How to Rebuild and Restore a Totaled Car

How to Rebuild and Restore a Totaled Car

Lost for some is the ancient art of fixing things. Mechanical repair is called “manufacturing nobility” because it is only for the love of the thing itself that anyone takes the time to rebuild it. Then there are financial issues. Some things are more expensive to replace than to repair, like automobiles. When looked at objectively and compared to some other things, repairing a vehicle is relatively inexpensive when the benefits are taken into account.

So if you are presented with a car that either an insurance company or mechanic has declared “totaled,” you might be tempted to see potential in saving the replacement costs by restoring it. If so, here’s how to proceed.


Before you can address mechanical, structural or electrical problems in your vehicle, you have to be able to see them. This will require you to disassemble your vehicle, very likely from the ground up. You’ll want to start with the damaged areas of the car first, and work your way through the chassis to identify the parts that were not affected by the cause of the damage.

Once the vehicle is in a state where it can be examined, it is often a good idea to have an expert check load-bearing areas like the frame alignment, engine mounts, transmission, and wheel assemblies as undetected damage in these areas can cause considerable safety issues.

Replace Simple Parts

Once a vehicle has been disassembled, you have a unique opportunity to replace items that might otherwise be a hassle. Fuel hoses, gearshifts, plastic assemblies, wires, caps, and belts are all good candidates. Better to have your vehicle re-enter service with a full range of upgraded parts than to rebuild your car around a hose or belt that might fail in 1000 miles.

Check the Manual

Great wisdom is found in the pages of the authorized owner’s manual and the official repair manuals for your vehicle. Often you will find time and money-saving information in those books that may save you the expense of performing the same repair twice or causing further damage by using incompatible parts. If the car doesn’t have its manual for some reason, look for it on

Keep All the Parts

Under no circumstances should you consider any part of your car, even a damaged part, expendable. The reason is even a damaged part can help you identify your vehicle type and be of great use to any parts store or mechanic trying to help you find replacements. If possible, you should photograph all the principal components of your car as they are removed or before they are replaced. This will not only help you know what you have, but it may help your mechanic offer useful advice.


Restoring a totaled vehicle is no small undertaking, but the rewards are worth it, considering the high costs of replacing a vehicle. As with any major project, there’s nothing to be gained by rushing. Take your time and get things done right.

Written by Heffe Nootenboom

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