Restore A Car On A Budget

Article by Mark Trotta

Whatever you set your restoration budget at, you will most certainly go over it. But it's still important to have one, because it keeps the over-spending to a minimum. It also allows you to see in black and white the areas that cost the most.

restore an old car on a budget

All of my old car projects cost more than I had originally thought. There's just too many unforeseen things that can come up. I'll start by writing a budget beforehand, and still spend more than I had planned.



Initial Purchase

Leaving emotion out of project car buying is not easy. After all, old cars are a passion.

If you happen to find several projects that interest you, pick the one that best suits your skills. For instance, choosing a car that needs only mechanical work versus one that needs body repair.

Only if you're short on cash but long on time and talent, should you choose the car that needs a lot of body work.

old car repair on a budget

Read: Project Car Buyers Guide

We all want to find a great deal on a project car. We all want to spend the least amount of money, while the seller tries to get the most amount of money. Usually, the compromise is paying a fair deal and getting a decent buy.

Exceptions To The Rule

Sometimes a car is so rare or so valuable, it's worth the extra cost. Let's say you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a original muscle car, then it's justified to over-pay. Classic cars that command the highest prices also command higher project car prices.

1965 GTO convertible restoration

Keep in mind that a muscle car project like this 1965 GTO convertible will be more costly and take much more time, but the financial rewards will be worth it.

Sourcing Parts

Searching for and buying parts is a big part of the restoration process. Plan on spending hours on the internet, doing research and finding a particular part. If you underestimate the importance of parts sourcing, you will pay for that ignorance in time and money.

DIY car restoration

It's important to get the right part the first time, but how do you make sure it's the right part before you buy it? The answer is, do your homework and spend the time needed to make sure that you're buying the right part. Also, take the time to compare shipping costs from different vendors (free is best).



Buying Parts Online

In today's world, most of us will be buying parts online. Never assume that a cheaper part here is the same as the more expensive part there. If you think that one vendor's cheaper part is the same as the other vendor's more expensive part, look again. Companies don't survive on the internet by overpricing their competitors.

Note: If the cheaper vendor is out of stock, it's Ok to order the needed parts from somewhere else to keep your old car project moving forward.

Companies Will Advertise Parts They Don't Have

I've run into this problem too many times. Companies will advertise a part, but they don't have them. They want you to click the "contact me when this part arrives" button and wait patiently. What they're counting on is enough requests to justify the cost of putting the part into production.

Sourcing parts is a skill set all it's own. Generally there is a trade-off between getting a good price and getting good customer service. Sometimes you get both, but sometimes you get neither.

Learning New Skills

The more you do things yourself, the better you become at doing more and different things. It's an attitude that prevails when tackling any project. And of course, when you do it yourself, you save money.



There's always a better and cheaper way of doing the task at hand. Use your creativity and your skills and come up with alternatives. Sometimes it takes days for an idea will pop up, but when it does, try it. A professional shop must face deadlines, but you don't.


After high school, I enrolled in vocational school and learned welding and auto body repair. Automotive bodywork is time-consuming, messy, and frustrating, but when done correctly, gives the most satisfying results.

automotive restoration on a budget

The least expensive (but most time consuming) method of paint-stripping techniques is mechanical stripping. If you're working with a budget, paint stripping by hand is a good example of doing it yourself and saving money.

Tools And Equipment

Good tools last forever, and that's a pretty good investment. The money you save by doing work yourself offsets the cost of tools and equipment.

restore an old car on a budget

Read: Best Air Tools For Car Restoration


To restore an old car on a budget, follow this equation: What you paid for the car, *plus* the parts required, *plus* 100 (or 200 or 300) hours of your time, equals the market value of the car.

any convertible car is a worthwhile project

The plain truth is, your time is worth very little when you restore a car yourself, particularly if it's the first time. But that's a big part of what it takes to restore a car on a budget.


Related Articles:

Best Old Cars To Restore

Best Old Trucks To Restore

Tools Needed For Automotive Bodywork

Restoration Planning Guide