Car Restoration Projects That Help Teach Life Lessons

Source | Ron Lach

You don't have to be a big-time car enthusiast for your first vehicle to impact your life greatly. Think back to when you got your driver's license and own car. You felt on top of the world, especially when you were handed the keys for your first solo drive. This newfound freedom and independence is an exciting milestone in any young person's life – and usually lasts until that first car repair comes along. We've all been there: hood up, tools out and seeking advice from a parent, neighbor or another handy adult to get over this hurdle. It's one of life's many important lessons.

But it's not one that needs to wait – understanding how a car runs, breaks down and gets fixed is an essential life skill. And for many teens and pre-teens, working alongside an adult on a classic car restoration project to see how it looked and ran in its glory days is an excellent way to acquire this life skill and build lasting bonds.

The Many Lessons of Pre-Enjoyed Vehicle Ownership

Let's say you find an older, yet barn-fresh vehicle online. Or you happen to walk through a dealer lot and spot a car that isn't quite in cherry condition. Yet, you are convinced the vehicle has real promise for a buyer who can spend quality time with it and show the car some TLC. Make sure your teen understands that the price of the car is only the beginning, especially with a used car that has high mileage. They need to be prepared for maintenance, repairs, insurance and fuel costs.

There are many automotive restoration projects which parents, caregivers or mentors can complete with a child or teen in their life. You can start with a small project like restoring headlights or installing a new battery, then move up to bigger projects as you gain confidence and skill. Owner's manuals are an excellent resource for information about replacement parts, fluids and how-to instructions. In addition, you and your teen can learn from automotive pros on YouTube before getting started or if you need advice mid-project.


Source | Cottonbro Studio

Visiting a local Advance Auto Parts store or visiting our project guides can also help get you back on the road fast. We've outlined some valuable DIY car restoration projects that you can bookmark to help you and your social media-obsessed teen spend quality time together.

1. Responsibility

No matter who sits in the driver's seat, restoring an aging vehicle requires focus, commitment and follow-through to complete the job. A project can help to reinforce the importance of following instructions. It's always good to have a plan.

When replacing safety-related parts like brake rotors or pads, installing them properly and testing them is crucial. Simply popping the hood or crawling under the vehicle (when jack stands are securely in place) helps a person see a car or truck from a different perspective. With safety measures in place, it provides an ideal setting to discuss the importance of safe driving, whether they have their license now or if that rite of passage is still a few years off.

For many adults and young people, completing a project with your hands provides a rare kind of satisfaction that you can't get from playing a video game or buying something at the store. So many of our days are interrupted by screens, social media and texting, leaving teens with a reputation for having goldfish-like attention spans. The focus, patience and delayed rewards that come with automotive restoration teach teens the lessons older generations learned before the invention of streaming television and food delivery apps. Good things come to those who wait and are willing to work for it, like responsibility and character.

2. Teamwork

Sports are an excellent opportunity to learn about supporting your teammates and how each person has their own mental or physical strengths. Restoring a car is a different kind of teamwork, but the rewards can be significant. Any successful team needs a great coach and mentor.

Even if you don't have many mechanical skills, learning together as you go is a fantastic opportunity. It might be your first auto repair project or one of many but it gives everyone the opportunity to view from different perspectives when completing the job successfully. You can foster maturity and mutual respect along the way.

Start the project by showing your teen how to change tires or prep the vehicle for priming and painting. Then, after a while, you can pass the wrench, tire iron or sanding block to your assistant and give them some hands-on experience and life skills.

3. Budgeting

Estimating how much an auto restoration project will cost and paying for it over time is a perfect opportunity to learn about creating and sticking to a budget. You might have bought the car for your future or young driver, but allow them to finance the restoration with money from their part-time job or allowance. Help your child have some skin in the project game if they will drive the vehicle. They will value the car even more if they put sweat and financial equity into it.

4. Motivation

Some teenagers will jump at the opportunity to be a part of your car or truck restoration, while others might prefer to ride their skateboard or keep their eyes glued to their digital screen. Instead of pushing the child to assist with the restoration, give them good reasons to want to help you with minimal encouragement.

Open the garage door on summer days, play the music you both (or all) like and shop for parts and tools together. Make the experience as positive as possible and allow them to observe or be as hands-on as they are comfortable with. If they think you are enjoying the project along the way, they will likely be more enthusiastic about helping out.

5. Learning From Your Mistakes

Leaving a buffer in your budget and schedule for an inevitable mistake or two will take the stress out of taking a few steps back before moving forward again. Recovering from failures and being patient are crucial life lessons for anyone at any life stage. Set a good example and be easy on yourself and your child.

As Henry Ford once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."

6. Working Within Your Limitations

For some repairs, you might find it better to get professional auto mechanics to complete the task. Identifying your strengths and limits is important for everyone, as is knowing when to hire a professional when you are out of your depth. You can find reliable, Advance Professional Technet-certified shops near you on our website.

7. Creativity

You and your teen can use many after-market accessories, paint colors and performance parts in your car or truck restoration project.

Give them some latitude to customize the car to their taste if they will be the principal driver to help them flex their creative muscles. Yet be there to remind them that their preference for non-traditional colors or styles may change and how challenging it can be to reverse their first choice.

Source | Kampus Production

Restoring a car with your teenager is more than just an opportunity to work on a vehicle; it is a chance to teach valuable life skills and strengthen your bonds. From responsibility to creativity and teamwork to learning from mistakes, many lessons are gained throughout the restoration process, along with memories.

Need advice, ideas and manufacturer-approved replacement parts and accessories to advance your auto restoration project? Visit our project guide pages for a step-by-step look at some of the most common DIY projects, or visit your local Advance Auto Parts store.

Are you planning a car restoration project with a child in your life, or do you remember working on an auto repair project as a kid? Share your experience in the comments!

Last updated May 31, 2023