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How to modify or restore your car, for beginners.

Picking a Project
For your first project pick something you can handle, don't try a ground up rebuild of a Bugatti Type 57, also don't start something you can't afford to lose. By this I mean don't start hacking away at your brand new zero-miles-on-the-clock car, however tempting. The only way you personally should work on a car like this is if you can build the parts separately and then bolt them on, at least that way if it looks bad or isn't up to scratch you can simply replace the original.

So pick something you like and are passionate about, a little convertible sports car in need of TLC or an older 3 door BMW 3 Series ripe for a DTM widebody replica. Whatever is right for you.

The car
Make sure the car is sound to work on, not too much in the way of rust, dents ABSOLUTELY NO FRAME DAMAGE, check the history if possible, look for uneven panel lines (a good indication of crash damage) and look for signs of a quick respray and rust patching.
A sound engine is obviously preferable but this will depend on your level of mechanical skill, engines can always be swapped. Body rust kills.

Remember to check:
Floorpans, both underneath and inside the car
Sunroof seals
Drainage channels (above and around the doors)
Behind the headlights
Below the windscreen
Fuel tank
Brake lines
Inner wheel arches (all 4)

For the interior remember:
Check the carpet for damp spots
If possible look under the carpet for rust
Check the boot for water or signs of leaks
Check the inner door panels and along the bottom of the doors
Look for mould and moss (signs of damp)

Basically there is a huge list of no-no's for buying used cars and project cars, but that's it project car, so what is acceptable?

These things below although not good, are the problems easily rectified with a little work and should not ultimately put you off buying your car. Still haggle for them though.

Very mild surface rust
This is a very sensitive subject, If there's one thing which will scrap a project its rust. There is nothing so disheartening as getting a car home you start looking deeper and all of a sudden, crack, your hand goes through a hidden rust hole. But if you're careful and really check it is surface rust (check both sides) you can easily grind or sand it down and completely remove it.
There is not much difference between surface rust and full blown rust but if you're very careful....

Cracked plastics, headlights etc.
Check it is superficial damage and not the visible signs of a more serious impact. Look for bent or broken bumper mounts, frame damage, points rust may have entered etc. Do this by comparing both sides - feel it with your hands - your hands can detect many things your eyes may miss.
If it is superficial most parts like this can be purchased quite cheaply from scrapyards or you could add it to your list of custom parts.

Faded paint
Faded paint which looks its age can be really good if the body is rust free, it means the car hasn't had a quick filler and respray job which could be hiding some serious work. The downside is that a full respray will be required but I would far rather work on a car like this than a car where the paint is still wet. Unless of course they can prove the work underneath is of good quality.

When buying used cars, especially those in need of work, you should really trust the seller. It is sometimes difficult though and each case should be judged on a case by case basis.
One thing I like is when the seller openly admits to minor faults and points them out, especially if its something I missed. This shows the seller is being honest, is taking you seriously and wants to open a dialogue, yes they may still be hiding some problems but it's something to keep in mind.

Worn Interiors
Well used interiors can be expensive to repair or replace, however if you can live with a tatty seat for a while while you save up for a new one don't be discouraged form buying. These are bolt in and out components, very easy to replace.

Dirt and dust does show the car hasn't been well cared for, but if you had sat in a barn for 10 years you wouldn't look the best either. Like faded paint, in many cases I would rather have the dusty barn car with no rust than the freshly painted and hastily repaired car. It is best if you can see where it was kept to make sure they were telling the truth about it being kept indoors.
Important note: Do check the car is solid under all the dirt.

Read more:
About me
The Plan
Picking your Project
Your Workspace

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