Communication: Consider how you will communicate with the shop. The ideal situation is usually finding a local shop which allows you to visit to see the progress, as well as be more involved. If that's not possible, find a shop which is willing to provide regular updates, including pictures of their progress. It's human nature to work harder to please a customer who they know will be involved, personally interested, and who expects updates on the project. Of course, that is only up to a point, as too much of that can be annoying for a shop owner, and might work in the opposite direction. When reviewing how things are progressing, be quick to praise good work, but also candid (but tactful) in asking questions and providing feedback on what you think. It's a lot easier to address issues at that point, rather than after the project is finished.
Estimate: Once you feel comfortable with a particular shop, it's time for them to look your car over in detail. Will they put their estimate in writing? Find out what their hourly labor rates will be. Those could differ between body and paint work versus mechanical labor. Also find out if there are additional charges for things such as shop supplies or storage fees. Recognize that a car restoration project isn't the same as getting an estimate on painting a house. Many times, neither the restorer nor you can know exactly what lies beneath the surface, or what issues you will encounter until the car is disassembled and stripped. Having a written estimate should provide a base for understanding both the cost and type of work originally intended. If you need or decide to do additional work, at least you have a starting point, and both of you are working from a common understanding. Ask if a deposit is required, and at what stages additional payments are expected. Establish these in advance, so you aren't surprised and your project isn't interrupted. Also ask them about their standing behind their work. Do they provide a written warranty and, if so, for how long?
Cost vs. Value: When deciding on which shop to go with, our preference is to look for value rather than focusing mainly on the bottom-line price. As usual, "the devil lies in the details," and some shops might come in with a lower estimate, but be sure they lay out in writing what they will do, so you can be sure you are making an apples-to-apples comparison of each shop's estimate. Frankly, we would be wary of a shop which would be willing to settle for doing less than what they feel is necessary. That could work to the disadvantage of both you, as well as the shop. From your perspective, you might not get what you really want and, from the shop's perspective, their work on your project is a reflection of their quality and attention to detail. It wouldn't do either any good to have an example out there that is less than the best that can be done reasonably.
After All is Said and Done
No doubt many of the projects a shop sees are those which have either been previously done poorly, or are half-finished by another shop or owner. Those can be expensive experiences for an owner, and a good example of doing your best to select the right shop the first time. While there's no guarantee that every restoration project will go perfectly, doing the up-front work will help minimize that chance. It wouldn't be surprising, though, to find that a large project will take longer and cost more than you originally thought. A well-thought-out project plan will help contain the costs and time, but even the best plan is unlikely to foresee every contingency.
As with most good business relationships, both you and the shop owner are hoping for a positive experience where each party is proud of the end product, and happy with the results. You should feel that you've received good value for your money, and the restorer should be happy to use your car as an example of their workmanship, as well as having received a reasonable profit for their work. After all, we are in the hobby to enjoy the experience, and the personal relationships we form are a major part of our enjoyment. How good you feel about the finished product, and of your experience during the project, are key aspects to achieve. Hopefully, you will be as satisfied with yours as we have been with our many projects. Best of luck with your project.
Top ten reasons to avoid some restoration shops
10. Your first call was answered with "Ronnie's Restoration and Pawn Shop Emporium"
9. Their Better Business Rating said "run, and run fast"
8. Instead of spray guns all you see are paint rollers and paint cans from Home Depot
7. Their car lift consists of cement blocks and two by eights
6. When you asked for references you were handed a lengthy rap sheet
5. Their written estimate was done in crayon
4. When you mentioned NCRS they said yes, they were charter members of "Never Care, Repair, or Satisfy"
3. When you mentioned outsourcing, they pointed to the small building out back with the moon on the door
2. When you asked about insurance they pointed to the pit bull already sniffing your ankle, and, the Number 1 reason to avoid a restoration shop:
1. The shop manager is named Larry and his two workers are his brothers Darryl and Darryl