Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cost of Restoring a Classic Car or Truck

Having been on both sides of the fence, I've been both customer and shop owner. I sympathize with both sides, and offer suggestions to customers looking for a fair shake at a restoration shop.

First, it helps to have thoroughly considered your wishes for your ride. Everything should be thought out, even if the job is to be done in stages, for your bottom-line budget will be affected greatly by some of the choices you make. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you just want a great looking ride that you can take out on occasion to impress passer-bys? Or are you looking for performance and a great sounding engine? Do you want to take it to the strip for an occasional pass to satisfy your need for speed? The more specific you can be (and don't be afraid to be completely honest with the shops you talk to) the better your chance for complete satisfaction...within your budget.

It's a good thing to talk to shops and get an idea of what they recommend for your particular car or truck. This not only gives you ideas and a sound platform for your restoration, but it will also give you an idea what type of emphasis the shop places on their work (i.e. do they favor traditional/stock restoration, custom fabrication, or the latest bling-bling available?). Your choice should be one that is close to how you'd like to finish your vehicle and what you're trying to accomplish (custom, performance, racing, classic restoration, etc.).

Be wary of shops which over-inflate the value of your vehicle so that you'll feel better about the costs of your restoration. We tell all our customers that the first and fore-most reason for the restoration should be for love of the vehicle, not to have the vehicle as an investment. With the crazy ups and downs in values, and the amount of money that it typically takes for a restoration, you're usually lucky to break even on a project if you're restoring it for resale. If you're doing it for the enjoyment of the ride, or the sentimental value of the vehicle, you're in it for all the right reasons. We've had customers come to us with stories of how a shop told them that their car was worth two to three times the average and low-balled the estimate to get them hooked. Imagine how they felt when their "estimate" turned out to be two to three times what was quoted! It's something we're all afraid of, but taking the time to prepare will help you avoid these pitfalls.

Beware also of the quotes which seem ridiculously low. For instance, there's really no such thing as a $2,000 paint job anymore (unless you're looking for something that'll most surely involve Bondo and paint that could slide off the car within 6 months). Costs of paint itself can be $1,000 and it usually takes a minimum of 100 hours to properly prep a car for paint. Most classic or antiques cost $6,000 and up for a decent paint job, and a show quality paint job can cost $15,000 or more. If body work is required, costs are certain to be more than the norm.

I think that this is generally one of the most difficult parts of restoration to justify to customers because such a large part of the cost is labor, and most people have no idea just what is involved in properly prepping and painting. Sometimes engine restoration or upgrades are easier since such a large part of the cost is the price of the parts themselves, and there are usually low-end and high-end alternatives which gives you much more flexibility when putting your "ideal" car or truck together.

Going into your restoration with a realistic idea of cost is essential. You wouldn't want your shop to cut corners at the end of the job because your spending limit was exhausted before all the work was done. Labor is labor and while a professional shop can generally get the job done a bit faster because they have the proper tools and equipment, it still takes time. Restorations can typically take an at-homer 5-10 years to complete. Cutting the time to a few months to a year is one reason why owners turn to a professional shops. Another reason is when you come across something on your at-home project that you don't have the experience or know-how to do yourself, don't have the equipment to do yourself, or it is something that you simply don't like doing.

Once you've decided on all the components of your restoration - engine work, induction system, exhaust system, interior, exterior, wheels, suspension, steering, brakes, heating & cooling, etc. - and have an idea what each will cost, form a final plan by cutting or modifying where needed so that everything fits your budget. It's always a good idea to add a bit - say 10-20% - for unexpected surprises which always seem to crop up in any type of restoration, whether partial or full. Remember - an estimate is just ESTIMATE.

At Motorheads Performance, we try to give as accurate a quote as possible, given unforseen parts failures, or some evil lurking in the engine which we cannot possibly know about until we attempt to fire her up. The shop you've decided on will give you a timetable where they'll be able to take in your project, and also give you a rough idea of how long it will take to complete the job. Shops have different policies on how they handle payments, and it is a good idea to make sure you are very clear on how payments and/or billing is handled. At Motorheads, we get clear agreements at the start on whether this is a complete start-to-finish all-at-once restoration which usually requires a deposit and payment of the initial parts order, or one that is to be budgeted out over time (i.e. $1000 per month, etc).

Once you have these details worked out, stick with your plan! I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. One of the most difficult things for a shop to deal with is a change in direction when the job is already well underway. Second-guessing, or adding "what if we do this" to the project can stop a project in its track and derail much more than just your project. Projects are painstakingly planned out and the slightest delays such as a part not arriving on schedule, coming in damaged, or a hold by the customer, can mean throwing the schedule for each and every vehicle off. If the delay is more than a few days, it means that your project can get bumped off the schedule for weeks or even longer, since other jobs must stay on track so that they finish on schedule. Delays can also cost you financially, since quotes are all based on cost of parts at time of quote (at Motorheads Performance we do not mark up our parts, preferring instead to pass the savings on to our customers, and do not have any type of wiggle room and must pass increases on to you), and labor is estimated based upon things going as scheduled without change.

You can help immensely by being well prepared, and by forming a concrete plan of action. Be as honest as you can about what you are trying to accomplish and what you intend to use your finished vehicle for. When it comes to final negotiations, be honest about your budget so that your restoration shop can help you with your choices and help you stay within your budget. At Motorheads Performance, we enjoy helping you with your decisions by going over options, discussing the pros and cons of each, and trying to develop a plan which will deliver the exact type of performance you are wanting from your ride.

For more information on Motorheads Performance, contact us at 830-424-3883 or e-mail

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