Car Restoration On A Budget: 12 Ways To Save


Watching the transformation of an old classic car going from rust bucket to almost brand new is a really fun thing to witness, especially if you’re the one doing the transformation. Car restoration is a hobby that many car enthusiasts wish to pursue and many of which actually end up doing it.

However, it’s very easy to spend a lot of money on a car restoration, even a lot more than you intend to spend. Everyone knows that a car restoration can be expensive, but not everyone knows the little secrets about how to save money while pursuing such a project. Here are 12 ways to save if you’re doing a car restoration on a budget:

  • Don’t buy parts ahead of time
  • Buy a project that’s running
  • Join online forums
  • Sell old parts
  • Check local salvage yard
  • Wait for shipping sales
  • Use online promo codes
  • Sand the body yourself
  • Shop around for paint job deals
  • Check local classifieds
  • Get an owner’s manual
  • Join local car club

I have restored several cars and consider myself to be a budget oriented person. I’ve been able to get a good idea about ways to save on a car restoration that actually work.

Don’t Buy Parts Ahead Of Time

It’s an exciting time when you decide to do a car restoration. It’s very easy to get overly excited, make a list of everything you need, and buy it all at once so you don’t have to wait at all transitioning from one project to another.

Try to not get ahead of yourself. Buying all the parts you think you need all at once can actually cost you a lot of money. Only buy certain parts for your car restoration when you are working on that particular system.

There are a few reasons why I suggest this. The first reason being that if you have a pile of parts sitting in the corner for months at a time, you have a good chance at losing some of those parts and possibly damaging or denting some of the bigger parts. The second reason is because you may think you need a certain part only to find you wasted your money and need a different part. And by the time you discover you don’t need that part anymore, either the warranty or the return grace period has expired.

Buy A Project That’s Running

If you don’t have your classic restoration project yet and are actively looking for one, it might seem enticing to purchase a classic car that isn’t running because it’s cheaper.

While there are a handful of those out there that can easily fix a classic car that isn’t running because of their expertise, I generally recommend that you buy a project that is already running. Yes, you will be paying a little more for a classic car that is already running, however, you’ll also save yourself a lot of headache and money by not purchasing a classic car that’s non-functioning.

There’s a common reason why people sell their classic car that isn’t running. Either they didn’t want to pay the money to get it up and running and/or they didn’t know what the problem is and didn’t want to address it. Chances are, you would spend more getting a non-running project to run than you would by just buying a project that’s already running.

Join Online Forums

If you’re a car enthusiast, you’ve probably joined or at least looked at a lot of online forums. Despite their outdated look, forums are a great way for people to connect with each other about specific topics, and they’re usually free to join.

Whatever classic car you are restoring, I guarantee there is an online forum about that specific car. You’ll be able to find a slew of knowledge already discussed on these forums and you’ll be able to ask specific questions if you can’t already find the answer on there. This can be a lot cheaper than talking to a mechanic.

Most people who are a part of the forum are more than willing to help answer questions you may have. Most people on these forums actually own the same car you do so aside from answering your questions, they’ll also be able to give you helpful tips and tricks that you normally wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.

Sell Old Parts

When you really start getting deep into your classic car restoration, you’ll notice a nice pile building up in the corner of old parts you’ve taken off and plan to throw away. Don’t throw that pile away just yet.

Before tossing any part you’ve taken off your restoration that you don’t plan on using any more, look online or on local classifieds to see if any of these parts are worth anything. You have a big chance that a large majority of your classic car parts are worth something if they’re in decent condition.

I was able to sell about $5,000 worth of parts when I was restoring a Firebird. That extra money was really nice to have and it went a long way with my restoration process.

Check Local Salvage Yard

A lot of people underestimate the value of using a local salvage yard. Salvage yards, also known as junkyards or wrecking yards, is a place where decommissioned and wrecked cars are brought and parked. Salvage yards are open for people to come and browse through the cars and take out parts from them that they can use. You do have to pay for the parts, but the price is usually pennies compared to buying the part from any other place.

Usually salvage yards will have a website or a social media account that you can follow. You can also sign up for email notifications if you’d like. They commonly email and post on social media about any sales they’re having or new junk cars they’ve received.

Since you are restoring an older classic car, chances are you won’t be able to find the exact parts that specifically came with your make and model that you’re working on. However, a lot of parts in classic cars are interchangeable and you can use of a lot of parts from other cars that will work great.

When I bought my 1966 Bronco, I had to get a new engine because the one that it had was toast. I went to a local salvage yard that my friend owns and was able to get a 302 V8 engine from a Ford Explorer as well as the 4R70W transmission that came with it for almost no cost at all. That saved me a lot of money.

Wait For Shipping Sales

Buying parts online is incredibly convenient. Being able to shop online in the comfort of your own home while anticipating your purchase to be delivered right to your door step is simply the best way to go.

However, there’s a big catch with buying online: shipping costs. If you’re buying bulky, heavy, and/or awkward shaped items, shipping costs can be more than the price of the actual part. In that case, you’d probably rather just find a store somewhere and buy your parts there.

While shipping can be very expensive, there are a few loop holes you can take. A lot of car part websites will have occasional sales on shipping, about every few months. I recommend getting a little list together of parts you need right now and wait until those sales happen. It’s hard to wait a little longer to get your parts, but you will literally save hundreds of dollars by waiting for shipping sales.

Use Online Promo Codes

I am someone who hates paying full price for anything, especially for car restoration parts. If you’re willing to take some time to hunt for deals, you’ll be able to find them.

Aside from comparing prices from one website to another and finding the best deal, there are other ways to save. Most websites have promo codes that you can use that will give you a discount. They usually have them for free shipping, 5%-10% off, or maybe even 20% off your first purchase.

Any time you go to buy something online, always look for a promo code first. All you need to do is search for it in Google. For example, in Google’s search bar, type in “[website name] promo code” and you should get a list of a few that you can use. Before you check out on the website, there should be a little bar that lets you type in the promo code you found. This method has save me hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars.

Sand The Body Yourself

The most expensive component to any car restoration is the body work. I don’t recommend you paint your classic car yourself because that requires training and skill to get right. You can mess that up very easily if you don’t know what you’re doing.

However, there is a lot of body prep work you can do yourself that will save you a lot of money. The reason body work costs so much is because it requires a lot of time to complete. If you have the time and the patience, try sanding down the body yourself. It is a process and it does take a lot of time, but it’s completely doable and will be great with your budget. And it’s almost free to do it yourself.

I use a polycarbide abrasive wheel that I attach to my angle grinder and it does an excellent job at stripping paint and tearing out any rust. It’ll take it down to bare metal, too. If you decide to go this round, remember to always wear a high quality respirator to keep yourself from getting sick from all the dust. Click here to see a list of other tools I use for my car restorations.

Shop Around For Paint Job Deals

Like I said before, don’t attempt to paint your classic car restoration yourself unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. It’s easy to think you can do it by yourself and save some money, but it’ll probably cost you more money in the end. I attempted to paint my own Chevy Pickup and it didn’t work out so well. I ended up having a professional do it.

Plan on having a professional do the paint job. It’s a little painful to look at the prices you’ll be spending on a new paint job, but that’s what you get when you start a car restoration. And I promise you will be so grateful you paid a professional.

Don’t have your heart set on one particular place to do your restoration paint job. Even if your best friend has offered to do it for you in their shop, call around to a few places to compare prices. Often times you can negotiate prices with some places if you can find a lower offer from somewhere else.

Check Local Classifieds

Aside from finding great deals on parts while searching online, it’s not a bad idea to also look at and check your local classifieds. You can find these either in the newspaper or online, often times through Craigslist or Facebook marketplace.

Other people will be selling parts to their classic cars that they’re not using any more. You’d be surprised at how often you’re able to find very specific parts from people that live around you.

Purchasing parts through local classifieds also gives you the chance to actually see and examine the part before you buy it and can make sure it’s the right fit. Another added bonus is that you get acquainted with other car enthusiasts that my be able to answer some of your questions.

Get An Owner’s Manual

If the purchase of your classic car restoration didn’t come with the owner’s manual (which is pretty common because previous owners have a hard time keeping track of those), it’s a good idea to obtain one.

Having an owner’s manual will be able to answer a lot of questions for you such as specific specs, parts, part numbers, etc. That’s a lot of information you probably wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere, even the internet. The information an owner’s manual gives will save you a lot of time.

The good news is that you can usually find an owner’s manual for free online. You can Google the owner’s manual for your specific restoration project. Check any forums you’re a part of and see if anyone has downloaded one or has one to give for free. You should never have to buy your owner’s manual.

Join A Local Car Club

If you’re aware of any car clubs around, it’s a good idea to become a member of them. Some may think this is a bit nerdy, but there’s actually a lot of value being a part of a car club.

Not only do you get to be a part of a group of fellow car enthusiasts, but you also can learn a lot from these people. You’ll definitely need to make an effort to be a part of the group, but that shouldn’t take much energy at all since you’re a part of a group that has similar interests as you.

Often times, if you become good enough friends, you can render help from other members for free. Some people love cars so much that they enjoy helping a friend fix issues or help with a particular project that takes a lot of time. The knowledge and help you can get from these people can really help you save a lot of money.

Related Questions

What makes a classic car original? A classic car is defined as original when it has been maintained both mechanically and aesthetically with no replacements pieces or parts. Parts that needed fixing were repaired instead of replaced so every part of the vehicle is the same and is what came stock when it was manufactured.

What makes a car appreciate? A car’s appreciation depends on the it’s rarity and and popularity. Unfortunately, it usually takes time for a car to appreciate, at least 20 years, when people become nostalgic and are willing to pay more for a car which is usually considered a classic by that time. Click here for more info.

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