How to Restore a Car in 9 Steps


Car restoration is a fun pastime, an interesting hobby, and a great way to get an old car looking like new again. There are many pieces on an old car that you can easily restore with a little time, patience and elbow grease, along with the right tools and equipment.

There are a lot of logistical details that you have to consider when restoring a car. Jumping right into a project car could end up costing you a lot of money with nothing to show for it. Make sure to do the prep work in advance so you know that you’re making a good investment.

Here is a guide on how to restore a car in nine steps:

1. Find the right car

The right car needs to be within your abilities. If it needs extensive mechanical work, but you’re a beginner mechanic, you might want to opt for something less daunting to start out and work your way up.

You may think that choosing a car that needs a full workover will allow you to learn as you go, but in fact it is likely going to overwhelm you and leave you with a rust bucket that takes up all your garage space.

2. Make a car restoration list

Once you have selected and purchased the car that you want to restore, you should make a list of everything you want to fix on it. This will allow you to prepare the correct tools and materials that you’re going to need. It also gives you an outline and a timeline as to how long and how much money this project is going to require.

3. Restore the car exterior

Starting with the exterior, here are some things you could focus on to restore your car to its former glory.

4. Restore the car paint

The paint on older cars tends to get oxidized and faded over time. This is a result of the natural elements -sun, rain, snow, temperature changes, and dust – taking their toll on the paint over time. There’s a good chance, however, that you will not need to repaint the whole car. Rather, you may just need to restore it with a good cleaning and polishing. Then you might want to apply a wax or even a ceramic finish on top, so that it keeps its gleam.

If there are dents in the body, the repair will be a lot more extensive, and the same goes for any actual chips or scratches in the paint.

5. Restore the car headlights & taillights

The headlights and taillights on a car also get faded and damaged, just like the paint does. The process is slightly different than cleaning up the paint, but the concept is similar. You’ll want to clean the headlights extremely well, then sand them.

You’ll start with a lower grit and move up to a higher grit like 3000. The higher the grit, the finer the sandpaper. The lower grit will get the biggest scratches out, and the finer grit will smooth everything out. Finish off with a buff and your headlights are going to shine brighter than diamonds.

Alternatively, save yourself the hassle and just buy new ones. Taillights can be bought in many styles, including refurbished ones which look great on your car.

6. Restore the car rims

There are a variety of rims to choose from, and you can keep with the classic or original rims, or you can go with something unique and interesting. It all depends on if you’re going for a traditional restoration or a modified restoration.

Although low to the ground and not a focal point of the car, they can add a unique look and can certainly be used to grab people’s attention.

7. Restore the car interior

Now that your car looks good on the outside, it’s time to make it look just as snazzy on the inside too.

8. Strip the car interior

The best way to make sure everything gets cleaned to the max, and to make sure you’re not missing any damage in the interior, is to take everything out. Remove the seats and anything else that you can easily get out, and give a good everything a good clean. Make note of any stains or tears in the carpet, the seats, or the ceiling. This will help you take stock of what you can leave and what might need to be totally replaced.

Depending on your goal for the car (if you want to keep it as a summer ride, or sell it for a profit), you may be able to do some creative placement of mats or other accessories to hide damage.

9. Perform car maintenance

Don’t forget to give your car the love it needs in terms of its mechanics. Change the oil, air filters, check the transmission fluid, and check the clutch if applicable. You could also replace the spark plugs, and any belts or hoses that look like they could use some love – you want your car to run like new when you’re done. Make sure to give it the love it deserves to make that happen.