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Project Car

While I understand that starting a project car will require an endless amount of money, I really just want one to be able to learn more about fixing a car in general. I am looking for suggestions for a balance between the difficulty of repair, availability of parts, and initial cost. Any suggestions?

A Crown Vic or almost any pick-up truck would be a good place to start…

Do you have a U-Pull-it salvage yard near where you live? Pick a car where you can go pull used parts inexpensively; a car that is fairly common at that salvage yard.

Your “project car” should be something you feel has “character” and some fun value. Perhaps an old pick up that you can take surfing, to Home Depot, or just knock around in. Or, an older convertible, sports car, or station wagon.

Age really doesn’t matter if you are not looking for a daily driver. I got a kick out of an old '85 midsize Ford station wagon at one time. Now I’ve got a convertible. Just find something older that appeals to you. The main thing to avoid is a car or truck with a rusted body and frame. Lot’s of mechanical stuff can be fixed but a rusted frame or rusted floorboards spell real trouble and should be avoided.

Are you wanting to learn how to work on ‘modern’ ('96 and newer) or older cars?

If function is not as important as experience gaining, a Ford Ranger would be a good start, or any 4cyl compact PU. The Ranger is in abundance and changes it’s mechanics once in a lifetime , and we’re still waiting.

That is an excellent idea, thank you. I have not even thought about a pick-up. Any specific make and model come to mind?

Hmm, I know we have a salvage yard here in town, but I am unsure as to whether or not it is a U-pull-it. I will have to check, thanks for the idea.

Thanks for the tip.

I think I am more looking to find something simple to learn how engines work in general. It would be nice to hace a classic car to take to a cruise night once in a while, though in the end it does not matter.

That sounds like a good idea. So if the truck does not change its mechanics a lot, are you saying that parts would be pretty interchangable between years?

A 2WD compact pickup truck with a 4-banger, a manual tranny, no AC, and few options is the best thing to learn on. The engine in these is longitudinally mounted allowing easy access to all of the cylinders and the components, the engines generally use timing chains with externally mounted, easily replaceable water pumps, and the radiator and cooling fan(s) will be readily replacable.

The chassis will generally consist of a solid rear axle with an easily accessible differential. Understanding how these work is the first step to understanding any vehicle’s drivetrain. The rear suspension will typically be leaf springs, and the front will be double A-frames with coils and shocks. Not only are these systems extremely durable, but shocks are far easier and cheaper to change than struts and don’t require realignment after.

Even the exhaust systems are generally easier to access and change. The clearence under the vehcle is better, allowing better access on ramps, and since “reals estate” isn’t as tight underneath the exhaust will often be more directly routed.

The chassis will typically be a full frame, meaning body rot desn’t affect the interity of the chassis. It is very important to check the frames for rot, but it’s easily done under the vehicle.

And a basic 4-banger 2WD pickup can often be found very affordably.

Good luck.

The old Toyota T-100 (now called the Tacoma) and Ford Ranger would be good small trucks.

Personally, I would be looking for something that was small, fuel efficient, and can still be found on the road, like a Honda CRX or a 5th generation Honda Civic (1992?1995). As long as you are looking for a project car, you might as well make it one that is fuel efficient so you can afford to drive it. These cars weren’t known for having great automatic transmissions, so I would be looking for one with a manual transmission.

CRX is a good choice. I’ve owned 3, still have 1, and enjoy the hell out of it. Parts aren’t too* hard to come by despite it being 20+ years old, because they shared most of their parts with the Civic, and there are tons of those still on the road. You can even still find aftermarket toys for it if you’re inclined to go that direction.

Thanks for all the great information. You have significantly made an argument for the pick-up truck, and made me more comfortable in my choosing one. Do you have any suggestions as to make, model, or year?

Thanks for the suggestions. I have been looking into the Rangers. Do you have any suggestions for years, though I know they do not change much? When I was looking on Craigslist, it seemed the truck got bigger as the model got older.

EDIT: Double post.

I like the reliability of the Toyota 22R and 22RE engines, but you do have to check the frames carefully. Tpyota has had some periods (late '80s and early '2000s) that have experienced frame rot. It’s good to check them out before buying. Weak psots are the rails just aft of the cabs and the transverse member just fore of the axle.

I think all vehicles get larger as time passes, but since it is a project car, I think you should let your price range dictate the model year. I don’t personally know enough about them to recommend a particular year anyway. Just get the newest one (in the best shape) you can afford.