Tech Corner: Planning a Project Car Build – Before You Start, Know How to Finish

The first time you build a project car, you’ll find that the market is so well-stocked that you can do virtually anything you want to your ride. You can make old boats handle like a dream, convert practical daily drivers into off-road monsters, and add creature comforts to classic rides whose idea of “modern luxury” was seats. The sky’s the limit, friend! However, as any car enthusiast will tell you, it’s easy to get carried away. That’s why properly planning a project car build is not only critical to staying within your budget, it’s a surefire way to make that dream comes true before you’re too old to enjoy it.

Know What You Want

Project car builds take time—like hundreds-of-hours kind of time. And as time passes, it sure is easy to start thinking of more add-ons and modifications. The problem with these distractions is that not only can they kill your budget and timeline, they can actually change the original intentions you had for the vehicle. When you’re planning a project car build, it’s important that you really sit down and think about what it is you want.

Hot Rod Network offers some great advice on how to stay on track and avoid the headaches: “Before you spend dollar one on a car or on parts, have a firm idea of what kind of car you want to build—that means exactly what kind of car. Not just a year and make, but the style of the car, how it will sit, what kind of driveline you want, how you will use it, that sort of thing. You should be able to see the car in your mind’s eye down to some pretty fine detail.”

Practice a Little Restraint

A common mistake that beginners make when planning a project car build is underestimating the cost of speed parts. Adding more power might be the most popular modification gearheads look for, and it’s one we at the Engine Block fully support. But going from a few modest power-adders to an all-out monster overhaul can quickly flush your budget down the tubes. Additionally, a ton of power can really hinder the vehicle’s capability for practical use. And remember, more power means stronger parts. If you go too far, you’ll find that the drivetrain will need to be beefed up to handle that new output—squeezing that much more from your wallet. Unexpected build ups due to impulsive add-ons are a great way to wind up with a very expensive, yet gutted, car in the driveway.

As one very wise commenter on Jalopnik said: “Turbo boost is addictive, man. It takes a tremendous amount of self-control to keep from blowing up your car when you know just the twist of a screw could give you another 100hp.” Amen, brother.

Minimize Distractions

For truck guys, wanting that sweet lift and bigger tires is only natural. And for show trucks or off-road monsters, you can get away with quite a bit of modifying. But if you just want the look on a daily driver, there are some surprise obstacles that you may not realize. For instance, after that truck is lifted and decked out with bigger rubber, you’re going to discover that your ride feels a lot less powerful. And the bigger you go, the worse this issue becomes. Just to get the baseline power back, you may need lower ring gears and maybe even some power-adders under the hood.

In most cases, this isn’t a deal-breaker, as it’s very easy to find the drivetrain parts you need to accommodate suspension mods. But once you start toying around with the differential, you might start leaning toward changing the carrier, maybe even the whole axle itself. All of which will take a toll on your already-strained budget. Factoring in these upgrades when you’re first planning a project car build will help keep you on track, otherwise you’ll spend more time in the garage than on the road.

Writer Devaughn Dunbar offers some excellent advice over at the Scraped Crusaders blog on how to avoid getting lost in the build: “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. A car should be upgraded as a driver grows. A driver that is more advanced than a car is always cooler to watch than a car that is more advanced than the driver. There needs to be a seat-time to build-time ratio taken into consideration when taking up these projects. A car owner will never have as much fun building a car than they will beating the hell out of it. Cars are meant to be driven.”

Stick to the Plan

Similarly, as easy as it is to get carried away with performance modifications, so too can creature comforts get in the way. Vehicles that can easily transition from street to track are considerably more desirable these days, as enthusiasts try to bridge the gap between their hobby and their wallet. But more accessories and comfort options don’t just weigh down a vehicle or throw off balance, they can draw power from the engine. Individually, they may not have much effect. But the more you add, the more they can really bog down your ride.

Again, that’s why when you’re planning a project car build, you lay out your intentions for the vehicle early. With a true track performer, less is more and sacrifices must be made. That might mean giving up heat and A/C or the back seat. Cuts you may not want to make if you plan to use that ride as a daily driver.

Ultimately, when building a car, the world is your oyster. You can take the modifications as mild or wild as your heart desires. Our advice is simply to make that decision early on in the planning process. It’s easy to want to jump right in and see where a project takes you. But with something as complicated as project car building, having a solid plan in place will serve you well. And the truth is that, even when planning a project car build, hiccups will happen. Parts will break, mistakes will be made, and you’ll never stay within budget. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to find a detour when you have a road map.

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