Why I Pay the Pros to Do My Repairs

Kyle Smith

My work life has been all about cars, but I have a confession to make: Fixing what’s broken is not my thing. Sure, I can glue stuff and I know my way around some of the most basic tools, but a handyman I am not. Online courses taken at YouTube University have helped, but the reality is that you just don’t want anything DIY’d by Dave.

In my field of valuing cars, however, I have many examples of much better DIY work. This includes everything from simple fixes to entirely home-built automobiles. When it comes to the value of these cars, it all comes down to two simple words: build quality.

Yep, build quality. Hot rods? Build quality. Restored cars? Build quality. Rebuilt wrecks? Build quality. For anything that has been extensively touched by humans or machines not employed by the factory, those two words overrule the rest. And, in general, a repair or modification that leaves your car significantly different or objectively worse than when it left the factory will likely make it worth less than the same car in highly original or properly restored condition. Work done by well-known professionals also generally has a better value outlook down the line than even competent work you’ve done at home.

Of course, there are nuances here. The first has to do with the kind of car. Generally speaking, the more exotic and expensive the vehicle, the greater the scrutiny on your handiwork. For example, about 15 years ago, I looked at a Bentley whose dash had been replaced with plywood. Had this been a 1950s MG or an old pickup, I might have found this charming or at least forgivable. But a Bentley? Not so much.

For true high-dollar classics, the mere lack of a receipt for maintenance work from a reputable shop can be a black mark. I admire anyone with the gumption to attempt an engine-out belt replacement on a Ferrari, but I’m willing to bet it won’t sell for as much as one that’s had the service done by professionals and has the paperwork to prove it. For a buyer, receipts are reassuring.

The next question here—and forgive me for getting personal—is who are you? What skills or qualifications do you really have? Think about it this way—a classic maintained at home by an aerospace engineer is going to attract more buyers than one maintained at home by a tax attorney. In the end, though, the work usually speaks for itself. When a car presents with a poor-quality paint job, incorrect parts or a botched interior re-do, the value prospects become dimmer.

The same basic rules apply to kit cars. From the 1950s and well into the 1980s, they were offered and built everywhere. You’d find them in the back pages of magazines for the mechanically inclined, as prizes on game shows, in the lots of new and used-car dealerships, even on raised displays at airports. The Mercedes (kinda almost) look-alike SSK’s, the VW-powered fiberfab exotic racers, the faux MG TDs with a motor mounted in the rear. The values for these projects depends heavily on how well they were finished (and, for that matter, if they were finished at all). The difference in quality between a kit car built to last a lifetime and one built to last a lunchtime is obvious. The difference in value between the two is astonishing. A professionally built or even factory-produced replica of a classic is also always going to be of better quality, and therefore worth money, than a replica built by a DIYer.

None of this is meant to discourage anyone from wrenching on their own car. I’m in awe of those who can use those skills that I don’t possess—the building, fixing, repairing and restoring of automobiles. And, enjoyment rather than monetary value, should always be the primary return on a classic car. Yet if we’re talking about protecting an investment, it’s important to make sure work is done properly—even if that means paying an expert.


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    This advice really depends on what type of collector you are, and as you pointed out, who you are. l don’t collect for value. I collect because I like the cars and I like tinkering on them. And of course along those lines, I do not seek out the ‘special’ versions with low miles on the odometer. I do all of my own work… with the exception of tires, and I’m on the fence on painting. Who am I? an ex mechanic, which is an important piece of the puzzle. My build quality is not 4.0, but the build is part of the sport for me. I also tend to resurrect vehicles that had a dire future ahead if they did not end up with me. Somewhere between 2 and 4 of my current stable would be parts of someone’s new car if I did not intervene on their behalf. Moral of the story – not all of us are investment collectors, and if you aren’t, tinker away, but you probably want to stay away from the Bentleys

    High end cars depend on receipts from the dealer on service.

    Regular cars just receipts be it just from a parts store matter.

    Finally if you are building a custom car documentation matters if you are not Chip Foose. Keep a note book of the receipts, parts lists, part numbers and photos of the work being done. Documentation helps qualify what you did and adds value to the build.

    Too often a restored car or custom car undocumented is hard to tell from a hack job. Detail photo of the chassis, the body bare and original condition help show the true health of a car. It can add value to the smart buyer.

    Now you have to find a competent professionnal that will do a quality job on your Miata as if it was a Bentley or a Ferrari.

    I think they’re really are two camps here.
    both learn and invest but in diffrent ways

    One are people with money write
    checks for the people to do the work professionally in an invesment for a return
    dollar wise or emotionally when others comment in a variety of ways ( awards )

    Two there are people who enjoy wrenching or don’t have the money for others to do the work .they like doing it not because there’s money involved it is an investment of time and personnel satisfaction with a personnel end result others commenting are not that important in the big picture

    I have to agree that build quality is number one in determining the overall quality and value, cars are only original once, a LOT happens after 50 yrs., there are MANY variables, and each person looks at the same car differently.

    While some people are more mechanically inclined than others I think the difference between a good DIY’er and a bad one often comes down to a matter of curiosity. There are some people who can swap out parts ( and do it well enough ) but that’s about as far as it goes. There are those jobs that come down to simply getting out the tools and doing the grunt work. However sometimes while you may know what the problem is, what needs replacing and that will do the job, knowing how the entire system works your not absolutely sure of. That’s where the curiosity factor comes into play. You may find yourself saying- ‘I know what this is and what it does. And I know what that is and what it does. But what is that? What does it do? How does it tie into the system?’ – Until. – ‘If this does this and that does that…ah that must.’ Diagnosing the problem is often the hardest part. Being able to think your way through is, at least in part, a skill that can be learned. Having a natural curiosity helps.

    The professional shop has to be carefully chosen as carefully as the vehicle and the said restoration and/or modification. How many times did I see someone who refurbished all the mechanical systems on a poor condition body? Or worse yet, an undesirable model or trim level thinking that they’ll get a return on their investment. When I was in school, countless times I saw boatloads on cash thrown at cars that didn’t have the proper “bones” to be worthwhile.

    Also when it comes to working on a car you have got to know your limitations.

    Emotionally secure owners will seek help before they get in too deep.

    My 80s S-Class was owned by an aerospace engineer and now owned by me with 20 years of cumulative vehicular repair experience. That makes it valuable, right?
    Other than the failed clear coat and 313k miles on the odometer, of course.

    Great article with many great points. However I take issue with this statement: “A professionally built or even factory-produced replica of a classic is also always going to be of better quality, and therefore worth money, than a replica built by a DIYer.” ALWAYS going to be better quality? Professionals have varying skill levels, as do DIYers. The top DIYers are probably more skilled than a lot of professionals. Also, the professional has to be able to make a profit, which can mean limiting the amount of time spent on a project. A highly skilled DIYer that’s building a “labor of love” doesn’t have this limitation. So yes, overall professional work is probably better than DIY work, but this is certainly not ALWAYS true.

    Ok, make it 99% of the time. With a DIYer it’s usually a learning experience (which can be enjoyable); with a professional it’s usually a “been there, done that” and you’re paying for his experience.

    I wouldn’t drive a car I built. Went to look at a rare and valuable car 1/2 body shop restoration, 1/2 home done by a very smart person, gaps wrong, welds poor, he demanded his car was “concours” not by a country mile.

    Lots of good points here and in Kinney’s post. One point I’ll make, regardless of one’s abilities or inclination to DIY maintenance, the collector car market varies in its judgment as to the value or lack thereof depending on the make and type of car. Take two cars I have, for example: and 1970 Corvette LT-1 and a 2000 Ferrari 550 Maranello.

    It’s probably safe to say that most classic Corvette owners (at least those of my Boomer generation) have wrenched on cars since high school. DIY maintaining or modding your C2 or C3 ‘vette is almost expected. It’s the quality of results that matter more than whether you work on cars for a living. C2/C3 ‘vettes are simple enough with excellent parts availability such that the average owner with average wrenching skills can tackle most maintenance jobs fairly easily, with good results. Therefore, the market tends to not penalize a DIYer’s ‘vette value-wise if the car is a good one.

    With Ferraris, on the other hand, buyers want to see repair and maintenance receipts. They want to know that all the requisite work on these cars has been done and there is a strong preference for professional vs. DIY. A Ferrari dealer might be preferred, but a reputable indie shop is acceptable as long as you have proof that the maintenance or repair work was done. True, there are plenty of DIY Ferrari and other exotic car owners who are capable of doing their own work, but as the market much prefers professionals to DIY on these cars, this gets reflected in lower value on DIY-maintained cars. Like it or not that’s just the way it is.

    Like so many things, it all depends…

    Yes, it does. And a ‘Vette is a lot different and more common than a Ferrari. Usually different type of buyer, too.

    Some years ago the nose of my award winning S1 E-type got wrinkled in a low speed mishap. I’m retired, enjoy precise restoration work and I’m good at it, having a perfectionist bent nurtured over decades of experience. I opted to file a claim. One of the many great things about Hagerty is allowing you to choose a restoration shop. One with a stellar reputation for having restored an Amelia Island prize winner was only a few hours away so that’s who I chose, though they were well booked up and it would be 8 weeks before I could deliver the car and rendezvous there with the adjuster. When I arrived and entered the shop I very nearly turned around and left when I witnessed a damaged 20’s Rolls rear fender heavily laden with plastic body filler being sculpted back into shape. I’d painstakingly restored this car over a period of 3 years using zero plastic filler and insisted the repair follow the same standard, and after some discussion between the shop owner, the compliant Hagerty adjuster and myself came to an understanding. I visited the shop a few times as work progressed and the end result was as good as anything I could do myself, but it took over seven weeks. 15+ weeks since the mishap. I learned later that another great Hagerty option is they’ll allow you to negotiate doing your own repairs and I could have done the work myself, to the same high standard, in two or three weeks and have had the car to enjoy a whole lot sooner. Having to do it over again that’s precisely what I would do. Moral of the story, professional shops work to a budget and their work may look great but be only skin deep, and in the end the cost will be measured in time as well as dollars.

    My car is definitely not a collector car, I got it so my 7 year grandson and I can drive around with the top down and look cool (his words, but I agree). I don’t have the time, the tools, or the place to do my own work so I have a very good mechanic who loves working on old cars, and a body shop guy that’s been working on old cars for over 20 years. They get job done for me and my grandson and I get to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

    Like someone already said, it’s your time or your money. What do you want to spend?

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