Starting a Project - Advice Needed


New here. If what I’m about to ask is already answered in other posts on this forum, or if this isn’t the right place for this, please let me know .

I really want to start a project car. Eventually, I’d absolutely love to restore a classic (ideally American, but really anything) car to factory beauty.

At this point, I don’t particularly have a particular vehicle in mind - I just want to have a car to tinker with and make driveable. I don’t have a whole lot of mechanical experience. Mostly I just have the ability to read, ask questions, and follow directions. I’ve done simple maintenance and repair jobs before, things like oil/air filter changes, alternator and belt replacement, starter replacement, PCV replacement, and sealing a leaky taillight. Nothing difficult, and all stuff I could learn by looking at the vehicle, reading, and watching YouTube.

I’d be working in my driveway and I’m also definitely on a budget, so based on this and my current experience (and lack thereof), what is feasible right now and what isn’t? What cars are comparatively easy to work on and what cars are a pain in the neck for basically everything? What cars are super common and have cheap parts readily available? What cars have super expensive parts that I wouldn’t expect? (Obviously something like a classic Porsche is going to have more expensive parts than a Honda Civic, but beyond this, what should I look out for?) What problems are so expensive or require a shop with advanced tools and machinery to rectify, and what issues might seem daunting but are actually manageable with creativity, time, and effort? (Again, I understand that buying a car that, for instance, has a frame that is rotting away from rust or was totaled from an accident is probably a bad move, but I’m new here and looking for good general, applicable advice to these questions.) Do any of you have sample budgets you could provide, say for a good, generally economic build where it by and large went according to the plan and also a build that you thought would be straightforward but in the end required far more money than originally thought?

Besides this, what would be a good starter car for me? If restoring something in the neighborhood of 50+ years old is too much, where would you recommend I start to build up to this? Should I get a 90’s pickup with a decent body that runs but maybe poorly? Should I buy a $500 crank-no-start or poorly idling modern car on Craigslist so I learn to do things like check relays and fuel pump, timing, vacuum leaks, spark, etc.? Until recently I owned a Subaru, so I’m a little more familiar with their boxer engines than other cars. Occasionally I’ll see one for a couple hundred bucks with a blown head gasket. Should I buy something like that, try to replace the head gasket, fix up any other issues, sell it, and then move on to other projects to gain experience? I really don’t want to buy a project that I then find I’m incapable of completing, but on the other hand if I find a non-wrecked car of any kind for $300-$500 and I fail to fix it, I don’t see why I couldn’t part out what isn’t bad and then sell the rest for scrap to recoup my investment in it and then at least I learned something about mechanics even if I didn’t fix the car.

Let me know what you think. Thanks!

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no offence, but with your limited budget, knowledge, and probably tools I would not take on a project vehicle at this time. project vehicle repairs can get very expensive very quick. If I were you, I would look into taking automotive repair classes at a local school or college and save money for when you have more knowledge and finances to take on a project vehicle.


My thought - you are trying to run before you can walk . Doing this in your driveway without a large budget can be one of those give up before finished projects.

Restoring to as new condition usually require expensive interior and exterior paint . That can be 1000’s of dollar.

Watch some televised auctions and you will see vehicles being sold for less than it cost to restore them . Just find a running classic that might need a little work that will not drive you nuts .


Second thought - this may not apply but some cities have an ordinance about non running vehicles setting to long even if it is your own driveway . Also Home Owners Assn. can be real nasty about a project like this .


Invest $30. Or so in a subscription to Hemings motor news. You’ll see what is available and the prices. Then get a couple good books on body repair and painting and upholstery to see what is involved. But you need shop space, tools etc if you want to tinker, buy something already done or at least running.


First, there is no such thing as a “non-wrecked car of any kind for $300 to $500” that comes with a valid title. Occasionally, I see people selling cars at those prices with a “missing” title, which is usually a euphemism for having a large unpaid lien against the vehicle, or someone selling a car which isn’t even (legally) theirs to sell. Expect to pay $850 to $1200 for a non-running car with a good body, which comes with a valid title.

Second, once you buy a project vehicle, expect to spend about $1800 to $2800 on a set of tools and equipment of decent quality suitable for home use. You will need assorted wrenches, sockets, extensions, ratcheting box wrenches, torque wrenches (preferably digital with torque-to-angle feature), breaker bars, an electric or battery-powered impact driver and impact sockets, compression tester, leak-down tester, fuel pressure tester, disc brake service tool set, at least a few different pulley pullers, a basic OBD II scan tool, floor jack, jack stands, and an engine hoist. And of course, you will need somewhere to store all your tools and equipment, as well as somewhere to work on a car.

Third, all this talk about restoring a classic or premium car. Any vehicle of that type, which has a valid title and any glimmer of hope of ever running again is going to cost too much up front to buy. And you will put way more money into it than it will ever be worth. Unless you are buying a vehicle to repair and drive yourself, this will be a massive money loser.

I would suggest to buy a cheap used car from the 1990s, which runs, and start buying tools as you need them to do routine maintenance and any repairs which come up. As you gain experience, and build up your tool collection, then you can think about buying a fixer-upper.


You remind me of how my friends and I got started on auto repair/restoration and Bing gave an excellent starting point. Research what’s available, locate the resources on how to repair it and start with something that’s running.
In addition, two important things to consider are the complexity of the vehicle and the cost/availability of parts. If you need a PhD in Electrical engineering to tune it up or parts are only hand made by Italian Elves in the Alps, it’s probably not for you.

My personal preference is the old British sportscars like MG, Triumph, Austin because of their “fun to drive”, simplicity, low initial cost, low insurance cost and abundance of parts at low cost.
For example, you can still find running MGBs for sale ranging from under $5,000 to $10,000, expert repair instruction is easily available on the Net and literally every part you’d need to build a new MGB is available at a reasonable cost from firms like Moss, Abingdon Spares, etc.
Additionally, “project completion” varies widely depending on whether you want a “grocery hauler”, “weekend cruiser”, SCAA racer, perfectly restored “Trailer Baby” or a modified “V8 screamer”.

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And then of course, there is the problem of trying to find time to work on your project car. I was given a 1993 Plymouth Sundance back in September 2018, which needed major engine repairs, but I always liked these kind of cars, so I decided to take advantage. I pulled the car into my carport and raised the front end up on jack stands, and took off the oil pan, with the hopes of doing a simple repair from below, but that was not feasible.

In April 2019, I pulled the motor and transmission, with the goal of rebuilding the motor, and re-sealing the transmission. And from that point on, I have just been too busy to work on the Sundance. In the winter of 2019, I ended up having to do a lot of home repairs, which drained my free time. Then in 2020, I bought a truck, and spent my free time working on the truck. Then in 2021, I had major engine problems with my other car, and had to spend my free time working on that car. This year, my wife is making me take her on a vacation, and the company I work for is understaffed and struggling to meet demand for our services, so we will see if I have time to restore the Sundance this year. It hasn’t moved now in several years.

To those with helpful replies so far, thanks a bunch! I think I’ll probably buy a 90’s-early 2000’s car that runs or is close to running, is cheap, and somewhat interesting to me. MGB looks like a great option too. I appreciate all the great input.

To those who misunderstood me, I would like to clarify I said that I was on a budget…not that I expected to do this for free. And yes, I am aware that I will need tools to work on the car and a place to store both car and tools (a healthy portion of which I have already). While I might not have had a project car yet, I understand that simply standing and staring at the vehicle is unlikely to affect any noticeable improvements :wink: . Additionally, I say that my end goal is to restore an American classic. I don’t say that I think I can wake up tomorrow morning and knock that out, and I’m just mentioning it because it’s potentially relevant to what projects I might take on before that to gain the experience I need for a full classic restoration. In my part of the US, there are indeed some $500 ish cars that haven’t been in an accident and some of them even run and drive - many of these could be a decent place for me to start. They just aren’t likely to be the dream car, which I don’t expect and probably am not ready for right off the bat anyway :slight_smile: .

And where is that ? I am in the midwest and a 500 hundred dollar vehicle is a wasted piece of junk.

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Texas. Obviously its not going to be a 1-owner Lexus but the ~$500 car does exist. I knew a guy a couple years ago who bought an 05ish(?) Focus for $600. Cosmetically it was indeed a piece of junk and even if it was in excellent condition its still not an interesting car (in my opinion), but there was nothing mechanically wrong with it and it hadn’t been wrecked. Occasionally I’ll also see an old Chevy or some such thing that the owner is just tired of messing with or needs gone for whatever reason.

In addition to the good, real world answers…

Rust can destroy a project faster than anything else. It is NOT cheap or easy to fix. It can be impossible to fix on any car without a large following… think 60s Camaro, Mustang, trucks, ect.

Bodywork is expensive even without rust. Just the material for a good paint job can cost in the thousands plus tools and a place to paint.

Interior work can be expensive as well.

A true restoration can multiply the cost. Original parts are more expensive than reproductions but far more valuable on the car. Best to consider making the car nice and your own.


You had a Subaru. Now you don’t. Folks own cars for a reason. If you don’t have one now, then you don’t reallly need one.

If you want a cheap to buy project car, see if you can find a third generation Z24 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe with a 5 speed manual transmission. This will be between 1995 and 2005. If you happen to find one with the optional turbocharger, avoid it. That’s too complicated for now. A Pontiac Sunfire GT is about equivalent.

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If you want American, you want parts availability, relatively low cost (probably not in the $300-500 range though), your best bet could be a Fox body Mustang from the mid to late 80’s. Old school enough to learn on, in some parts of the country, they can be found relatively rust free, lots of parts reasonably priced. You can wild or mild with one of these.

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Great idea!

People need trucks, parts are easy to find and inexpensive. Someone will probably make you an offer before you make much progress on the repairs.

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