turns out we lost a lot of the parts we had ordered and a lot of the bulkier items had dents or were damaged somehow because they had been sitting.

Purchase the parts you need during the time you need them to prevent them from getting lost or damaged from just sitting. This is probably ideal for your budget anyway.

Sell Extra Parts

As you progress through your truck restoration, you’ll notice a nice pile of parts accumulating that you don’t need anymore. Don’t assume that no one wants them and just throw them away, because chances are there is someone out there that wants them.

Before throwing anything away, look online or at local classifieds to see if those parts are worth anything. You’ll actually be pleasantly surprised. I was able to sell about $5,000 worth of parts from one of my restorations. That was quite nice to have the extra five grand to put towards my project.

Wear A Respirator

Again, this may be an obvious tip for restoring a truck, but there’s more to it than just preventing sneezes. Wearing a respirator is a vital part of restoring any classic vehicle.

You don’t necessarily need to wear a respirator if you’re doing engine work or assembling wiring, but if you are grinding any metal, sanding, drilling, etc. then you absolutely need to wear a respiration. And not just the cheap white ones you find in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. You’ll need the industrial, alien-looking respirators. You can find a decent one for $20-$30.

In most older vehicles, lead was used in the paint. So any disruption with that paint can cause potential hazards for you and your health when inhaled. According to cancer.org, “the link between lead exposure and cancer is clearly a concern………..the main toxic effects of lead are on the brain and nervous system. In adults, high levels of lead can cause headaches and problems with mood, thinking, and memory.” 

Use Local Classifieds

While I am a huge advocate for ordering parts online and having them delivered right to my doorstep, looking for used parts on local classifieds is also a smart way to go.

Using Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or some other platform that your area uses is a great way to save money. I seems redundant to replace an old part on your classic truck with another used part, but it actually works great.

Using the local classifieds is also a great way to look at a part before you actually buy it instead of trusting the internet to send you the right piece. You’ll also get a chance to meet other classic truck enthusiasts that may be able to answer some questions you have about your restoration.

Wait For Shipping Sales

The internet can be a wonderful place for you to order any parts you need for your truck restoration. It also gives you a chance to compare prices so you know you’re getting the best possible price.

The downside to internet shopping is the cost of shipping. You may order some large, heavy, bulky, and/or misshapen items that will cost almost more to ship than the actual cost of the part. That can make your spending spike pretty high.

The good news is that most online car parts suppliers will have shipping sales every few months. Try to take advantage of these sales and you will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Get a list together that you know you’ll need in the next few months. Once the shipping sale hits, order those parts together and save!

Anything Covered With Carpet Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect

In all of my classic car restorations, I have replaced the carpet. I highly recommend you do so because carpet can get pretty nasty over the years.

If you do end up doing this, it’s easy to get caught up in perfecting the floor panels and making them look nice, especially if you have to replace a few of them. Obviously, make them functional and sturdy so they’re able to function the way they need to, but don’t get caught up and waste your time in making them look perfect. No one is going to see them, even you if you’re going to end up putting carpet over them anyway.

Don’t Cut Corners

It’s very easy to want to save money with your truck restoration and be tempted to cut a few corners. While I’m all about saving money, cutting corners actually doesn’t save you money in the long run.

Through all of my classic car restorations, I’ve cut corners by not buying the right parts, trying to use old dysfunctional parts, or doing things myself that I had no business doing. And every single time I did so, I ended up having to fix it eventually which always cost me more money.

It’s tempting to save money, but do it right the first time. This is a classic truck restoration you’re doing, make it look the way you want it even if it takes a little longer to finish. You’ll save a lot of money by doing so.

You Will Get Frustrated

As unpleasant as this sounds, there will be times where you will get frustrated and you will get stuck. You may come to a problem or a needed fix that you simply cannot figure out. I’ve been there and I know exactly how that feels. You’ll get overwhelmed and wonder if you should keep going with your project.

Don’t give up! I know it seems like a lot of time is wasted the longer you just stand there and think, but trust me, it’s not time wasted at all. Keep at it and I guarantee you’ll figure it out. There’s no shame in asking for professional help or even having a friend come over to bounce ideas off of.

Related Questions

How long does it take to restore a truck? The time it takes to restore a classic truck depends a lot on how much experience you have. For most people, the average truck restoration takes between 1,000 – 1,500 hours. Depending on how much time you have, you can have a restoration done in as little as 6-8 months.

How much does it cost to restore a truck? The cost to restore a truck will range between $15,000 – $30,000 if you plan on doing the restoration yourself. If you have someone else restore it for you, your truck restoration will cost between $35,000 – $50,000 if it’s in medium condition.

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