According To You: Things That Make You “Call It a Day” on a Project

garage bibs hung up vertical
Unsplash/Kimi Albertson

Last week we asked the Hagerty Community about when they decide its time to take a break from working on a project. Not necessarily quitting, just merely quitting for the day.

Your answers were insightful, and are likely to give everyone reading some personal validation in their own circumstances. One particular response was aimed directly at my comment about throwing in the towel when a hydraulic lift fails. Hagerty Community member JW suggested a better alternative:

Lifts are a frustration that I don’t want to deal with if I don’t have to. Which is why when I design my dream garage it’s going to have an inspection pit so general maintenance things are free from the stress of worrying about 4000 lbs falling on my head.

Not going to lie, my dream garage would have enough space for both an inspection pit and enough vehicle lifts to store all the cars I wanted as a child. If only dreams could come true … in the meantime, let’s get back to the things that make you “call it a day” on your project:

Don’t Try To Get It Right

Jeep CJ-5 Renegade

Jeepcj5: Dread. I never understood “running when parked” until I did just that because I dreaded a complete front end rebuild on a car. I was afraid of it snowballing into more, so I kept putting it off. Time, life, kids, etc. and before I knew it 10 years had passed and the car hadn’t moved.

My 12 year old son had no memories of the car ever running. One day last year I decided it was time to do the repair and either drive it or sell it. I think it took a Saturday and a few evenings and it was done. We’ve been enjoying it and aren’t going to sell it. I try to take Freiburger’s motto to combat my dread now—don’t get it right, just get it running.

Take a Break and Tough It Out?

Car Restoration Hard Work
Gabe Augustine

(Several interesting points came out of this particular thread, so we are publishing them in series, unedited.)

hyperv6: My limits are general: Lack of parts at 1 AM and no one open, or the major loss of blood or related major loss of flesh.

Otherwise just keep on trucking. You can’t let things rattle you or you will never get it fixed. If frustrated, just stop get a drink of cold water, look for advice on Youtube and get back at it. If I had things going wrong rattle me too much I would never get much done. All 15 min jobs take an hour.

Joe King: Agreed with parts availability and tending to a wound, but I don’t know that I fully agree with that last point. There is little glory (or sense of accomplishment) to me in toughing it out when something just won’t go my way, unless that means I need to hitch a ride to work the next day. I can’t tell you how many times not calling it a night has resulted in something even more broken than when I started.

hyperv6: Well, my mind set comes from making a living working on cars. You just can’t walk away from a customer’s car. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence or maturity to keep things in check and you just have to learn it when working on cars for a living. Walking away is not an option.

Joe King: I honestly didn’t get the impression that was the mindset from the “lack of parts at 1 AM piece”. I know few mechanics who are that dedicated or hate their families that much to stay at work that late.

Anyways, I think 99% of the readers here come from a hobbyist background and the professional mechanic mindset doesn’t need to apply and the “some people can and some people can’t” comment somewhat gives me the impression that your view is that if you can’t tough it out, then you shouldn’t be in the shop.

Either way, I get your view, but I am just not sure it is applicable to most of the people in this space. If you have the luxury to walk away, regroup and hit it again fresh in an hour or two or even the next day, then there is a lot of honor in that.

Know your limitations

Matt and Davin installing dynamat sound deadener
Stefan Lombard

hyperv6: The greatest key to success here is also know your limitations. Be it knowledge or even the lack of correct tools to do the job. Know the job before you take off the first part. Today Youtube is a great help, as are forums and other sites that hold info. Like taking a trip read the map before you go not after you get lost same here on working on the vehicle.

“Frustration is what you make of it”

embarrassed man with hands on face
Getty Images/PhotoAlto

BMD4800: When I used air tools it was time. Now with electrics, it is mostly dictated by what is happening the next day. Frustration is what you make of it. Laugh it off, take a moment and re-examine the scenario.

I keep a box of pawn shop tools that can be cut, welded, bent, or modified for specialty purposes. Fabricating a solution makes it enjoyable too.

Frequency of Cuss Words?

man pulling hair out frustration
Unsplash/Ryan Snaadt

DUB6: There are so many examples and variables that I can’t just cite a “general rule—” but for the most part, I will just know that the limit is reached, and it’s time to stop “for now”. Often, my level of cuss words is an indicator.

Maybe Do Something Else To It Instead?

porsche alcantara steering wheel wipe down
Richard Tipper

DUB6: Just this past weekend, I was struggling with removing a buggered key-lock hood pin mechanism. After breaking a drill bit and nearly scratching a shiny hood, I put the tools away, wiped off my fingerprints, and just took the car for a drive. I don’t really need under that hood for awhile, unless I get an engine fire!

Yesterday, a calmed-down me successfully drilled out the offending hood pin and installed a new one. It was obviously the correct thing for me to stop wrestling with it for a few days and go back to it when my frustration level had subsided. I was so happy that I decided that an under hood detailing session was in order!

Well, What Time Is It?

Land Rover Classic Trophy_ clock
Land Rover Classic

TG: 7:00 PM is my general cutoff point for wrapping up a project for the day. I have enough toys to drive that there is never an extreme need to finish a project today.

When I Feel Like a Kid Again? 

Frustrated young man screaming into mirror
Unsplash/Christopher Ott

Craig: I know it’s time to stop when I start to feel like I’m an inexperienced angry teenager again. Back then I had to fix it to get to work and there was no YouTube for help. I used brute force and stupidity when anger took intelligence out of the equation. Ha.

Now I have so many luxuries. Time, experience, the internet, alternative transportation. When I start to feel like I did as a kid and this fun hobby isn’t anymore I realize how silly I’m being and take a break. I call a buddy, watch a YouTube video, finally feed myself. I like to channel my inner Stacey David from the show “Trucks!” back in the 90’s. That guy was so prepared, patient, happy, and dedicated to doing a good job. He is always my ideal when I lose my crap.

When The Instructions Become Contradictory

Corvair service manual carb drawing
Kyle Smith

Not old not grumpy: If I am diligently following directions and turn the page on said directions to find they directly contradict what I was told to do on the previous page, I take a break.

When Something Intervenes

family first hands together over black
Unsplash/Liv Bruce

John: Actually it’s quitting time when I need a part and can drive another old car to the auto parts store, or when it’s too cold to keep going or when lunch or dinner is prepared by family and continuing would jeopardize that situation.

Cars are fun, getting old cars going is fantastic but rushing to the finish line more often than not results in time wasted, pointless arguments with loved ones and less focus on better fixes, which come from enough time to plan and mentally rehearse an operation.


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    I recall the horrors of past restorations and builds, and how they became funny stories – the kind of dark sarcasm that makes others who’ve “been there” tell similar stories – later, when we can laugh at how miserable an experience was. Sometimes, though, it’s wise to walk away for a bit, reconsider the task and your approach, and then come back with the attitude of not letting the car beat you. The problem is often just an emotional (over)reaction, right ?

    I stop when it stops being fun and becomes stressful work. I don’t work on daily drivers any longer, because that’s stress I don’t need just to get to work the next day. I’m at the point in my life where my wife has a new car and I have a nearly new car with a great warranty, so the days of me replacing a broken part to be at work at 8:00 the next morning are (hopefully!) long behind me.

    If things get too stressful for my project car and I still have time to dedicate to it I change tasks and come back to the offending part/procedure later. That usually means I’ve bought a different/better part to fix it properly, bought the tool that would make the job easier, or solved the issue in my head to make the task go properly.

    All of the above; but subcategory for me — electrical, electrical. electrical. My Achilles heel, apparently. I rebuilt overdrive (B_W) transmissions when I was 19, painted cars when 21, but never have mastered the circuitry. Your handbook errors issue is large here: I bought an EZ Wiring harness (21-circuit, looks like 19 to me) and the materials are good, the wiring is color-coded and marked (and generous), but the manual is not much more than B.W. Wires exist that are not acknowledged, circuits are shown that don’t seem to exist, and color-codes include bi-colored wires that aren’t in the set. What else? Ever pay for an electrical specialist to sort things out… at $150/hr.? Ouch! I could go on… Wick

    Project coming to a halt…. Starter went dead while in paint shop. Not a starter to replace it anywhere in the country. Local shop has to send it away for complete overhaul and rebuild armature. Six weeks maybe!!!!

    Weather is a big one for me. I don’t have a shop or large garage, so work done on the car itself is outside. But, where I live, especially now, the weather makes it difficult to get a lot of work done. It’ll be 110°F today, so I have to go out in the early morning, or when the sun starts to go back down.
    But, on the other hand, our winter temps are like highs of 65°F, so winter is the driving season here.

    Isn’t it odd that our seasons are reversed here in the Phoenix valley. In late spring you put away the classic cars and motorcycles and buckle down for the summer heat, and rejoice when winter finally returns.

    There are times when I feel like I’m wandering in a dark cave, banging into walls everywhere. If I can’t just walk away, I force myself to just clean something. Anything. Put your tools away, wipe down a marked up wall, polish a tail light. Finish that chore and reward yourself with a hall pass.

    I recently installed a new battery. The old one was not dead, however, it was old and if it did give up, I’m not comfortable jumping a 6 volt system with someone’s 12 volt car. The car would not start with the new battery. Voltage was good, starter spun, however, no voltage to the ignition coil. Traced wires, connections, and replaced ignition switch. Headlights stopped working, no brake lights, no turn signals. Interior lights and exterior parking lights did work. That was the point when I realized that I was in over my head and the more stubborn I got the more damage I could do. Happy to walk away! Called for a tow truck. Took it to the dealership. They have had it for 10 days. Haven’t made any more progress than I did, however, they get paid to not walk away. Their problem is there is no OBD to tell them what is wrong.

    This. I changed the alternator in my son’s Nissan pickup this week. After the first start, dash lights stay on and a relay clicks with the key out of the ignition. I checked for bad grounds, swapped relays around, pulled ignition switches, checked fuses put the old failing alternator back in…no change. I had it towed to a highly rated shop that had the words “Auto Electric” on the front door. They’ve had it a week and changed all kinds of parts I’d already ruled out. It’s OBD II, but this is a multimeter/wiring diagram deal that is obviously beyond my, and likely his abilities. Troubleshooting electrical gremlins is where I need to learn to give up earlier!

    It’s often like my crossword puzzles. I just don’t get it sometimes. Look at it hours later, or the next, day and it’s easy. Same goes for wrenching on my 50 year old truck.

    When I am working and “think” a previous repair I did was wrong or poorly done. I am working on stopping on the new repair and taking time before I decide my original one was no good.

    I often find that I jump to conclusions about my previous work when so focused on the new goal.

    Yeah the clock system works for me. Weekends can get tied up with life so getting in time in the garage haven after work is what I get. Curfew is 9PM: at that point I am either hurrying something or mad at it- and that is when bad decisions get made.
    Also totally agree with taking the loooong tasks and breaking into them with something that is short, or ‘shows’ that lets you feel like the ball is moving.

    When I smoked, if I got frustrated, I would leave the shop, go on the porch and have a cigarette. Now, when I get frustrated, I say, “shit, I wish I had a cigarette.”

    I used to time stuff with a cigarette- how long to run the fuel pump and run the car you know- Yeah I miss them cigs sometimes.

    Busted knuckles from pushing on a wrench in a tight spot prior to learning to always pull….. (age 16 maybe?)

    I don’t know how many times I have been frustrated attempting to start flared fittings such as brake or transmission lines. After twenty minutes of struggling and starting to think about using a wrench to start the line, I walk away. Just about every time I can thread the line on by hand instantly when I come back.

    This is a good example as to why we need a “like” button. 🙂

    I’ve found the same to be true. The next day I’ll go in and put something like a flare fitting together and wonder why it was being so difficult the last time I tried to do it!

    double on like button – that was my exact comment. Trying to get that one thing in that really difficult place — 30 minutes of trying and two choices cross the mind. Throw a hammer or walk away and 99% of the time after walking away to come back and try again… it just falls into place.

    I am 66 years old, retired and have a nice shop in my back yard that i tend to keep full of (toys) projects. when my fingers stop working right and I start dropping or cross threading things which can be at times frustrating I will walk away and try again later because I have the luxury of not being in a hurry. I am rebuilding a 50 chevy pickup and have realized that each piece is a project (painting the air cleaner, rebuilding the generator or the tail lights) This way I can claim a lot of small victories witch keeps my project from getting overwhelming

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