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Dealing With Shops
By Richard Lentinello
Editor and Publisher, CRANKSHAFT Magazine
Life-Long Car Guy and Avid Triumph Collector
Originally published in Hemmings Motor News, January 2012
Reprinted with permission
If you are searching for a restoration shop to rebuild your old car or truck to show quality, it’s important to choose the right shop. If you want your vehicle
restored correctly, then it needs to be worked on by a shop that specializes not only in old car restorations, but on the type and brand of car that you own.
No one knows everything there is to know about every particular vehicle and its parts, nor can they successfully solve all their inherent problems in a
timely manner. If they’ve never worked on your type of vehicle before, your car or truck may be the experimental vehicle they are looking to learn on.
However, there are a few select shops that have been in business for many decades that work on all different types of cars because the have the right
staff with the proper knowledge and experience that allows them to do so.
To find out which restoration facility offers the best service that suits your particular
needs, you should visit at least three or four different shops during working hours. This
will give you a good idea of how a restoration shop operates and the skill level of its work
force. Soon you’ll be able to separate the good from the bad.
Just remember: never go to a local garage or body shop even if they advertise a
restoration service. They simply do not have the skill or knowledge necessary for such a
job. They only know tune-ups and collision work. They haven’t the faintest idea about the
intricacies of a true restoration, especially if they try to assure you that there is nothing
magical about it. Always keep in mind that restoration shops are not body shops and
body shops are not restoration shops. They are two distinctly different types of business.
Although, body shops are perfectly suitable to handle the painting of your car’s body if
that’s all you need to have done.
Like any business that relies solely on a skilled work force to produce a finished product,
a restoration business is very difficult to run due to the extensive use of hand labor,
which always limits the cash flow. By understanding the numerous problems that a shop
proprietor has to deal with, you will be able to comprehend why he has to perform certain
tasks, charge for each of those tasks accordingly, and expect you to make payments
Dealing with non-specialists will result in higher restoration costs because they take
longer to do things, due to their unfamiliarity with the car. When you are being charged
by the hour, every minute counts. Also, the end result will likely not be of the same
quality, nor will the car be restored to the correct specifications.
When you think you have found the proper facility to restore your car, don’t be afraid to
ask the shop owner questions about his experience and the techniques he uses. If he is
honest and his business has a good reputation, he will gladly answer all your questions.
Ask him about his background and how long he has been in the restoration business.
Ask about his employees and their individual experience in the field. Take the time to
inspect the workshop, and take a detailed look at the work being performed on the cars
The ideal restoration facility will have all the necessary tools and equipment needed to
carry out its work in the most efficient manner with the best results. Besides standard
hand tools, a bead blast cabinet, lathe, half-ton press, metal brake, and a full
complement of both gas and MIG welding equipment are essential items that every good
shop should have. A self-contained spray booth is another crucial item. Not only will the
paint-work be of a higher quality, but it also makes the work place safer for the
employees and lessens the damaging effects of toxic paint fumes on our environment.
It is also important for you to inspect a couple of vehicles that the restorer has completed. Ask for at least three references from former customers. Call
them and ask about their dealings with the shop. By knowing as much about the restorer as possible, you will know what to expect and set your
Because no two cars are alike, and no two cars are in the same condition when their restorations begin, it would be unjust for you to compare your
restoration cost with that of another vehicle. Because each restoration is unique, a program must be outlined that is tailored to the specific requirements of
the car and its owner.
It is very difficult for the shop owner to provide an estimate that will hold true throughout the length of the restoration process. Because the restorer doesn’t
have X-ray eyesight, he simply cannot judge the amount of rust and body repair that might be required without disassembling the entire vehicle and
inspecting every component. And because he cannot foresee every single problem, most restorers have a clause in their contracts that states an
additional charge will be incurred if extra work is required.
Most of the big-dollar restoration shops that specialize in highly collectible cars, such a Bugattis, Ferraris and Packards, bill their clients on a time-plus-
material basis due to their ability to pay for a true, perfect, 100-point restoration. Being charged an hourly rate is the most expensive way to pay for a
restoration. But if you want the absolute highest quality possible there is no alternative, particularly from the restorer’s perspective, since he will have to
put in endless hours of labor until every single aspect of the car is perfect.
Be very skeptical of the shop that will restore your vehicle for a price that seems too good to be true. Once they have your car apart, if the work is much
more extensive that they anticipated (and it usually is), you can be sure they will cut corners in places you won’t notice. This can lead to a dangerous
situation if they decide not to replace fatigued brake lines or a weak suspension support bracket.
After both parties have agreed to terms, you may be asked to provide a deposit so the restorer can begin working. This not only shows your genuine
intention, but it lets the shop start ordering the parts and supplies they will need during the next few weeks. The better-run shops will invoice you on either
a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, depending on what you have agreed to. Each invoice statement should include detailed labor descriptions, a listing
of all purchased parts and a brief outline of the progress that is being made. Invoices will also vary in amounts, depending on how much time was put in
and which parts were bought during that period.
Most restoration shops usually require a substantial deposit before work
begins. This varies among shops, but it can be as much as half the total
estimate. Since most people are a little wary of leaving such a large sum
of money, finding a restorer who is understanding and flexible is almost
as important as finding one who is qualified in the first place.
If you have any questions regarding the shop’s invoices, inquire at once.
If the restorer can not justify his expenses, order him to stop all work
immediately and iron out the problem before the charges get out of hand.
If all charges are realistic, pay your bill promptly. Should you fail to pay
your bills in a timely manner, the shop has the right to stop work and
your project will get pushed aside, only to lose its spot in line when you
decide to pay what is owed. Up-to-date accounts always receive top
Assuming the cost of a continuous restoration is beyond your means,
you should set a budget with the shop owner prior to the start of the
project. The restorer will then work against advanced installments until
all the money is used up. Should you take more than thirty days to
furnish additional money, a nominal monthly fee for storage and interest
charges may be incurred. This is only fair as space costs money.
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