Top 5 Car Restoration Tips

Restoration isn’t a hobby – it’s a way of life. Whether you have a recently-purchased classic (stored safely under a car cover) or something that’s been sitting on blocks (without so much as a sun shade), taking that first step towards fixing it up can be a daunting task. Here you’ll find a few tips that can help prioritize the job and keep you from having to do things more than once.

Tip 1: Restoring a car is like building a house. There’s a logical order. You wouldn’t build the roof before the foundation. So, the first step in any restoration is to plan out exactly what needs to be done, making a complete list of the entire project to avoid missing something essential or risk damaging a refurbished bodyline or fresh paint job. Once you have an overview, organize it into a game plan. Depending on the repairs you’re making, it’s best to proceed in the following order: transmission, engine, electrical, suspension, interior, body and wheels.

Tip 2: An older car may have been built like a tank, but the downside is it usually sounds like one too, especially on the freeway. If your restoration includes stripping the vehicle down to the undercarriage, take the time to sound-proof your ride with spray undercoating, insulating foam or reflective insulating wrap. Undercoating helps minimize vibration through sheet metal and is highly effective when you need to reduce noise coming through metal air ducts or fender voids. Expanding foam is great for filling cavities in car bodies and holes in firewalls. Keep in mind, it’s called expanding foam for a reason. So, be sure to leave room for expansion, or your fender may swell out like a botched Botox treatment. Finally, reflective insulating wrap comes on rolls that are either two or four feet wide. It installs with spray adhesive and is thin enough not to require any modifications to upholstery or trim, making it ideally suited as a liner in doors, hard tops or over flooring.

Tip 3: The words steel wool and auto repair aren’t often used together. But there are different grades of steel wool intended for a variety of uses-notably, very fine grade 0000. It can be used on a variety of auto parts and car accessories, including chrome, glass, stainless steel and other delicate materials, without scratching the surface. Use it with chrome polish to brighten stainless to a high luster, polish auto parts with chrome trim like molding or wheels, and clean around your headlights or rocker-panels. You’ll find it in most hardware or do-it-yourself stores. One thing to remember when using anything for the first time: start small. Begin in a corner, underside or unnoticeable area and work your way out. It’s the best way of avoiding disaster should the surface not be compatible with the grade or chemical treatments in your polishing pads.

Tip 4: Taping off an area to be painted protects windows and trim but also raises the problem of tearing off a freshly painted surface if you use the wrong tape. If you can, use masking tape designed especially for your application. But when you don’t use the right thing and realize too late that you’re going to tear up your new paintjob, there’s a simple way to get standard masking tape off without ruining your finish, and it’s as close as your own bathroom: a hair dryer. Gently heat the tape as you peel it off the painted surface. In case you’re wondering, the operative word there is GENTLY. If you’re a pro and have a heat gun, that works too, but keep the temperature LOW. The tape will pull right up. It may leave a slight residue but it’s easily removed with a mild solvent or a variety of car waxes like Zymol wax.

Tip 5: Gluing vinyl or leather material onto panels or seats can result in splotches of contact cement on the appearance side. Cleaning products like 409, Mr. Clean or other solvents may remove the glue but discolor the vinyl or leather in the process. Instead, grab some vinyl or aluminum duct tape and wrap a little bundle around your fingers with the adhesive side out. Then, just like removing lint from a sweater, pat the glue spots with tape and the glue will come right up. This technique also works on sewed seams and seat covers, a task that’s nearly impossible to achieve with cleaners.