Whether you find a car at a local garage, classified ad, barn or storage unit, there is a good chance it will need some work. Most older cars that are for sale or that have been traded in, will have been traded or sold for a reason. Sometimes this is simply because of the age. But often it happens because a car has a fault of has bodywork damage.
It’s all too easy to miss a fault or underestimate the costs of repair, I have seen lots of very experienced flippers make mistakes and made a fair few myself in the past. Below I will offer my advice on how you can avoid getting it wrong and help you understand wether its worth fixing up a car or even buying it in the first place.
It can be tricky assessing what you need to do to a car to get in to flippable condition. But a small number of repairs are worth doing on even the cheapest of cars.
The most obvious form of repair is a valet, as I’ve written about previously this is the most effective form of repair. It can do wonders to an interior and even more impressive things to the paint and bodywork. Paintwork correction can make the most visual difference to a car and is the next step in minor body repairs, a machine polish not only brightens tired paint. But done correctly it can improve scratches and imperfections that otherwise would require a bodyshop. I have written an article covering machine polishers, you can find a link – How to use a machine polisher.
Light damage to a bumper corner or a wing mirror are easily remedied, so are small golfball sized dents. The motor trade refer to these as smart repairs. Most area of the country have people offering these services on a mobile basis. Providing a great convenient service at good value, with thew added advantage of a fast turn around. It’s also worth remembering that a dent of almost any size can be removed, providing the paint hasn’t broken or spidered.
Cracked or damaged lights and mirror glasses are another easy fix. Just make sure you price any parts before you buy a car. Some headlights are hard to find and expensive. Dull and faded headlights can be polished back to clear and re-lacquered if needed.
Alloy wheel repair
Repairing the wheels on a car can make almost a big an impact as a machine polish. The larger wheel diameters and lower profile tyres fitted to most modern cars, means wheel damage is almost inevitable. The good news is alloy repairs are easy and cost effective. Prices do vary but its a very competitive market so the costs a generally low.
Even buckles can be repaired and you can also change the colour of the wheels at the same time. It’s always best to get a repair cost first but most repairers offer a fixed price service.
This is where it gets expensive. If you are buying a car that needs to visit a bodyshop then you should always get a fixed quote. When I say fixed quote I mean a fixed quote, most bodyshops will offer you an estimate. They sound the same but the two words mean to very different things. Car bodywork is complicated and it’s only getting worse. So most shops are only guessing and will estimate the costs. You need a quote so you know exactly what is happening and exactly what you will be paying. I have never seen an estimate come in under and rarely do they come in at the estimate.
But if whatever you decide to do make sure you get a fixed quote on the damage, and get it in writing. I have often been miles out when guessing the cost of body repairs. So this should ideally happen before you purchase the car.
But in general doing large panel repairs to cars isn’t worth the hassle. I would also advice any car with actual crash damage isn’t bought in the first place, unless its for the parts value.
Renovating a car
I am sure you’ve read about someone who bought a car, renovated it and sold it for an enormous profit! What you don’t read is how much they spent on it doing the renovation, or the fact that it took 5 years. They also neglect to mention that if it wasn’t for the market raising the restoration cost would have outweighed the cars retail value!
So even a car restoration project of significant importance and value should be avoided. Restoring a barn find 3.8 E-Type or 70’s supercars is never going to be viable. Also even if you find a car worth restoring it almost impossible to find a quality craftsman to restore a car.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be hunting for a barn find cars. I just means you should sell them with the dust still intact and don’t spend a penny on restoration. Leave it for the next guy.
The only exception to this is if you can do the work yourself. If you have both the mechanics expertise and can also repair and paint a car, then go for it. Most of the cost of a restoration is in hiring professional people to do the work. But if you already have that skill set why are you reading this and why are you flipping cars!?
As I stated in the first paragraph most cars are traded in or sold for a reason. This reason can sometimes be hidden in the mechanics of a car. Similarly to body shop repairs mechanical repairs can also be costly, so it’s important that you notice and diagnose and problems before you buy a car.
Often the previous owner has been advised that the problem wasn’t worth fixing so they chose to either trade it or sell it on. But If you buy the car right then it doesn’t mean its not worth you fixing the car.
In a similar way to minor bodywork repairs smaller mechanical problems can be fixed easily. Most small garages are willing to fix minor problems as well as carrying out servicing. Alternatively if you have some experience fixing cars then you can take on these repairs yourself. The internet is full of advice and videos covering common faults car be easily found on YouTube. But using a garage is almost always preferable.
The thing you should defiantly avoid is the unknown. If you garage can’t be sure on a diagnosis or you can’t get it inspected walk away, it just isn’t worth the risk. Car flipping is risky by its nature so why increase the risk. It’s also not normally worth taking on big repairs such as cars needing replacement engines or gearboxes, likewise with complex belt, chain or clutch changes.
So again unless you are experienced in mechanical repairs, cars with big problems are often not worth getting involved with. You are best looking for cars without issues and avoiding unknown risks.
When flipping cars undertaking large repair often isn’t worth doing unless they are relatively straightforward, or of course you are going to have a large profit at the end of it. The only other time you might consider taking on a big job is if you are struggling to source stock. But generally it is much easier to just buy a car in better condition and carry out the minor stuff. The bigger jobs often end up costing more than anticipated and also tie-up your working capital for a longer period of time.
But if you are still tempted assess whether you can do the work yourself or if you need to get a quote from a mechanic, or a body shop. If you are getting work done always shop around. Don’t accept the first quote your given. Get the initial diagnosis from an independent garage or body shop whenever possible. Don’t just assume the price is the price, the majority of costs are labour so prices vary. Smaller garages or body shops are almost always cheaper than using larger more established businesses, mostly down to the higher overheads associated with running a big business.
It is also a good idea to foster a relationships with reliable local garages, if you take them enough work you can often negotiate a trade rate. You can then call them for advice and pop a car past for a free diagnosis. They will often find other problems you may have missed and offer advice on common problems with that make or model.
For smaller more simple repairs often watching a YouTube video will be all you’ll need to do to be able to fixing it yourself. You can also source most parts or missing bits of trim online, either new or secondhand.
Finally you need to decide if everything needs to be fixed. Obviously don’t skip important safety features like brakes, tires and timing belts. But do you need to spend money on paint-less dent removal or can you sell the car with the small dents still there? Is the scratch on the rear passenger side door worth repairing?
Each car is different and you will ultimately have to decide yourself. But budget accordingly and remember the more you spend the less profit you will end up making.