How Much Does it Cost To Restore a Classic Car?

Matthews, North Carolina -  September 3, 2018: Visitors admire vintage 1950s era Chevrolet and Ford cars parked on display at the Matthews Auto Reunion.
JeremyWarner / Getty Images

Trying to narrow down what constitutes a classic car isn’t easy — which is why some folks resort to the standard line about anything that’s hard to define: You know it when you see it. But if you are planning to restore a classic car, it helps to have some kind of starting point on what qualifies.

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According to the Progressive Insurance website, the minimum classic car age can range from 10 to 25 years old, but there’s no standard minimum age. Insurers, car collecting clubs and state motor vehicle agencies all have their own methods for defining classic, vintage and antique cars, so you might want to research their sites to learn more.

Randy Nonnenberg, co-founder and president of the Bring a Trailer (BAT) car auction site, told Yahoo Finance that when he was a kid, classic cars “were from the ’50s and ’60s and had tail fins and chrome.” But today, cars from the ’80s and ’90s might qualify.

No matter how classic cars are defined, they are a hot item in 2022. Look no further than the Monterey-Pebble Beach Car Week in August, where total classic car sales reached $469 million, Yahoo Finance reported — a gain of more than one-third from the previous year.

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“People continue to be very interested in the space,” Nonnenberg told Yahoo Finance. “It’s a compelling marketplace and we see increased demand that’s not letting up even in this environment.”

If you want to restore a classic car and get in on the action, the cost to do so depends on a variety of factors. These include the age and model of the car, its condition, its purchase price (if you are buying one to restore), and whether you plan to do the work yourself or hire a professional to do it.

Since the average person doesn’t have a classic car sitting around the garage — and either lacks the time or expertise to restore it — let’s assume you’ll have to buy one and hire someone else to restore it. In this case, you’ll probably pay anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 for a full-blown restoration project, according to the Junkyard Mob website.

You can cut that cost down by doing some of the work yourself, either by handling individual tasks or assisting a professional mechanic. Professional services for bodywork, paint, interior restoration, engine repair and other items typically cost up to $75 to $100 an hour, Junkyard Mob noted. Cars in need of a massive overhaul will cost a lot more to restore than those in decent condition.

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Another variable is the availability of parts. You might have little problem finding parts for newer, mass-market models. But for vintage, limited-edition classic cars, you might have to look far and wide to secure parts — and pay a premium to purchase them. Expect to pay a 25% markup on most parts as well as shipping fees if you order online.

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Finally, before embarking on the project, ask yourself the reason you’re restoring the car. If it’s a labor of love and you plan on keeping the car for personal use, you might have more wiggle room on costs. But if you are planning to sell the car for a profit, make sure to stay on budget so you don’t end up spending more on the restoration than the car is worth.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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