How to purchase a project car in 2023 (buyer checklist)

American, Japanese, European, trucks, sleeper cars, supercars… we all have a different dream project car. However, buying that car and organizing everything around doing so can be a bit confusing if you have never done it.

This article goes over 9 important things you need to think about before buying your next project car.

project car

What is a project car?

In reality, a project car is a pretty straightforward concept. As the name suggests, it is a car you buy with a specific goal or vision in mind to work on it in your own way (a project). 

Building a drift car, an off-roading truck, a high-performance car, a sleeper car or simply just customizing the looks of the car are all examples of those projects.

One of the many reasons why a project car is such a personal choice is your goal.

For many people, owning and building a project car is a hobby that allows them to express themselves. Similar to art.

The project car checklist

Checklist index:

  • 1. Your Goals And Plans
  • 2. Your Budget
  • 3. Time Available For Your Project Car
  • 4. Tools And Workplace
  • 5. Reliable Transport
  • 6. Know Your Capabilities
  • 7. Buying Someone Else’s Project Car
  • 8. Study The Car
  • 9. Buying The Project Car

Choosing a project car isn’t difficult, after all, you’re just buying a car, right? Nevertheless, if you want to have a more enjoyable experience building, restoring, and modifying that car, there are a few important factors to consider.

The last thing you want to do is spend a few hundred dollars, if not thousands, on a project and car parts that after 5 months you realize isn’t for you.

So, I went around and asked a few car guys what tips they would give to someone looking to purchase a project car. Additionally, I asked the same question in several online communities and assembled the results in a short list with some of my tips based on previous experiences.

The following checklist should hopefully get you on the right track to finding your very own project car.

1. Your Goals and plans

The first and most important step is to decide what you want your project to be. To find that out, consider the following questions.

What kind of car do you prefer? Is it JDM cars, muscles cars, trucks, or something else?

What do you intend to do with your car? For example, are you looking to build a reliable but enjoyable daily driver, a lowered show car, or a high-performance racecar?

You most likely already know the answers to these and all the other similar questions. And they may appear tedious, but you need to make sure you have the right car for what you want to do.

Furthermore, ignoring them can cause a lot of problems with your plans in the long run, especially if you are a beginner mechanic with a limited budget.

2. Your Budget

Unfortunately we are not all millionaires and car customization is a hobby that can be quite pricy at times. As a result, the amount of money you have available for your project car should be looked into.

The car’s initial purchase price is rarely the last one.

So, if you have a limited budget, studying the car, which we will discuss later down in this article, is a good idea.

It is critical to know the average cost of parts and modifications for the vehicle you are considering. You don’t want to buy a project car and never be able to finish it because the parts are too expensive.

Tools are also a topic we will talk about in this article but knowing if you have to buy any tools to fix the car is a good idea to look into. Some tools can be quite costly.

Disclaimer: luxury cars may appear to be bargains when you can fix them cheaply, but keep in mind that the maintenance cost to drive them is frequently very high.

Finally, there shouldn’t be a price limit on your your dream car, it is always possible to save up. It really comes down to how quickly you want to advance in your project.

3. Time available for your project car

Time is very similar to the budget, therefore I will keep it short.

If you are a very busy person with little free time, what you want (a car you can start driving immediately, for example) will give you an idea of the condition of the car you should get.

But once again it is not because you are busy that you can’t start on a big project. It might simply take a little longer.

4. tools and workplace

Depending on where you are planning to work you might want to consider a few things.

If like many of us, you plan on doing mechanic in your driveway, you want to make sure you have a functioning standard jack and a jack stand if not 2 or more. You could also consider expenses like a tarp or car cover if you do not have a garage.

Additionally, depending on where you are working, certain jobs will be harder to do.

It isn’t impossible to change a transmission in your driveway, but it can get frustrating pretty quickly. Therefore, make sure you’re aware of your workplace when buying your project car.

When it comes to tools, having a basic mechanic toolbox is a must. After all, you plan on repairing a car.

The following list only includes the essential tools for getting started.

Your basic toolbox should include:

  • Ratchet and socket set
  • Wrenches
  • Screwdriver set
  • Hammer
  • Breaker bar
  • Plier set
  • Multimeter
  • Pry bar
  • Allen wrenches

Those tools do not need to be expensive they just need to get the job done.

Quick tip: Keep an eye out for discounts.

Your toolbox is this thing that will grow over time as you advance with your project car.

By the way, you are always able to borrow from your friends.

5. Reliable Transport

This may seem obvious, but having a reliable, possibly even fuel-efficient car may be a smart idea depending on what you intend to do with your project.

6. know your capabilities

When purchasing a project car, it is essential that you recognize and be honest with yourself about your abilities.

There is nothing wrong with looking for a challenge but for many people, it is important to draw a line somewhere when shopping.

I believe that anyone can learn anything, but you don’t want a half-finished car collecting dust in your driveway or garage for a few months.

Is it your first project car?

For example, if it is your first project car and you don’t have much knowledge about fixing cars, buying a car with a nonfunctioning engine or broken transmission may be a bad idea.

I would suggest starting with minor but still challenging repairs and modifications and, with time, working your way up from there.

Rusty project car or not?

Rust is one of those things that deserved its own category.

If you’ve done a lot of bodywork and have dealt with rust before, and possibly even have the tools for it, you might be able to get away with buying a pretty rusty car.

However, if you are new or have never done bodywork before, surface rust and minor body repairs are usually fine, but avoid any extensive corrosion.

7. buying Someone Else’s Project Car

Purchasing an unfinished project from another person can be a double-edged sword.

There can be numerous advantages to doing so, especially if you know what you’re doing. However, you should be very careful and carry out a thorough car inspection before purchasing someone else’s project.

The person could be selling it for a variety of reasons, including the car having too many major problems. Furthermore, the individual before you may have done poor-quality work on the car, and you will now be stuck with it.

Keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, some people simply don’t have the time or money to work on their car anymore, but it’s important to take precautions.

Buying someone else’s project car is usually not recommended, especially if you are new to fixing cars.

The following lists displays the pros and cons of buying someone else’s project car.

Pros

  • Cheap purchase price
  • Donor car is sometimes included
  • Can come with good aftermarket parts already installed

Cons

  • Chances of poor quality work done on the car
  • Car could have many problems
  • Certain mods the previous owner did could complicate your plans
  • The car could have been treated poorly

8. Study the car

Once you’ve chosen a car model for your project, you’ll need to do some research on it.

It is not necessary to spend days studying the car, but spending an hour or two going over certain points about the car you want is a great idea.

Parts and aftermarket size

One thing you should look at is how easy it is to find repair and modification parts for the project car of your choice.

A popular car will frequently have a huge aftermarket of various parts and mods for it. Parts for those cars are often significantly cheaper as well.

It is not the end of the world if your car does not have a large market, but it might complicate things and make them more expensive.

Common Problems

Finding this information is free and should take no more than 20 minutes. Additionally, knowing the most common problems of the car can be really useful.

Knowing what kinds of problems occur frequently will allow you to be prepared and know what kind of work and maintenance you will have to carry out on the car regularly.

Furthermore, you can estimate the cost of these repairs and possibly take the time to search for the best prices.

Community

The car community is a massive one for all cars. However, each type of car and model has its own sub-community.

Again, some are larger than others, and a car with a large community can really be beneficial. Especially when looking for parts, mods, and information about the car, for example common problems.

You can frequently find Facebook groups or other forums for a given car where you can have access to that information.

Friends, Enthusiasts, Experts

Finally, studying the car can just involve talking about it with someone who owns one or has worked on one.

After all, the more information you have, the better.

9. Buying the project car

Buying your project car is no different from buying any other car. Whenever you buy a used car there are certain things you must do and check.

If you’re not sure what you’re doing, you can find an abundance of checklists online (Google and YouTube) that will walk you through everything you need to check.

Example of full checklist to buy used car here: 1, video, 2

The following list is not a full list, instead, it is a summary of the important points to consider.

Car information:

  • Papers and documents
  • Inspection needed?
  • Check the price of the car for its condition with websites like(Free): 3
  • Check the VIN number online with Free VIN decoder

The Body:

  • Dents
  • Scratches
  • Cracked windows

The wheels and brakes:

  • Tire threads
  • Rusty brakes
  • Break wear

The interior:

  • Condition
  • cleanliness

Under the car:

  • Leaks
  • Rust
  • Frame condition

conclusion

In conclusion, a project car is a personal choice, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all project.

Hopefully the 9 points covered in this checklist article will help you narrow down the choices and manage everything you have to look and take in consideration before buying that chosen car.

Finally, the most important point to remember is that having a project car is an experience, a challenge, and a hobby that should make you truly happy.