The automotive hobby is a continuously changing entity. Trends come and go, vehicle tastes change, and inevitably, cars get restored several times during their life. Since that is the case, 90-percent of the people reading this will have to deal with a restoration shop at some point.
Everyone eventually has a project that needs some work done, let’s face it, it’s a project.
If you’re on the hunt for a restoration shop to help you restore or rebuild your project, it’s important to use your head when choosing the right shop to take care of your investment. We have all heard of cars ending up in body shop jail, where they never seem to get completed, and the owner inevitably sells what was once his dream. We want to help you avoid that scenario, so we contacted two of the best restoration establishments we know of to give us some insight into wisely choosing the business to help with your dream.
A good restoration shop will have a staff that is familiar with the cars being worked on.
John Balow of Muscle Car Restorations in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, has been restoring cars since 1988, and Russell Jacobs of RJ Cars in Arkport, New York, has been giving customers high-quality rebuilt dreams since 1989. We decided to get input from each of this gentleman about what to look for when choosing a restoration shop.
Knowing What To Look For
Anyone can “restore a car,” but if you want your vehicle restored correctly, then finding someone that knows the proper procedures is paramount. We asked Balow about what he feels separates a good restoration business from a not-so-good business. “There are several factors to look for”, He said. “Experience – a staff that understands how these cars were originally built, defined departments that are well organized, and a shop owner that looks at his company as a business, not an extension of his personal hobby.” Russell agrees, but adds, “Cleanliness means a lot. If the house isn’t clean and organized, who’s to say your parts will not get ‘lost’.” Also, restoration businesses will have a reputation – be it good or bad. Do your research before you give anyone your car to work on.
If you plan to have a restoration shop restore your car, make sure to locate one that has the proper equipment to do so. Cutting a car apart to replace metal can result in an expensive pile of scrap metal if done incorrectly.
Finding a quality shop that will give you a solid estimate up front is not going to happen. It is impossible for any shop owner to give you an estimate that will not change throughout the length of the restoration process, so be prepared. This is because there is no way that the shop owner can judge the amount of rust and body repair that will ultimately be required without disassembling the vehicle and inspecting every part of it.
The cost is quickly forgotten after the quality remains. – John Balow, Muscle Car Restorations
Since there is no way to foresee every single problem that might pop up, most shops have a clause in their contract that informs the car owner that additional charge will be assessed if extra work is found. So, when you are choosing a quality shop, your estimate will definitely show you an hourly rate, and this is good. If every other aspect of the two shops your are thinking about is equal, the hourly rate could be the deciding factor. But, as Balow tells us, “The cost is quickly forgotten after the quality remains.”
Diligent Research Can Save Your Car
When you are finally ready to hand your pride and joy over to someone that you might not really know, it’s probably best to get to know them a little beforehand. Jacobs told us, “Always ask for references. If they do quality work, they should have no trouble giving you a couple. Ask them about the products they use, and why they use them. Find out if they are the good products, or great products? Also, is the shop bonded or insured?” That last one is often overlooked, but they will have your car for a long time, and in case something happens, who is responsible?
Jacobs continued, “How is the billing handled? Will there be documentation of the build process (pictures)? And finally, narrow down the time from a start date to an agreeable ending time frame.” That last one can be a big problem. There are many projects that are spending their time in body shop jail for one reason or another, so at least get the shop owner to narrow down the month and year of completion.
Finally, Balow also added that checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good way to find out if a given shop has been in trouble in the past, and how they handled the situation.
What Is The Cost Of Quality?
If the shop isn’t clean and organized, who’s to say your parts will not get ‘lost’. – Russell Jacobs, RJ Cars
When you are being charged by the hour, every minute counts. Like any business that depends on the craftsmanship of skilled labor, a restoration shop can be very difficult to run, because it relies heavily on hand labor. By understanding some of the issues that the owner deals with, you will be able to understand why he has to do certain things, charge for each task, and why he expects that you will make prompt payments. Be skeptical of a business that says they will restore your car for a set price. If they get your car apart, and realize that it needs more work than they anticipated (and it undoubtedly will), they might cut corners in places you won’t notice – until the bodywork or some other aspects of repair starts to rear its ugly head a year or so down the road.
One thing that most people do not realize, is that many establishments require a substantial deposit before any work is ever started. Once you and the shop owner decide on a suitable deposit, you will also want to agree on invoicing. You might be thinking that you will get a bill once a yearly quarter, and the shop owner might be planning to send you one each month. Avoid the confusion, and make sure this is clarified to avoid any surprises.
There are not many people that can do this type of work, so a good restoration shop is a necessity for most enthusiasts.
Speaking of invoices, each one should include a detailed description of what was accomplished, a listing of all purchased parts, hours actually spent working on the car, and a brief outline of the progress that is being made. If the charges seem realistic, pay your bill promptly. The business owner will remember that. If you hesitate to pay the bill, the shop owner will also remember that, and he has the right to stop work, and your project will get pushed aside. If this happens, your car could be stuck waiting for the next available opening in his schedule.
A quality paint job is only as good as the time, effort, and quality of the materials that are underneath the color.
Shop owners know that most people are working with a budget, so they are willing to work with customers. For example, if a non-stop restoration is beyond your means, set a budget with the owner prior to the start of the project. Some shop owners will work with advanced installments until the money is used up, and then they will work with you to get money back into the project. But, keep in mind that if you take more than 30 days to deliver more money, you could be charged with a storage fee. Remember, the shop is a business, and space costs money.
Don’t Let Your Car Get Lonely
Once the business you have chosen has your car, will you be able to check in on the progress from time to time? You should be allowed occasional access, after all, it is your car. Jacobs told us, “I think it is okay to visit once or twice a month. I ask that people call first to make sure we’re not busy with another client so we can dedicate some time to them, and make sure the right people are on hand to go over details with the client on that particular day.” Balow has the same philosophy, but adds, “Keep visits short and to the point so the craftsman can get back to work – time is money.”
We have all heard horror stories about cars being “stuck” in a body shop for years at a time, and there are ways to avoid that from happening. According to Balow, “Don’t take your car to a body shop. Take it to a restoration establishment that does not do collision work.” This is understandable, as a collision shop makes its money by working on collision repairs. We all know how the general public drives, so the collisions keep coming, and your restoration is put on perpetual hold.
So there you have it. By following these simple tips from two professionals you should be able to choose a restoration shop that will not only help you build the car of your dreams, but they’ll do it properly.