10 tips for hiring a classic car professional
Although the work itself can be straightforward, doing business with a classic car restoration shop or specialists still requires effort on the part of the customer. If you’re thinking about purchasing or restoring a classic or vintage vehicle, follow these guidelines from Angie's List Classic Cars to help avoid potential problems:
1. Learn as much as you can
The more you learn about the vehicle, the better. If you’re into more rare vehicles with limited production runs or those with extensively researched pedigrees, check a potential vehicle’s ID number against a registry site before you buy.
Online forums and local clubs are another great source of information.
2. Get a professional’s opinion
Another essential to-do before you buy a vintage car: Get it inspected by a reputable shop or an automotive inspection professional.
Even if it costs hundreds of dollars on an inspection for a vehicle you don’t purchase, “You’ll save money in the long run because the car may not be worth repairing or painting,” says Phil Marratta, owner of highly rated Danrr Auto Body in Fox River Grove, Ill.
An inspection can also reveal common and costly problems such as frame damage or chassis rust that may not otherwise be visible until the vehicle undergoes disassembly prior to restoration.
3. Visit the shops
Unless you’ve got a particular professional in mind, visit a few restoration or specialist shops within driving distance before you make an investment.
• Look around while you’re at the shop. Is it clean? Well organized? While not every shop will be perfectly ordered or have a floor you can eat from, but a well-organized shop can mean there's less of a chance of missing or damaged original parts.
• What’s the security like? Is there a fence and adequate nighttime lighting? If your vehicle will be there on a long-term basis, you’ll want to make sure it’s safe.
• What kind of other projects are taking place at the same time as yours? Are there any completed restorations you can take a look at?
4. Check out the business’ background
It’s always a good idea to take a look at shop’s portfolio of finished projects and call on references to get an idea of how other customers’ projects unfolded. You’ll also want to make sure to ask about the shop’s warranties or guarantees on the work.
5. Plan out the entire project
If you’re doing a total restoration, it’s likely there will be many specialists involved from start to finish. Planning ahead for specialists for engine work, painting, chrome, and the interior and upholstery, can help provide more realistic expectations of the time and cost. You may also save money by hiring specialists individually rather than having one do-it-all shop subcontract work to specialists.
6. Invest in the best
Planning out a project in phases by specialty can also give you the opportunity to budget for high quality work. “Set a budget early and be careful, you better pick a car you’re in love with if you’re going to do a restoration,” says John Matthews of Vintage Specialties in Gettysburg, Penn. “You don’t want to start with a finished car that’s only going to be worth $10,000 - you’re going to have gobs more money into it than that.”
“People don’t do this because it’s a good idea, you have to have some kind of passion about the vehicle,” says Andrew Bradley of Bradley Restoration in Mount Vernon, Wash.
7. Make sure you get a written contract
As mentioned, a vehicle overhaul won’t be cheap, so like any major investment, make sure the parameters of the project, including the parts and materials to be used and the price and estimated completion dates for each phase are in writing and in as much detail as possible.
8. Pay in installments
Even if you trust a particular shop, you’re better off paying only for work only after it's completed. For smaller specialty phases of the project, make sure you’re satisfied with the work before making payment.
For full-scale restorations, paying the entire amount upfront is not recommended. Most reputable shops will happily accept a deposit to start the project and regular installment payments as the work progresses.
Ask for a regular itemized bill that lists the purchased parts, the labor completed and at what stage the vehicle is in.
9. Stay on top of the project’s progress
Along with regular billing, keeping up regular communication is one key to knowing your project's status and estimated completion date. Whether it’s checking up via project photos sent by email or a dropping by personally for a visit, the more often you're in touch with the shop, the less likely its you'll get a disappointing surprise.
10. Get plenty of documentation
Speaking of project photos, if you’re hiring a shop for a major overhaul, get as much documentation as possible of each step, repair or upgrade. Have detailed photos emailed to you for regular project updates or ask for a full set once the work is completed.
Having step-by-step photographic evidence of each needed repair, customization or upgrade not only provides a chronicle of your vehicle’s journey, it can also be additional buyer’s selling point should you decide to sell it down the road.
Editor's note: What's your best tip or piece of classic car advice? Give us your two cents in the comments below.