Restoring Your Salvage Vehicle

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Congratulations on buying a salvage car! At this point, you have many options to consider next – from restoration to creating a custom build, or even using your salvage vehicle for auto parts. You might feel a little overwhelmed, but don’t worry. Through this new Copart blog series, You Bought a Salvage Car! Now What?, we’re here to help you explore some options.

In this blog, we’ll look at some starting points for vehicle restoration and how to go about fixing your salvage car to make it like new again. (Or click the links to skip to: custom builds or using your salvage vehicle for parts.) Because every salvage vehicle is different, this won’t be a complete step-by-step guide to rebuilding a car. Instead, it’ll give you a general overview of the process and let you know what you’re getting into.

Before we get started, here is the most important restoration advice we can offer: Whether you’re rebuilding a vehicle for yourself or to sell it, car restoration is a time-consuming task. Going into this project, you should have a realistic expectation of the amount of time needed to perform this task properly. Restorations can take months or even years to complete. Make a realistic timeline so you don’t get overwhelmed or stressed out.

Now, let’s talk car restoration!

Connect with a Community

One of our first suggestions before beginning your restoration project is to connect with a restoration community. You can meet people through a website like, or even join online communities. There are many websites dedicated to vehicle restoration that offer written guides or videos that vary in detail. Most resources have message boards or, at the very least, comment sections where people will ask questions and provide answers. Using these resources will give you a trusted community of peers.

Identify the Issues

Now, down to the car. Let’s face it—it wouldn’t be a salvage vehicle if there weren’t some issues that needed fixing. Because the extent of those issues depends on the individual vehicle, you’ll need to document the problem areas and prioritize what to tackle first. For instance, it’s usually best to start from the inside out. Address the mechanical issues first, then the body and interior. To accomplish this step accurately, you might need to strip the car entirely to get a better picture of what you’re working with. But before you do that, take a look at the next section.

Document. Document. Document.

When it’s finally time to start the restoration process, we’d highly recommend taking pictures of everything and keeping your disassembly/restoration as organized as possible. There’s nothing worse that trying to rebuild something and then suddenly discovering a box of auto parts that should be installed in the car already. Documenting your process will be beneficial to the community that’s helping you as well, as it gives them a visual guide. And for those of you who have social media, it gives you an opportunity to share your progress online with your friends.

Meet with a Mechanic (or Do It Yourself)

You might have had every intention of fixing up a salvage vehicle yourself, but there are some instances where an expert’s input might be beneficial. For example, car interior issues are, for the most part, easier to tackle than restoring or rebuilding an engine (at least for us). It might help to get a mechanic’s opinion sooner rather than later, especially with salvage vehicles that are in obvious need of repair. There might be hidden damage that could potentially impact the order you complete your other repairs.

What’s Under the Hood?

Getting a salvage car is like receiving a “white elephant” gift during the holidays. The contents under the hood can be surprising. You might have decent parts that require very little work, or your vehicle might need an entire rehaul. If the latter situation applies, you’ll need to decide if you want to rebuild the car’s original parts for authenticity or install a little upgrade. “Restoration” has a relatively loose definition depending on who you ask. If your goal is authenticity, you might be spending a lot of your time tracking down car parts. Depending on what kind of vehicle you’re restoring, that might mean searching for other salvaged cars to fit together enough functioning parts. Sometimes, it’s the cheapest option!   

Improving the Outside

If your car needs body work, you’ll have to start with that. But for those of you who just need a coat of paint, you’re in luck! There’s a market for classic paint, especially for sports cars. A quick search online will help you find what you need. If you’re having trouble finding the original color, a matching color might be a possibility. And if you thought painting your car or touching it up was going to be the easiest part of the process, think again. You have to paint your car the right way if you want it to look great.

Exploring the Interior

The inside of your car can take just as much time to fix as the outside depending on its condition and how much work you want to put into it. The interior is usually one of the most time-consuming parts of the restoration process. Here are some things to think about:

  • Do the car’s seats need to be replaced?
  • Is the auto upholstery in good condition?
  • Does the car interior need restoration?
  • Do you want the same sound system, or do you want a modern touch?
  • Are the floor panels and door panels in good condition?
  • Are the sun visors and glove compartment intact?

As you can see, car restoration is a big task to undertake, but with support, knowledge and a realistic idea of what to expect, it can be a very satisfying (and sometimes lucrative) project.

Inspired to start a restoration project? Check out what you can find at a Copart auction!

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