Car Restoration Tips

The first thing to do in a car restoration project is to make a list of what needs to be done.  You don’t want to miss something essential and risk damaging a new paint job, nor do you want to find out that your car now looks great but won’t run.  Try breaking your list into two groups – ‘Things that can be done by yourself (with a little research)’ and ‘Things that a garage or shop will have to do’.

Here are some things to include on your list:

  • Seats:  If the seats are torn or worn, look for used seats in good shape. If you cannot find decent ones, consider reupholstering them or finding a pair of cool seat covers.
  • Headliner: Make sure the headliner is not sagging or torn. You can order headliner material or buy a replacement with the back pad included.
  • Carpet: Replace any carpet that is worn or badly soiled.
  • Dash: If the dash cap is cracked, replace it.  At the very least, get  a good fitting dash cover.
  • Weatherstripping: Check all of the rubber on the vehicle – including: the doors, the windows, the hood, and the trunk or hatch. If you find cracked or rotted rubber, look for signs of rust underneath.
  • Dents / Scratches: Make sure all dents and scratches are filled in or pounded out before painting.
  • Engine: Make sure everything is working. Park the car over some white posterboard for a day or two to look for any kind of liquid spots. If the car has been sitting idle for an extended period of time, consider replacing all belts and rubber gaskets.
  • Wheels / Tires: If the wheels are shabby-looking, you can replace them. Armor-All does wonders on weather-beaten tires.  The old tried and true sugar water does the trick on most rims.


With list of repairs in hand, you’re ready to tackle the project.
It’s best to proceed in the following order:

  1. Transmission:  If there are problems with the gears, clutch, or slippage, get the transmission in running order and shifting properly. Replace the clutch and all gaskets.
  2. Engine:  Make any needed changes or repairs once the transmission is back in place.
  3. Electrical:  You may need to repair individual pieces of the car such as lights, switches, buttons, etc.  Do this step once you’re sure the engine and transmission are in shape, so that you’ll know any electrical problems are the result of wiring and not mechanical issues.
  4. Suspension:  Tackle any major suspension changes before you get too far into bodywork.
  5. Interior:  While you can work on the interior any time, it’s best to do your inside cosmetic repairs before you start work on the body, especially if you’ll be replacing seats, carpet, or dash.
  6. Body:  Don’t start priming and painting until all other elements of the car are sound.  No one needs an “oops!” from someone not paying attention in a hustle-and-bustle automotive garage.
  7. Wheels:  Wheels and tires can be replaced at any time. These can be expensive parts, so wait to buy them until after you’ve dealt with any mechanical issues.