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Preventative Medicine for Collector Car Restoration (Spring 2003)

By Ted Ritter

It is not unusual for me to receive a call from a hobbyist who has a problem with restoration, repair or custom work performed on a collector vehicle.

After the fact, it is always more difficult to solve these problems.

Here are twelve “preventive medicine” suggestions that I offer for consideration by my fellow car enthusiasts and the shops that supply services to our hobby:

  • Spell out, in writing, the scope of the work to be done. The car owner and shop should both sign this and each keep a copy.
  • To avoid surprises, I recommend that the shop and car owner establish a written budget for each separable task – that is, a cost not to be exceeded without further consultation between the shop and the car owner. Signed change orders should be required.
  • Request an estimate of the number of hours expected to complete the work if you don’t have an agreed “flat” price. Specify the hourly rate you will be charged. This should all be written on the shop’s letterhead.
  • Establishing an estimated date for completion of the work presents unique difficulties. Will the customer be supplying parts? If not, will the shop be able to find correct parts? Will reproduction or New Old Stock parts have to be reworked because they don’t fit properly? Will the customer stay current in the agreed-upon progress payments? The shop and the customer should discuss and reach agreement on each of these points.
  • Due to the inherent uncertainties of the restoration process, some shops will not quote a flat price nor estimate the number of hours likely to be required for a certain larger jobs. This presents a complex situation. The shop wants an open-ended time and materials agreement while the hobbyist wants a price certain. If the shop will agree, negotiate a flat tear down charge for having the vehicle stripped down in preparation for the shop giving you it’s price quotation for the work you want done.
  • Make an itemized list of all parts you turn over to the shop. Both you and the shop should sign and keep a copy of that list.
  • Get a written explanation of the shop’s warranty policy. This should include an agreement to promptly address any “punch list” items which arise after the job is completed and the car preliminarily returned to you.
  • Don’t expect to profit at the time of the ultimate sale of your collector vehicle. The value of your vehicle, after improvements, will rarely equal the combined costs of acquisition plus restoration.
  • In light of number 8, it can be financially wiser to look for a vehicle that is already partially or fully restored provided that the work is well documented. Take advantage of the prior owner’s investment.
  • If you have the aptitude, do as much of the work as you can. Your time expenditure is “free”.
  • If you pay in cash, get a receipt. If a shop offers you a discountfor paying in cash, ask yourself “how is that shop making up the difference between the real price and the discounted cash price?” Which leads me to #12.
  • Always pay the sales tax. If you and the shop conspire to cheat the state out of the tax, you are each committing criminal acts. Don’t fall into this trap!

Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that quality work:

  • Takes more time, and
  • Is well worth the wait.


The Author gratefully acknowledges that valuable input to this article was received from Charles and Rita Mullholland, John Coyle, Dan Kuzmicz, and Joe Conte.

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