Auto restoration is the process of rebuilding an automobile that is one of many stages of disrepair and bringing it back to the life and luster than it exhibited when it was new. From classic cars to modern automobiles, auto restoration covers the entire gambit of all vehicles that were ever manufactured.
The idea behind auto restoration, however, is to revive cars that have some level of value, whether monetary in the public eye, nostalgia for a forgotten era, or for personal reasons, such as the first date car for a couple who are now celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Auto restoration is not for the faint of heart as it requires an incredible amount of time, patience and money, from acquiring new parts to having upholstery refinished to look like new, to meticulously taking apart and then rebuilding an engine, which can require many months to complete.
To start with an auto restoration, it isn’t incumbent that the individual be a mechanic or have a vast working knowledge of automobiles or auto repair. Some people merely hire out the help they need, or purchase books that guide them through each phase of the particular restoration process, or have friends come over to help out at various stages.
Auto restoration can unite communities, it can bring together families, and it can help bridge the gap that sometimes exists between the past and the present. Some automobile aficionados will tell you that cars from yesteryear were much simpler, that the components and technologies used are easier to work on, repair, and replace. Others will argue that today’s cars, with their computer monitoring equipment and such make it much easier to repair.
However, cars of today have managed to fit more into tighter spaces, making any actual work of auto restoration more of a challenge to the patience and the person doing the work. Yet, throughout the world, there are diamonds in the rough all over the place; cars and trucks lying dormant, rusting away in a field or off to the side of a house, relics of a forgotten age just waiting to be given life and brought back from the edge of despair.
For anyone looking to tackle an auto restoration project, the road is not an easy one, but if the passion is there, it can be achieved. For those lucky souls who have stumbled upon a rare and valuable car that has long passed its prime, restoring it could lead to windfall sale when, and if, it is completed properly.
Reasons for Auto Restoration
There is basically only one kind of auto restoration, and that is complete one. But there are different reasons for doing a restoration. As mentioned earlier, some people make an investment in a classic automobile that they believe will be worth a significant amount of money if they spend the time to bring it back to its original look and operation.
Other people want to restore cars in order to learn more about them. Taking something completely apart and repairing those individual components and then putting it all back together certainly can teach a person far more than any amount of reading or watching video instruction will manage. However, it’s important to remember that you should have someone on standby who is experienced and can help should you find yourself in a difficult situation.
Another type of restoration project entails a recent accident. Whether the car was listed as totaled by the insurance company or just has some damage to the front end or other parts of it, a full restoration could mean getting back the car the person had before the accident, or even bringing it back to its original showroom condition.
When it comes to auto restoration, safety is perhaps the biggest concern. Having the right equipment is critical to being safe. Having plenty of room in which to work is also very important to overall safety. Working on a car in tight quarters can lead to many unnecessary accidents and mishaps.
Have plenty of lighting. Work lights, especially those that can be moved into place where needed, are vital to being able to see precisely what you are working on and what needs to be done. Have more than one light so that you have flexibility, as well as the ability to see clearly.
When removing the engine or other heavy parts, don’t use makeshift devices. Spend the money and purchase the right equipment, such as an engine lift, jacks, jack stands, and, if necessary, a transmission stand. These will not only help you to avoid injury, such as pulling back muscles or breaking an arm, but they will also protect the sensitive components of the car itself.
Equipment to Have
Having the right tools makes any job much easier and more efficient. For an auto restoration, the right tools are numerous, but they don’t all need to be purchased at once. Instead, they can be gathered as you move through the entire restoration project.
The first thing, and perhaps the most critical piece of equipment to have isn’t really equipment at all, but rather a safe, dry, flat surface to store the car. Since the chassis (the main frame of the body) will not move once you park the car to begin the auto restoration, this will remain where it is for a considerable amount of time. Storing it outside under a tarp may seem like a fine idea at first, but when you begin to put the pieces back together, you will find that having it in a safe, warm, and dry area is much safer and much more efficient.
Next you will need the proper tools. Depending on the type of vehicle you plan to restore will determine whether you need American or metric tool sets. American made cars more than twenty-five years old will almost exclusively require American sets, but the modern cars from American manufacturers are often built in pieces from other countries and could require both. The best solution is to purchase quality tools of both sizes.
When you plan to do a complete auto restoration, don’t cut corners when it comes to your tools. Buying cheap tools will only mean, in most cases, that you will break one or more and need to buy new ones along the way.
Jack stands, car jack, engine lift, and a transmission lift will all be crucial tools to have when you begin the restoration project. You can use cinder blocks or other sturdy devices that can hold the chassis up in the air when you remove the wheels, but just remember, you will be underneath the vehicle many times and you should want to feel safe and protected by having jack stands that are rated for the full vehicle’s weight.
Lights. Make sure you have plenty of light when you work on this car. Having more than enough light is always better than not having enough. Besides, when you are working on some components of the restoration, you will be moving back and forth between different parts of the car and therefore it’s advisable to have light at every point so you don’t have to waste time moving one. Whenever you have to spend too much time on other things beside the restoration, it can be easy to call it quits and give up.
Bolt breaking spray, lubes, and fluid pans. Bolts in old cars will rust and freeze. Having a spray that breaks these rust points is a great time saver and will help reduce the chances of snapping bolts and then requiring drilling to remove them. Oil, transmission fluid, and radiator fluid, along with gasoline are just some of the fluids that will have to be removed and discarded safely. Dumping any of these fluids down a drain, into a storm drain, or into the ground is a violation of environmental laws and are punishable by massive fines, cleanup costs, and potentially prison time.
How to Learn
People learn a great deal about auto restoration simply by doing the work themselves. There are also classes in local community colleges and adult education programs that teach the mechanics and fundamentals of performing work on automobiles. One can also find a number of groups and organizations around the community of other auto restoration enthusiasts to speak with, gather tips, and to also find the right professionals to whom to bring major projects that are part of the total restoration.
Remember, there will be the need for professionals to repair or replace certain components, such as seat re-upholstering, to name just one. Having a network of individuals who can point you in the right direction will go a long way toward facilitating the total restoration.
Reading books on car repair is another great way to improve one’s knowledge base. There are many wonderful books on the subject and one can even find specialty repair books specific to the model car that they plan to restore.
Learning is a process and there will be times when you make mistakes. The key is to minimize the damage caused by those mistakes. It is certainly better to make those mistakes when taking out the parts of the car than when you begin to reassemble it.
When you’re ready to put the car back together, the most sensitive aspect is the engine and transmission. It’s advisable, if you don’t have the proper experience to handle this aspect, to call on some experience help and guidance, even if you have to hire a mechanic to come to your home or wherever you’re storing the car to assist you. It’s also a wonderful way to learn from one-on-one direct assistance.
Tips and Tricks
Aside from the most basic and fundamental tips that are shared in previous sections, auto restoration should be fun and exciting. Perhaps the most important tip to offer is that this will not be a fast process. There will be plenty of times when nothing seems to go right and you will want to give it all up. These are the moments when passion for the end result and the love of automobiles will be most important.
If possible, it’s a good idea to have a sink with a catch drain nearby the work area as some components will need to be cleaned of oil and grease residue that could have built up over the years. As a result of cleaning and degreasing, small parts, such as screws, springs, and other components could fall from the unit and drop into the sink. Having a catch drain will help to avoid minor mistakes from becoming costly.
Have a telescoping magnet on hand. While this might fall into the realm of equipment, it’s actually considered an extra, non-necessity, but one that is used by countless mechanics around the world. A telescoping magnet is perfect for snagging loose screws and bolts and nuts that happen to slip into narrow crevices in the chassis, places that can either not be seen or reached by hand.
The most important tip is to have fun and look for any opportunity to bond with friends or family during the phase of the auto restoration. Not only will the end result bring you great joy, but the process will be chock full of memories that can last a lifetime.
Auto restoration has never been about experience working with cars, but rather a love of a fine automobile and wanting to see its rusty, broken down body shine like new again. There are certain considerations to be made when it comes to restoring an automobile, such as determining whether you wish to maintain its highest resale value or if you’re only restoring it for personal posterity.
In order to retain the highest market value, a car’s engine and transmission must remain original. Putting in a new transmission, or one that doesn’t match the car’s TIN (Transmission Identification Number) will reduce the overall value of the car.
Beyond that, just take your time and enjoy the process. There is a great deal to learn about cars and auto restoration is one of the best ways to go about learning.