If you have an old car and you’d like to fix it up, a car restoration is usually the way to go.
However, the process of rebuilding a car, refinishing the metal, and replacing old parts can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive.
That holds true whether you’re doing it as a passion project yourself or intend to pay a body shop to do a full car restoration for you.
Restoring an old car can take hundreds of hours of work and that means spending tens of thousands of dollars.
In fact, the average cost of restoring a car is anywhere from $6,000 for paint restoration and over $65,000 for a full body and engine restoration. Here, costs heavily depend on the condition of the car and what work has to be done. In addition, parts availability and the cost of parts can also be significant, especially for older vehicles.
How Much Does It Cost To Restore A Car?*
Car restoration pricing depends on your location, the car, the damage to the car, and what work has to be done. For example, fixing a rusted body will cost more than fixing warped panels or sanding and repainting the car.
*Please note these costs are based on averages at the time of writing in December 2022. These estimates will change based on location, materials chosen, and your vehicle.
Classic Car Restoration Costs
A car restoration can include a significant amount of work including fully rebuilding the vehicle. In most cases, “restoration” means restoring the body and interior and possibly also the frame. However, you might also have to rebuild the engine, replace the suspension, or even cut out old pieces of the frame and replace them. This means that costs can vary considerably from one project to the next – even if you’re restoring the same make and model of vehicle.
A full interior restoration normally means removing all of the upholstery, fabric, trim, and seating. You can then clean, re-pad, and refinish the full interior. Often, that means choosing new fabric to line the car, re-padding doorhandles, and reupholstering or replacing seating. The older seating, the more likely it is that you want to replace it completely.
Here, time estimates can vary significantly depending on the vehicle. However, you can expect a minimum of 8-12 hours and a maximum of about 30 hours. That can work out to anywhere between about $500 and upwards of $6,000. In addition, if you need new seating, you can pay a significant amount for those as well.
Some parts of your car you might have to refinish include:
- Trim and paneling
- Steering wheel
- Dashboard paneling
- Gauges and dials
In most cases, you’ll have to inspect the car, decide what to keep and what to replace. In addition, it’s often not necessary to restore everything at once. However, if you’re going to strip your car and reupholster, it’s often faster to do everything at once.
Exterior restorations normally include rust removal, dent repair, and repainting the car. Here, some body shops prefer to work by completely stripping the car, removing the engine, suspension, and transmission, and then sandblasting the old frame. That removes as much of the old dirt and rust as possible.
You might then have to cut out and patch rusty parts of the body. You might also be able to replace paneling on a panel-by-panel basis. And, if your car is in relatively good shape, you might be able to simply sand the car.
In most cases, you’ll also have to remove dents. This can involve hammering out dents or using suction cup methods depending on how old the vehicle is.
Finally, you’ll want to repaint the full body of the car.
Each of these steps can cost between $1,000 and $4,000+. Rates depend on the current condition of the car.
If your car’s frame is structurally damaged or rusted, you might have to spend a considerable amount of money having it restored. Here, costs can be extremely high per job – but usually drop when you do more frame work at once. For example, even replacing rocker panels can cost $2,000-$6,000 per panel.
However, if you also replace cab corners, floor pans, and aprons at the same time, you’ll likely pay significantly less per. Still, you can only replace these parts by manually cutting them out and welding in new ones. That can mean each part of the frame takes 4-12 hours to remove and install.
At the same time, if you have rusted rocker panels, holes in the floor pan, or major damage to the quarter pan, you’ll have to make those replacements. Often, this is the only way to fully restore a classic car, especially if it’s been sitting outside.
In most cases, a car restoration includes rebuilding or replacing the engine. Here, you can expect to spend $2,500-$10,000 depending on the engine, the availability of parts, and which parts you have to replace.
An engine restoration means tearing down the full engine. You then replace damaged parts and belts. You also replace or refinish the intake and output shafts, replace bearings, and regrease everything to ensure it stays in working order.
Often, you or your technician will spend 20+ hours on this job.
Most car restorations result in replacing the full suspension. That’s important because car suspension usually has to be replaced about every 10 years. Some parts will last for much longer. However, if you’re restoring your vehicle to like-new, it’s going to be important to inspect the steering and the suspension and replace shocks, struts, tie rods, coils, ball joints, socket assemblies, and bushings where necessary. The older these parts are, the less smoothly your car will drive.
Replacing those parts may cost upwards of $10,000 for a car. However, you’re more likely to pay between $2,500 and $5,000 for the full job.
Car Restoration Price Factors
Restoring a car can require hundreds of hours of work. In fact, as a DIY project, many people take years or even decades to complete car restorations. For this reason, restoration costs can also vary significantly.
Condition of the Car
Cars come in all sorts of conditions and even a surface inspection won’t always tell you how much time restoration should take. Some vehicles look relatively good but end up having significant rust and deterioration in the frame. Others look bad but mostly have cosmetic damage or paint bubbling and surface rust, which can be easily sanded off and refinished.
With dozens of things that can go wrong with your car, the cost to restore your car is heavily impacted by the total condition. A light restoration project might take under 100 hours. Most will take well over, with some ranging into 500+ hours. That work will be sped up if it’s done in a professional body shop using machinery intended for the purpose. However, you can always expect heavy car restorations to take a significant amount of time.
Local Cost of Labor
The cost of labor will have a significant impact on the total cost of your car restoration if you’re having the work done at a body shop. Here, rates average between $75 and $85 per hour. However, you might find rates as low as $15 per hour and as high as $210.
At the same time, it’s unlikely you want to shop around to find the lowest price. Instead, you should look for good value for money, people who have the right machinery, the right skills, and the experience to do a good job. If you’re paying for 300 hours of labor, having it done well should be more important than having it done as cheaply as possible.
Type of Restoration
While car restorations often mean fully stripping a vehicle and repairing everything, you don’t have to do so.
A complete car restoration normally entails removing every part of the car, repairing or refinishing it, and putting it back. That process can take several hundred hours. Here, you normally start by removing the engine and transmission, the interior, and then start on the paneling. Once you’ve stripped down to the frame, you can begin to refinish and restore each individual piece.
A partial restoration normally involves getting the car running and refinishing the outside as well as repairing any obvious damage on the inside of the car. Here, the goal is normally to restore the car to “good enough” rather than to “like new”. That can save you a considerable amount of time and money on the project.
Quality of Restoration
A car restoration can include new materials at any level of quality. You might replace the fabric lining with a cheap polyester fabric for a few hundred dollars or choose a high-end leather for several thousand.
In addition, a complete restoration may be as in-depth as you want. You might choose to painstakingly restore as much of the original material and paneling as you can. Or, you might choose to replace it.
Or, you might choose to go through the time and effort of finding the original parts, trim, and paneling for the car. That will always cost more.
Eventually, you’ll have to make choices through every part of the car restoration process. These will significantly impact the total cost.
The older your vehicle, the more likely it is you’ll have to custom order parts. That can greatly add to the cost and the timeline of repair. For example, if you have to custom order parts for the engine, your vehicle could stay at the shop for weeks or even months. That will add to the lot fee, even if your technicians aren’t explicitly working on the car at the time.
Even if you’re doing the work yourself, you’ll likely spend a significantly larger amount of money on the car if parts are harder to come by.
How Do You Know If A Car Is Worth Restoring?
In most cases, people restore cars as passion projects. In many cases, the cost of fully restoring an old car is equal to the cost of buying a new one. This means that most restoration jobs are left for classic or rare cars or for those with sentimental value.
Sometimes, that will mean that your restoration work is worth more than the car itself. However, if you want to make a profit, it’s important to research the value of the car. If a fully restored car is worth more than about $65,000 – or the maximum you can expect to spend on a restoration, it’s probably worth restoring.
However, if you love old cars, the value probably doesn’t matter as much as having something you restored and brought back to life. So, eventually, it’s a personal decision.
21 Steps Of Car Restoration
Restoring an old car is a long process.
It should always involve planning, setting budgets, and deciding who will do the work.
Before You Start
- Research your options and decide if you’re doing the restoration yourself, having a technician do it, or doing some of both.
- Set a budget or a monthly budget for the duration of the project.
- Talk to professionals and get advice.
- Figure out logistics like where the car will be stored, how much that will cost, etc. The car has to be protected from the weather during the restoration process.
The Car Restoration Process
- Strip the interior of the car. That means the panels, wiring, windows, seats, upholstery, fabric, dashboard, etc.
- Strip the exterior of the car. Remove the windows, remove the doors, remove the hood and trunk where applicable. Then, remove the external panels.
- Remove the wheels and suspension, brakes, and steering system.
- Pull the engine.
- Drop the transmission and remove the drivetrain.
- Check the frame for stability and damage. Repair any damage or replace the affected panels.
- Strip the paint on the frame and the removed panels.
- Repair any damage by hammering out dents, filling holes, or replacing panels. Weld-in patches are suitable for repairing holes in steel-body cars.
- Seal, prime, and paint the frame and panels.
- Reinstall the panels and doors.
- Refit the windows.
- Rebuild the engine if applicable.
- Refinish the interior with new fabric or upholstery, new seating where applicable, and by refinishing or replacing the paneling.
- Replace the safety elements such as airbags.
- Replace or repair the electronics such as radio, dials, etc.
- Reinstall the interior.
- Install the motor.
- Reinstall the transmission.
- Reinstall the drivetrain, suspension, and axles, and replace or repair parts where necessary.
- Rewire the car, reassemble the brakes, and refit the electronics.
- Finish putting the car back together.
Each of these steps can take a considerable amount of time. That’s especially true if you don’t have professional equipment to do the work. And, many individual jobs, like rebuilding the engine, will take 20+ hours and several thousand dollars. This means it’s unlikely you’ll do it all at once.
Can You Restore A Car Yourself?
Many people choose to handle car restoration themselves as a hobby or ongoing project. In most cases, if you restore a car while you have a job, you can expect the project to take several years. Here, you’ll also face additional barriers like not having professional tooling, not having expertise in each part of the process, and having to learn as you go. This will all add to the amount of time it takes to restore your car.
It’s also important to note that you can restore some of the car yourself and have professionals do some of the work. For example, you can rebuild the engine but leave the paint to a professional. Or, you can redo the interior but leave the engine to a mechanic. It’s up to you to choose which parts you want to work on.
Often, with time and patience, you can learn everything you need to restore a car yourself. However, you should set a timeline, budget enough time to work on it consistently, and ensure that your car restoration isn’t abandoned when it takes too much time.
Restoring an old car is a passion project that can take years. For that reason, car restoration prices can well exceed $45,000. However, actual rates depend on the condition of the car, parts availability, and what you’re restoring. That means you’ll have to inspect your car, ask for quotes, and do research before figuring out exactly how much your car restoration project will cost.