Know your limits
It’s your first project, so be reasonable about how much you can take on. That rust bucket that was left for dead in a paddock five years ago? Not for you. It’s best to buy something fairly functional and then make adjustments to it as you see fit, rather than something that basically needs a complete rebuild. You’ll get better with practice, but you need to start somewhere so start with something within your reach.
Don’t be too picky
You’re just getting started, so don’t look for your dream car. Remember, you’ll probably make mistakes so it’s best if you don’t have too much riding on it. Be flexible and go for a model where you won’t have too much trouble sourcing parts for it. Boring? Possibly. Easier to work with? Definitely.
Do a thorough check
While you don’t want to limit yourself by getting your heart set on a certain model, you do want to give the car a thorough check before you buy it. As with buying any used car, give it a test drive and find out what’s working and what’s not. It’s especially important to check for rust, especially on the frame, as this can be difficult to fix. If the seller didn’t warn you there was rust and you find it, be very suspicious about what else they might not have told you.
Get a good price
Do some research to find out what similar cars are being sold for. This will help you to make a reasonable offer, or to know whether you’re getting ripped off. Don’t just think about the purchase price of the vehicle – think about whether you’ll be able to afford to do the repairs you need to do. You don’t want to buy the car only to have it sit in your garage for two years because the parts you need are too expensive.
Have a plan
Don’t start work on the car until you know your overall plan. If you just rip into it straight away, you can easily lose track of what you’ve done, what you have and what you need.
Instead, go over the vehicle and make a list of what you plan to do. Then make sure you write down anything you remove, and have a list of parts you need that you can check off as they arrive – you don’t want to buy two of the same part. Keep all your written records in one place, such as a notebook that you keep in your garage, so you know where to look when you need to check your notes. If you hate lists or this doesn’t appeal to you, remember there’s no particular system you need to follow, so long as you have one that works and makes sense to you.
Ideally, you’ll have a more experienced petrol head at the ready to answer any questions you have along the way. At the very least, know where to go if you need help, whether that’s your uncle or an online forum. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’ll help you learn. If you knew everything already, you wouldn’t need a first project car.
Find a car that makes you happy to own it, even if it’s not your absolute dream car. If you’re not excited about working on the car, what’s the point?
Also don’t be tempted to rush. As much as you don’t want to buy a vehicle and then procrastinate for months, remember your project is supposed to take time. So relax and make sure things are done properly rather than quickly. Don’t overlook the importance of enjoying the process, especially if you don’t want your first project car to also be your last.
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