A project Lotus Elise in need of a new front clam | Gabrielle Schmauderer

5 Tips and Tricks for Buying Your Next Project Car

Buying a new project car can be exciting, but it can also be intimidating to those newer to the automotive hobby. While you can almost never know for sure exactly what you’re walking into when it comes to buying any used vehicle, buying a project car comes with more potential challenges, depending on what you’re looking at. Luckily, for most project cars, you’re not alone, and there are a ton of great resources and ways to get prepared to bring your new project car home that will leave you feeling confident and excited. 

1.) Don’t let your excitement blind you

I can’t number the amount of times that I’ve purchased a project car out of excitement and let the joy of getting a great deal on a new car get the better of me. When I purchased my 2009 Audi A4 I knew that I was walking into a pretty big project. Even from just a first test drive, I could tell that the motor mounts were shot, and, speaking of ‘shot’ there were bullet holes in the rear quarter panel. 

It was a deal that I should have walked away from, but I was more excited about getting the car home and getting to work on it than I was focused on the logic behind it. I ended up selling the car nearly a month later and moving on to a new project when I realized it was too much for me to handle at the time, and I ended up losing a pretty decent chunk of money. 

2.) Spend the time and money to get the project car checked out properly

Most local mechanics offer an inspection option for used vehicles that cost anywhere from $100-300 and a bit of your time as well as the seller’s time, but, it’s well worth it to know what you’re getting into. Spending a bit of time and money can leave you feeling more confident in your purchase, or let you know that there may be problems you aren’t ready or willing to deal with. The best way to know what you’re getting into is to stay informed. If you don’t want to bring the car to a local mechanic, you can always bring along a friend who is more knowledgeable about the platform or has experience with that specific car or drivetrain. 

3.) Check out forums and Facebook groups

You can learn a lot about a car and potential issues by checking out the active community for that car. This is free, and there is usually a forum or a Facebook group for your dream project car or platform out there. I would recommend this even for a car you’ve already purchased, as it’s a great way to get to know the community, form relationships with enthusiasts that can help answer your questions or brainstorm your issues, and even give you some tips and advice. If you like to modify vehicles, you can sometimes find parts for sale in these groups, too. 

To my surprise, Cars & Bids also has a solid handful of less expensive cars for sale, many underpriced because they need some type of work — whether it be mechanical, cosmetic, or a little of both.

4.) Keep a budget in mind

The worst thing that can get away from you while working on a project car is budget. Again, you can never know exactly how much you’ll need to get your project car running and in good condition, but you never want to put yourself in a hole. Some people get into project cars for flips and to try to make money, while others are looking to get the car of their dreams on a budget. No matter what you do, you should always have resale value in the back of your mind — yes, I know it’s hard to think about selling a car you haven’t even purchased yet, but it is also something to keep in mind with purchase price as you don’t want to lose thousands on a car for absolutely no reason, and you certainly don’t want to end up spending more than it would have taken to purchase the car in better condition. 

5.) Be a little ambitious, it’s a project car after all

In today’s world, you can learn almost anything from the internet, especially with big-name YouTubers dedicated to everything car-DIY like ChrisFix. If you know what a project car is going to need ahead of time and are willing to dedicate time and energy to learning how to fix it, being ambitious can get your pretty far. Does this sound like the opposite of what most people would say — don’t bite off more than you can chew? It is. Now, I’m not trying to encourage you to get in over your head, but if you’re dedicated enough, there are a lot of resources that can help you learn just about anything you want to know in order to master your project car. 

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