How to choose a shop
Before engaging in a restoration, there are a few decisions you’ll have to make. You will need to know what you want out of your restoration before you can tell someone what you want. Do you want a Pebble Beach type restoration where the finished product will be trailered to and from car shows? Do you want a car for occasional weekend drives? Or do you want a really nice street restoration? Do you plan to use as many NOS and OEM parts as possible, or are reproductions okay? Do you want the car to be as close as possible as to when it rolled off the assembly line or do you want it redone in your own unique way? Most importantly, are you going to do the work yourself, will you send some tasks out for someone else to perform, or will you hire a restoration shop for most of the project?
Whether you have been active in the hobby for years or just getting into it, there are things that you may not want to do or be capable of doing on your classic. Or maybe you are a little older now and just want the pleasure of cruising without the adventure of cursing rusted bolts and getting skinned knuckles. Sometimes even the most experienced restorer runs up against a task that they’re not comfortable performing with their current skills and equipment. In that case, you’ll want to find a professional to help.
To ascertain which restoration facilities offer the best service and quality for your project, you should visit several different shops during regular work hours. This will give you a good idea of how a restoration shop operates, the types of vehicles they work on and indicate the skill level of its workforce. You can see the quality of the work they provide on the cars that are currently being worked on.
Like any business that relies solely on a skilled workforce to produce a finished product (as opposed to a manufacturer or retailer), a restoration business is very difficult to run due to the extensive use of hand labor, which always limits the cash flow. By understanding the numerous problems that a shop owner has to deal with, you will be able to comprehend why he has to perform certain tasks, charge for each of those tasks accordingly and expect you to make payments promptly.
To get the best job for your money, it can be beneficial to deal with a shop that specializes in your car’s particular make and/or model. You may pay a premium for their expertise however. No one knows everything there is to know about a particular vehicle and its parts, but specialists come close and know other specialists who can help, making sure any problems inherent in the restoration of your particular car can be successfully solved in a timely manner. There are very few shops that can or will perform all aspects of a restoration in house. A shop that is fully equipped with a spray booth and frame machine for any and all types of bodywork will likely not also have a machine shop suitable for engine rebuilding.
Ask what the shops policy is on parts procurement. There will likely be some parts that the shop will insist on supplying in order to be able to guarantee that portion of the work being done. On other parts the shop may request that the owner do the research and purchasing of the parts. But the owner should be aware that if there are any issues upon installation of the part or premature failure of the part, the owner will be responsible for any incurred labor costs. When a customer gets his own parts, it might be wise to run it by the shop as far as quality or correctness for the application prior to ordering.
When you think you have found the proper facility to restore your car, don’t be afraid to ask the shop owner questions about his experience and the techniques he uses. Ask him about his background and how long he has been in the restoration business. Ask for references or referrals. Ask if they will be documenting the restoration on your project and if you can look at documentations of other projects that the shop has performed.
As the work progresses, the owner should consult with you on decisions to be made. This can be in regards to quality of the parts to be used to what colors you want used to paint certain components. Unless you give the shop carte blanche to do whatever they feel is right, this will be necessary to make sure you get what you want out of the restoration.
Because no two cars are alike and no two cars are in the same condition when their restorations begin, it would be unjust for you to compare your cost estimate with that of another vehicle. It is also very difficult for the shop owner to provide an estimate that will hold true throughout the length of the restoration process. Because the restorer doesn’t have X-ray vision or a crystal ball, he simply cannot judge the amount of additional labor that might be required due to rust and corrosion without disassembling the entire vehicle and inspecting every component. And because he cannot foresee every single problem, a restorer that has given a set price will likely have a clause in their contracts that states additional charges will be incurred if extra work is required.
We may be able to give a rough estimate of the hours we expect a particular portion of the project to take but it all comes down to an hourly rate. We tell all of our prospective customers that they are welcome to come down and view the progress at any time. If they are not satisfied with either the quality of the work, the progress of the work or feel that they are not getting their moneys worth, they can pay the charges incurred up to that time and take the vehicle out.
Unfortunately we quite often have to re-do work that was done elsewhere. This could be because a car was made to look good on the outside to make a quick sale or just due to shoddy workmanship. This can occur in cosmetic areas which may not matter too much but it can also affect safety areas such as brakes or suspension. We encourage a show & tell inspection of the vehicle while on the lift with the owner to point out things that could be done, things that should be done and things that must be done to ensure a safe and thorough restoration.
Be very skeptical of the shop that says it will restore your vehicle for a set price that seems too good to be true. Once they have your car apart, if the work is more extensive than they anticipated (and usually is), you can be sure they will cut corners in places you won’t notice immediately. This can lead to dangerous situations if they decide not to replace fatigued brake lines or a weak suspension support bracket. If they give you a set price for a “restoration” and it takes less time than they estimated will they charge you accordingly or keep the overage to make up for losses on other jobs?
After both parties have agreed to terms, you must provide a deposit so the restorer can begin working. This lets the shop start ordering the parts and supplies they need to get started. The better-run shops will invoice you on either a weekly, or monthly basis. Each invoice statement should include detailed labor descriptions, a listing of all purchased parts and a brief outline of the progress made. Finding a restorer who is understanding and flexible is almost as important as finding one who is qualified. Set a budget with the shop owner prior to the start of the project. The restorer will then work with you to accomplish the highest priority jobs first. If the financial situation prevents continuous work then the work should be paid for up to that point and the vehicle should be brought home until the funds are there to continue the restoration. It would be very unfair to the shop to run up a large tab and then force the shop to store the vehicle as well.
One often-overlooked item is insurance. It is wise, especially if your car is rare and highly valuable, to carry full insurance coverage while it’s being restored at the shop and while being transported. It is also important for you to take photographs of the entire restoration. This documentation will be extremely valuable when you need to substantiate your claimed ground-up restoration, should you decide to sell the vehicle at a later date or to make an insurance claim.
Since restoration is a labor-intensive craft, most cars and trucks will take more than a year to restore. When your vehicle is complete, the restorer should give it an extensive road test to see if everything performs, as it should, and then it should be handed over to you. There should be no problems at all. The car must be satisfying to drive and provide the same level of responsiveness or better than it did when it was new. Only then will you know if the restoration was a success. Remember, fine restoration is substantially more than just cosmetics.
We’re Bringing Classics Back to Life!
CLASSIC RESTORATIONS / Cap a Radiator
Restoring, Upgrading & Modifying Classic Cars &Trucks
566 Fulton Street
Farmingdale, NY 11735
Phone: (516) 293-9026
Hours of Operation: