How to Achieve a Successful Restoration of Your Collector Car

The most common complaint we hear from restoration shop managers about so-called “restored” vehicles is that often being restored correctly when problems arise. Vehicle owners are dismayed after they get the bad news and have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on their project.

While shady operations or incompetent work is the root cause of an improper restoration, at some point the owner shoulders some of the responsibility of going with the wrong shop.   And the ailing vehicle will once again need to be disassembled to be properly restored for corrected fit, finish and operation at additional tens of thousands.

Frequently, making a decision on a shop to handle a full or even partial restoration based solely on a low price may attract the owner to the wrong shop. However there do exist a few unscrupulous shop owners/managers who are great at closing the sale, even at a higher cost, for the unsuspecting owner who is motivated by emotion more than practicality.

So unfortunately, after so many collector car owners have been burned, on a positive note, we can learn from their mistake(s)! Follow this path to lead you toward a successful restoration that meets your goals:

1) Determine exact use for your restored your car or truck. Will it be driven to shows, cruises and or raced? Or will it be a garage queen generally trailered? Will it be judged at shows or do you intend to use it as a “driver”? How many miles per year do you intend to drive it?

2) What specific work needs to be performed to meet your expectation(s)? Can this work meet your goal with a partial restoration? If there are any marginal parts that are exposed during the disassembly, would you consider refurbishing or replacing them as well? (For example, since you are having your automatic transmission rebuilt, would it make sense to also replace your torque converter as well?)

3) If you have not already done so, if time permits, collect any original parts needed for the restoration in advance.

4) Write down your goal(s) and contact at least three reputable shops in the region (such as those pre-screened and recommended by Collector Car Guide). Address each separate item with the owner/manager to discuss what is involved in the restoration. You may get a price for a “best-case scenario.”

5) Understand that even if you have a written quote on hand from a shop, the estimate only considers what is apparent on the surface such as rust. Any reputable shop owner will inform you that there may be more work and parts required once they start working on your vehicle.  Be prepared for “change orders” (additional work) that will be required beneath or beyond what is obvious.

6) Based on all the information you have collected, come up with a reasonable budget that covers hidden work so you will not come up short. Remember, cutting corners will actually cost you more in the long run. Your budget should be at least the average of three or more estimates you received. (In the case of bodywork, however, a good body and paint shop can match your paint for small repair jobs so you will not need to repaint the entire car or truck!)

7) By this point, if you determine the budget for the work is not attainable, you may want to consider living with the vehicle as is (if that is viable option) or decide to sell it

8) Before making the decision to choose what shop to go with, look up court records for each business. You may need the owner’s name to see if there is more than one entity filed in their state and check the records for those entities. Avoid any business listed in the court records with multiple cases as a defendant. (Do not be concerned with plaintiff listings, as sometimes shops need to file lawsuits against customers who refuse to pay their bill.)

9) Before finalizing your decision, do not be afraid to ask the contending shops for references and a tour of each to see what they are currently working on. (In fact, any reputable shop will be completely open and transparent by providing these.)

10) Do not be surprised if the shop has a waiting period before you can bring in your vehicle. So be patient with the knowledge that the shop you chose is in demand and will meet your expectations!

11) Be flexible with your time and budget if you would like the shop to perform additional work.  Many times a partial restoration leads to a full restoration. These days, your car may take longer to complete due to limited parts availability or fabrication of parts not available at all.

12)   Request your estimate in writing. A reputable shop will automatically provide paperwork that spells out the exact work to be performed at a specific rate. There should be a disclaimer if additional work is required as mentioned above.

13)   The written agreement should include a payment plan. Expect a deposit to cover initial parts and supplies but under no circumstances pay the entire amount or even more than 50% up front.  Progress payments are the best way to go to provide your shop incentive to finish your car in a timely fashion (outside of normal delays such as a waiting period of parts).

Contributed by Alan Power. Collector Car Guide features four star + reputable businesses in our Printed Directory and Interactive Online Directory in the area for various restoration shops and other automotive work.