Building a motor vehicle at home was unheard of before the 1920s. The wealthy of the era could, at this time, purchase high-end chassis for customization but the poor could rarely afford vehicles. Rolls-Royce was a popular choice for a chassis and their products were offered up to professional coachbuilders for outfitting.
Over the next decade, cars of all types began seeing customization and soon, street racing became popular. This brought on a need for speed and encouraged young drivers to modify their engines. Following WWII, men were coming home with mechanical skills they didn’t have before the conflict. They put these to use in various ways, including car-building and customization. This act of building, rebuilding, and customizing was dubbed the “hot rod” movement.
Modern car-building looks very different from projects of the past, but one thing remains: the longing for improved aesthetics and performance. Building a car at home is impressive, displaying an aptitude for electrical and mechanical ingenuity. Whether a pastime or career move, a rebuild takes time and patience. Due to the amount of work that goes into these masterpieces, there are plenty of problems and pitfalls surrounding home builds. Here are 15 reasons attempting a home build sucks and 5 that make it worth the effort.
20 That Sucks: Don’t Always Have The Tools Needed
No matter how many torque wrenches and socket sets are bought, a home garage can’t match the supplies of a professional one. Aside from parts, tools are the most essential component of a successful car build. Without them, hot rod builders are left using some obscure MacGyver method or playing the waiting game. Of course, some home mechanics do collect more advanced tools like pipe benders and hydraulic shop presses. However, these require money, space, and in some cases, a check on zoning regulations. Though it sucks that most home builders don’t have every tool they require, it won’t diminish the overall experience. It's the journey, not the finish, that counts most in a home build.
19 That Sucks: Tight Spaces And Poor Lighting
Home garages are made for storing cars, lawn equipment, and garden tools. They rarely come equipped with all the space or lighting needed to perform a full car build. Even with the use of underhood bar lights for engine jobs, most home mechanics will have to invest in additional lighting. Then there’s the space issue; nobody likes squeezing around tool benches and lawn mowers to reach the hood. While the lighting issue can be addressed with some LED shop lights, the only cure for limited space is a building expansion. That, or see if Marie Kondo is willing to do a Tidying Up: Garage Addition.
18 That Sucks: A Lack Of Support
Perhaps the biggest difference between rebuilding a car in a professional garage or at home is the lack of support. In a garage, there are other mechanics, auto body techs, painters, and other professionals to draw wisdom from. At home, car builders are stuck referring to manuals and searching for DIY videos. While there’s plenty of information on a variety of automotive subjects available online, nothing beats experience. Besides, some car builds include extreme customization and modification which may be novel to the industry. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of trial and error, which turns into extra time and money spent on a project.
17 That Sucks: Real Life Gets In The Way
It would be nice if a hot-rod home build came with pay but all it offers is self-satisfaction and grease-stained hands. This means breaks must be taken to work at a real job, spend time with the family, run errands, eat, bathe, sleep, and more. These projects can become all-consuming, making it difficult to put things down and take a break. Many home garages don’t have proper windows, making it difficult to sense the time that's passed, the result of which is more time spent on the car than originally planned. If only real life could wait until the car was fully built—now, that would be something.
16 That Sucks: There’s Never Enough Time
Hand in hand with the unfortunate need to pause mechanical work for real life comes a lack of time. Home builds begin to feel like impossible pipe dreams after a while. They start off strong with plenty of vigor but slowly, the time allotted for these projects dwindle. The problem is that many mechanical jobs are extensive. Once started, they require completion in one fell swoop. This makes it difficult to begin a task, knowing there’s only an hour before something else will come up. Unfortunately, this kind of procrastination leads to incomplete projects and eventual donations to the scrap heap.
15 That Sucks: TV Makes It Look So Easy
Top Gear, The Grand Tour, and Fast N' Loud all make building a car look so easy. Sure, they stumble over mechanical issues from time to time but overall, things get done in a timely fashion. Meanwhile, home garage car builds seem to take years compared to these "weekly challenges" shown on TV. It gets deflating to see James May fix something in 30 minutes with a rubber band and a screwdriver that takes a home mechanic all day. The important thing to remember is these TV mechanics have plenty of tools and assistance at their disposal. Also, sometimes a “quick fix” only seems quick because it’s a 40-minute TV segment.
14 That Sucks: Adhering To Road-Ready Regulations
A major downside to building a car at home is trying to adhere to all the vehicle regulations in effect. From seat belts installed in older model cars to mufflers meeting emissions standards and even sound laws on speaker systems, it’s important to know how low is too low when installing coilovers on a lowrider and which bulbs are too bright for a standard headlight. Road regulations vary by state, province, and country, meaning research is required before customizing a build. This makes home garage work tedious, time-consuming, and sometimes, more expensive. The best bet is to consult with a local garage on basic elements of the build. Don’t forget the airbags!
13 That Sucks: Unrealistic Expectations Get Us Down
Every home mechanic imagines their car build ending like a song in Grease, with a gleaming 1948 Ford DeLuxe convertible rolling off the blocks. This impossible build may have worked for Kenickie and his team, but Grease is a musical, not real life. Hoping to achieve a smooth clear-coat finish with a bottle of spray paint will never happen—just like duct tape will never hold together like a proper weld-job. Setting unrealistic expectations for a home garage build leads to disappointment and abandoned projects. Before attempting a hack or cutting a corner, do some research and take things one step at a time.
12 That Sucks: Friends Ask For Free Car Repair
Working from a home garage is all fun and games until friends catch wind of it. Car repairs cost money, especially if new parts are required to finish a job. Knowing someone who works cheap—or better yet, free—is optimal and some people will take advantage of this. It’s not that helping others isn’t a nice thing to do but it gets old fast if it’s all anyone asks for when they call up late on Friday afternoon. On the bright side, one could leverage these requests into assistance with the home project. That helps with the “lack of support” issue and could even add to the fun.
11 That Sucks: Family Members Refer To It As A “Hobby”
With all the time, money, and effort put into building a car at home, it’s more than a little upsetting when a build is referred to as a hobby. Yes, it’s technically something done in leisure time for enjoyment (which is the definition of a hobby) but it feels like more. Working so hard on a project demands respect and acknowledgment. There are times when a big project like this feels like a career or even an addition to the family. But when it’s passed off as a hobby, it sounds unimportant. A mechanic working on a car in a shop wouldn’t be compared to a hobbyist.
10 That Sucks: It Makes Real Jobs Seem Lame
Finding something one is passionate about, like rebuilding a 1960 Renault Caravelle, makes everything else seem less exciting. Unfortunately, this is true for careers, as well. Spending the weekend finally making headway on those seized brake calipers, only to be called back to the office before the new ones go on, is torture. Of course, if the job is super cool, like an astronaut or NASCAR driver, going back to work isn’t so bad—but for the rest of us, it’s a bit of a letdown. Now, we know why Dom always looked so grumpy at the diner in The Fast and The Furious: he wanted to get back to work in the garage.
9 That Sucks: Making A Mistake Could Mean Hours Of Extra Work
As a home mechanic, there are some tasks and tools which aren’t used often. Novel experiences leave more room for error, especially when a mechanic is on their own. Small mistakes, like using the wrong bulb in a headlight, are a quick fix and can easily be rectified in 30 minutes or less. If you’re replacing something more complex, like a door, there are more working pieces to consider. One missed screw and everything must be removed and reapplied. Perhaps the worst area to make a mistake, though, is the engine. An engine rebuild can take days, so imagine what missing a part would do to a work schedule
8 That Sucks: Time Constraints On Power Tools
While most home mechanics don’t own a myriad of heavy-duty power tools, they’re necessary for some jobs. Unfortunately, community noise regulations restrict the use of these tools to daylight hours. This is particularly frustrating while building a car at home because most day jobs don’t let out until the evening. This puts time constraints on when certain tasks can be done, including drilling, sanding, and dent repair. If power jobs are left to weekends, it extends a project exponentially. This isn’t always a bad thing, it’s just nice to have more control over what gets worked on when. This is never guaranteed in a home garage.
7 That Sucks: It’s A Cash Drain
Building a car at home might sound cheaper than buying a car off the lot but this is rarely the case. Most home mechanics who build cars in their spare time do it out of passion and interest, not to save a buck. The first thing to consider when debating building or buying is the model of the vehicle. Foreign cars with hard to find parts will cost more to build. Bumpers for that Renault Caravelle above, for example, run roughly $1,000 USD. There’s also the tool situation to consider and before starting, the average home mechanic will require roughly $5,000 USD worth of equipment to do the job. Don't forget to include electricity and heat for the garage; it all adds up.
6 That Sucks: It Feels Like It’ll Never Be Finished
It might be the biggest passion project of a home mechanic’s life but there are bound to be days when it feels unending. A combination of time constraint, real-life, lack of supplies, and lack of funding are all reasons a project slows down. When things get too slow, some mechanics check out for a while to work on other things. This only delays the car further. There’s also the excitement factor. Waiting for something exciting to happen always seems to halt time. Hang in there, it feels like forever now but there’s an end in sight and it’s worth the wait.
5 Worth It: There's Always Something To Look Forward To
Some parts of building a car at home suck but it’s not all bad; there are plenty of positives, too. For example, building a car in the home garage means always having something to look forward to at the end of the work week. There are no boring nights spent sitting on the couch binging TV shows and wishing for something to do. Passion projects like car builds are always calling out for attention. It’s not just working on the car that brings joy, though, it’s also picturing the finished project. Nothing brings on a smile like day-dreaming about fast cars and jealous neighbors.
4 Worth It: A Sense Of Accomplishment
Is there any better feeling in the world than building something with two bare hands? The sense of accomplishment which comes from creating a car in a home garage is phenomenal. Whether working from scratch with a body and scrap metal or replacing parts and repairing damage, it feels good to be productive. When the project is finished, seeing something created through hard work and determination is a proud moment. The only thing left to do is drive it around town for all to see and get started on the next car build. Hey, the second time won’t be as difficult, right?
3 Worth It: Convenience Of The Internet
If there’s one thing this generation of home mechanics benefits from that past mechanics didn’t, it’s the internet. The power of the internet means finding information on any subject in a matter of seconds. From DIY blogs to video streaming channels, there’s an unending supply of mechanical knowledge to draw from. One of the best things about this platform is that some auto-related channels are run by professional mechanics. This provides answers straight from the source and significantly cuts down on research time. It even offers insight on rebuilding specific models, from a 1952 Chevrolet Camaro to a 1970 Stingray Corvette.
2 Worth It: Something To Do As A Family
One of the most rewarding aspects of building a car at home is finding something to do together as a family. Whether it’s a spouse who shares an interest in mechanics or a young child longing to imitate their parents, sharing this passion will strengthen bonds. It provides topics for conversion, a new level to relate on, and opens the doors to future hangouts. From time spent in the garage to live car shows, local hot rod events, and days spent on the race track, the options are limitless. Working on a car at home with family also creates a tangible object to be passed down and worked on by new family members later.
1 Worth It: Living Up To Car Heroes
Whether fictional like Sean Boswell and Memphis Raines or real like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Rawlings, building a car brings us closer to our heroes. The terms car hero and superhero are interchangeable for those building a car at home. It brings a sense of community to mechanics, suggesting we, too, could someday drift around a multi-level parking garage in Tokyo with ease. As we get older, real life often gets in the way of youthful dreams. Building a car at home takes back some of this lost freedom, and reintroduces the “what if” factor to life. Who knows, maybe that hot-rod will be the next Batmobile.
Sources: How Stuff Works, Wikipedia, and IMDb.