How can I learn to build cars

Screw it: this is how you can get started with the car restoration hobby

A Fiat Topolino from 1937, a classic old-timer and the first Fiat 500. But what can a layman repair it? A thousand times more than on a car from 2007, because old cars have manageable technology, hardly any electrics and do not require any special tools.

Restoring a car yourself?

Replace hoses, pull cables, weld rust holes? Anyone looking for a real all-round hobby will find exactly what they are looking for with this hobbyhorse.

What to do if the daily routine consists of sitting in front of a PC screen during the day and in front of the television in the evening? Many then resort to exercise sports: tennis, soccer, jogging. Good for fitness, but for one thing, even after extensive training, the exerciser hardly has anything to look back on physically - well, maybe thicker muscles. On the other hand, only very few sports can be carried out alone.
If, on the other hand, you can do without the fitness factor and are looking for a hobby that challenges you in a wide variety of ways, that demands manual instinct as well as organizational skills and, last but not least, the ability to research like a detective, should go to Car restorationlook around. Because that covers a much broader field than “just” luxury bodies in the six-figure price range and material for the “deeper, wider, harder” group. The following article shows how even absolute laypeople can get into this deeply passionate hobby.

1) It doesn't work without it: The theory

Not every car is suitable for beginners: The VW Bulli, for example, is definitely a mass-produced vehicle, but its popularity makes it extremely overpriced, even in poor condition.

Buying a car and simply unscrewing it is appealing to many. But the result would be highly unsatisfactory. Therefore, the theoretical knowledge should be fed long before buying a car.

1.1 Car restoration: basics

And that starts with the restoration basics: Basically, among other things, the following applies here:

  • Not every vehicle is suitable
  • The sportier, rarer, more exclusive, the more expensive
  • Anyone who buys cheaply (such as tools) buys twice

With this in mind, the terminology and the background to screwing cars must first be explained.

1.1.1 New car? Better not

With cars of the past 20 years, little works without a computer - they are therefore only suitable for self-restoration to a limited extent.

In principle, car mechanics should be aware of one thing: the younger the car, the more
  • more expensive to buy.
  • its appearance is less concise.
  • more extensive the electronics equipment and thus costs for spare parts.
  • more special tools and knowledge are needed.
  • less laypeople can repair themselves.

As a rule of thumb, everything that has been built in this millennium is not suitable as a restoration object without the backing of a professionally equipped workshop. Especially since these cars are part of the everyday street scene - and who wants to drive around in a personally restored Mercedes W210 from 2001 when these models are still on every supermarket parking lot? No, if you are a layperson and want to restore at manageable costs, you have to use vehicles that still exude visual charm that was not dictated by wind tunnels and environmental aspects: young and old timers.

1.1.2 What is a youngtimer?

The G-Class from Mercedes is an exception, because it is both new and young and old timers: the off-road vehicle has been built since 1979.

Youngtimeris a scene term with no legal background. This refers to cars that are no longer built, but are not 30 years old. The term does not have any fixed periods of time, but de facto cars that are first registered between 15 and 30 years before today's date are considered to be youngtimers.

1.1.3 What is a classic car?

Antique car is contrary to a legal term: It describes cars that were registered for the first time 30 years before the current date. A financial advantage: a classic car can be used on a H mark be allowed. With this, a TÜV inspector certifies vehicles in their original condition as a "motor vehicle cultural asset", more information is provided by the "Oldtimer Market". And so the car slips out of the usual maintenance cost scheme and is classified extremely cheaply - no classic car owner pays more than 200 euros a year to his father's state.

1.2 Hobby or investment?

An important, often neglected question before starting a restoration is: "What do I want to do with the car later?“Should it be a hobby for trips in good weather or should it be a valuable object to sell?

1.2.1 A hobby for thousands of hours

Basically, regardless of the intended use, the following applies: A real restoration, in scene jargon as Full resto is not something that can be done on a few weekends. A car that has been on its axles for 20 or more years not only needs fresh shock absorbers and new seat covers, but also control and replacement of almost all add-on parts: rubber hoses become porous, cables chafe, chassis bushings wear out and we're still a long way from rustling and the constant fight against the "brown plague". But this hobby also rewards with thousands of hours of activity and a pride that only those who have already held every screw in their car in their hands know.

1.2.2 Screwing is more than just making money

Opel Manta-A: Anyone who has awakened such curved shapes from their slumber over the years automatically gains a very deep human bond with the machine.

And this pride has already ensured that the project, which was originally intended as a sales object, is still in their garage today. It's just like this: something that has been occupied for hundreds of hours cannot simply be sold. Therefore, the now slightly falling resolution "the car is silver-plated“To be enjoyed with caution. Especially since: if you want a real increase in value, you should be able to restore a car as perfectly as if you had learned this trade.

1.2.3 Worth gold: the screwdriver community

At the same time, it is also the trappings that make the hobby special: meeting like-minded people, "gasoline talk" and, last but not least, help with questions and part searches. These are all human contacts that cannot be outweighed with money. Therefore, the question: "Drive or sell?" Should only be asked when the car is really ready and waiting in front of you.

2) The preparations

But before even the first advertisement can be viewed, budding screwdrivers need two things: a place and tools.

2.1 Find a place

Screwing on the side of the road is difficult even when changing tires, but fails completely with a "full resto". A place is needed and one in which the restoration object does not stand in the way for weeks or months.

2.1.1 Which garages are suitable?

Basically, all garages that protect screwdrivers and screwdriving objects from the weather and offer enough space for the removed parts are suitable. A double garage without a partition is ideal, but large carports can also be converted using external walls. Standard garages are ruled out, however: They are too narrow to work properly in them.
However, it is important to note that the workshop needs power connections and, ideally, is brightly lit.
Tip: To find a shelter, classified ads can help: Renting a garage doesn't cost the world, but it can eliminate many problems.

2.1.2 Alternative rental workshop?

You need space to screw. And unfortunately, a narrow standard garage does not offer that. Other garages are suitable without any problems.

There are rental workshops in many regions: There screwdrivers not only find lifting platforms, but also rental tools and often helping hands. So basically these workshops are great for beginners. However: They are only suitable if you can drive there on your own. Because if the car occupies a space for longer than a few hours, high fees are usually due, which is why rental workshops are not suitable for a full restoration, but only for individual work.

2.2 Keyword tool

Once a place has been found, it becomes uniquely expensive for beginners because tools are needed. As already noted, you should proceed according to the maxim "rather one expensive than four times cheap": Cheap (not cheap) tools are often a nuisance and usually not beneficial to the end result. In addition: If you no longer like your hobby, you can sell branded tools better than no-name products from the discounter.

2.2.1 What do I really need?

Good tools make work easier, but simply putting money on the tool dealer's counter would be irresponsible, especially since there would then be a lot of superfluous items on the bill.

2.2.2 Imperial? Metric?

An important difference with hexagon screws is that between metric and imperial dimensions: In European cars screws are always metric, so all standard tools fit. However, inch threads were used in US cars up to the 80s and British vehicles until almost today. In some cases, they then need the appropriate keys, freely adjustable wrenches (English, French) or metric tools are suitable. For the latter, this conversion table provides an overview. In case of doubt, however, it is important to try it out! If the metric key fits without play, it can be screwed.

2.2.3 Free web culture: guides and guides online

Novice screwdrivers hardly ever have it in the 21st century. Where workshops used to carefully guard repair manuals, where repair manuals only existed for volume models, the web helps today. Basically, after choosing a car, it is a good idea to register in a screwdriver forum suitable for the brand or model. This has several advantages:

  • Web forums are usually free of charge by screwdrivers for screwdrivers.
  • In the community, gaps in knowledge can be closed and tips and tricks can be exchanged.
  • Often enough, forums have extensive archives that contain instructions, spare parts lists, inspection plans and more - invaluable help for laypeople.
  • Last but not least, members also help each other. This makes it possible to find spare parts or special tools that are no longer available in stores or only at fantastic prices. Basically, the older and rarer the vehicle, the more likely that many parts are only available from private customers.

2.3 The car

After a place has been found, the tool account has been fleeced and the first gaps in knowledge have been closed, the focus is now on the heart of every restoration, the car. Finding that can be an adventure in itself and often take months.

2.3.1 Decision-making aid: which car should it be?

Was a car the serial hero of your youth? Then why not restore such a model? But be careful: vehicles like this '69 Dodge Charger are not cheap - precisely because many want to own a serial hero.

What do I want to screw on? " This question is by far the most important one in this article, because your answer not only depends on the workload, but also on the entire budget.
Basically, nobody can answer the question for you, because everyone has their own reasons for wanting this or that car. But a few additional questions can at least help to narrow down a group of candidates:
  • Which body shape do I particularly like and which not?
  • Do I have preferences or dislikes for a brand?
  • Which car excited me as a child? Was there a television series, etc., whose leading automobile actor cast a spell over me?
  • Which cars did my parents drive before? Is one of them of interest?

Source & further information: Classic Data

These questions should have produced a more or less extensive vehicle list. And this now has to be worked through. Here, too, sub-categories are due again, but they are necessary and can also take weeks:
  • Availability of the vehicle (get an overview on sales platforms on the web).
  • Spare parts supply and prices
  • Purchase price (a Citroen DS in need of repair Pallas will cost more than a perfectly preserved Ford Granada Mk.3)
  • Weak points
  • Maintenance (costs, repairability, maintenance effort, etc.)

Now the ranks of candidates should have melted down to two or three cars. And then interested parties have to break them down into a model according to personal preferences.

2.3.2 Youngtimers with power? That will be expensive

Especially with regard to maintenance costs, readers should now again recall the differences between young and old timers: Young timers are still classified as normal for taxes and insurance. For the latter, the type class is particularly important, which is defined by the number of registrations and accidents. As the following article from Toptarif explains, this means: the more often a model is sold and the more accidents it has been involved in, the more expensive it will be. To put it bluntly: A 3 Series Golf GTI is certainly far above a BMW 8 Series in this type class. Although the latter is much more motorized - but it was only produced a good 30,000 times. In contrast to the Golf, of which 5 million rolled off the assembly line. It is similar with youngtimers with the taxes, which for vehicles first registered before 2009 on the three pillars "Type of engine, displacement and emissions standard" is calculated.
Ergo: Who is a massively built displacement and horsepower monster á la Corvette would like to increase, should see that this car gets an H license plate so that taxes and insurance do not get out of hand.

2.3.3 End-of-life vehicle purchase guidelines

Once a car has been found, interested parties should always look for the "weak point sheet" that fits the respective model on the web beforehand, read it through carefully and relentlessly check the object of the desire for it. All quirks are detrimental, even with old cars. If you are not sure whether you can buy your first old car on your own, you should bring a second person with you. Perhaps there is someone in the mechanics forum of choice who would do that. Basically, everything that the car was advertised with must be documented. This applies to a completed maintenance booklet for vehicles that are supposed to be checked in a service book as well as to conversions that must be entered in the papers or for which an ABE is available.

2.3.4 Warning, Blender!

Some old cars are just junk. Windy traders nevertheless try to get them to laypeople with cunning.

Extreme caution is required if the signs of wear in the interior of old cars (pedals, steering wheel, seats) do not match the specified mileage. In addition, thick layers of underbody protection can also indicate hastily covered areas of rust. And a real no-go is an engine that is already warm when it arrives: it shows that the owner warmed up the car so that it starts better when it is inspected. Unfortunately, almost only years of experience protect you from falling for well-made blenders. Therefore, the following also applies here: If in doubt, take an experienced expert with you or show the car to an expert during a test drive; Old cars are a game with high profits that always attracts people with dubious intentions.

3) Let's go

The big day is here, the restoration object is in its own workshop, ready to repair the damage over the decades - but where does the screwdriver actually start?

3.1 The first steps

First, a to-do list should be created with the help of the vulnerability sheet. There is no fixed order of work, but at least one that makes sense:

3.2 Dismantling made easy

The more parts are removed, the more important it becomes to put them down in a meaningful order that allows the screwdriver to assemble them logically even months later.

How the car is dismantled depends primarily on the scope of the work:
  • If welding is to be carried out on doors, the underbody and window pillars, the seats and panels should be completely removed. Not only for the sake of protection, but also because these parts can make access more difficult.
  • Body first: Before the engine, transmission and chassis are brought into shape, rust control, dent repairs and painting work should be finished. To do this, the drive must be completely removed in some cases.
  • Once all the dirty work has been completed, the interior is brought back into shape.

3.2.1 Basic rules for dismantling parts

Even a simple 1970s “bread and butter” car consists of thousands of individual parts. Keeping an overview is extremely difficult. Therefore, the following applies in principle: All screws from dismantled parts are screwed back a few millimeters into the thread so that they cannot be lost. In the case of complex parts, it can also help to take a photo with the mobile phone when it is installed.Safety also comes first: You never work on the underbody on a car that is only secured by the jack, jack stands are mandatory! And when removing heavy or live parts (suspension springs), a second person should always be nearby who can help or get help if necessary.

3.2.2 Order is half the assembly

In view of this flood of parts, order is the be-all and end-all: A large workbench can help, but if necessary, an unused corner of the garage floor can do the same: All parts are placed next to one another in the order in which they were removed. This makes it possible to recognize a pattern again even after months and makes mistakes much more difficult.

3.3 Ask the specialist

Some work is safety-relevant or difficult to carry out by laypeople due to a lack of experience. Then they shouldn't shy away from calling in a professional.

3.3.1 Not for beginners: braking

This applies above all to the brakes: careful laypeople can change brake pads and drums / discs themselves. The situation is different when brake cylinders are leaking, need to be made usable or the associated lines need an overhaul. Then the advice can only be: Let the specialist take over, because a brake system that does not work properly due to insufficient skills is absolutely life-threatening.

3.3.2 Off to the dent doctor

Painting and the necessary preparatory work such as filling and sanding are a science in their own right - and nothing that beginners should do in their own garage.

Especially if you have no experience with filler or tin-plating body parts, you should also contact a specialist if you have dents. The big advantage: Especially with very small quirks, these experts can achieve a result for little money that laypeople could only reproduce with great effort.

3.3.3 Your friend the painter

And last but not least, the final shot of paint on the car is a case for the specialist. Basically, you can, of course, also do the painting yourself in the garage with a compressor and spray gun. But as soon as it only concerns individual parts, such as fenders, screwdrivers are faced with a problem: a decade-old car paint no longer looks like the new product from the paint can. The fresh paint must therefore be mixed in such a way that it does not differ from the faded paint on the rest of the car. And only a professional can do that.
The only exception: if you intend to give your 70s racer a “bad” image, you can use matt lacquer. And with a full coating, due to the lack of gloss, this can not only be applied from spray cans, but even with a paint roller. The members of the “Fusseltuning” portal have been practicing this for a long time. And with “Motoraver Magazine”, this somewhat different style of restoration was also given a journalistic monument.

4) Summary and conclusion: Car restoration is a passion

A new car is perhaps “just” a car. A self-restored classic or classic car, on the other hand, is a real friend that the restorer knows as well as the back of his hand - a real passion in sheet metal.

Looking for a car over months, disassembling it into its individual parts, repairing it and returning it to its delivery condition is more than work. Anyone who has ever restored a car knows: This passion is the same as that felt by a hobby gardener when he brings in his first harvest or a passionate hobby carpenter who has brought an old cabinet into shape. Cars may be just soulless transport devices for some, but for restorers they are hobby, problem child, pastime and challenge all rolled into one.


Image sources: 1) © Pocko 2) © blickpixel ("license plate in first graphic"; CC0 1.0) 3) © Norman Nick 4) © gstockstudio 5) © vsmaze 6) © spgl 7) © daskleineatelier 8) © Anton Sokolov 9) © charles taylor 10) www © 11) © Kadmy 12) © dangtu