8 Tips for Getting Started with a Project Car

My goal was to create the car I had always wanted. This was my third Integra, but the first since I became a responsible adult (learn more about my Teggy history here). I bought the car form a kid in Sacramento, who was the second owner. It had about 123,000 miles at the time and he stated that it had been in a little fender bender, but nothing serious. Now I know that it was more serious and some of the car has been resprayed, but it wasn't obvious at the time of purchase.

Anyway, I bought her and was excited to get started with my project car. Unfortunately she stayed in the same exact sad state as I when I first bought her. Life just got in the way. I hadn't spent enough time to nail down what I really wanted to with her. Many times my beautiful and loving wife would ask me "when are you going to do something to your car?". I just found it hard to make time and sourcing the extra cash to do what needed to get done. But honestly, I just did not have a plan!

1998 Acura Integra GSR

Tip One Make a plan

I created an upgrade spreadsheet where I track all the items to replace (maintenance), update, upgrade, and scheduled maintenance. I want my car to have a very long life, I also want her to excel at the track. This spreadsheet (google sheets) has 3 tabs.

Tab One

Is the maintenance schedule. I track all maintenance routines: oil change, oil filter change, and coolant flush. I base the next due date on the Acura recommended guidelines.

Tab Two

Is the maintenance fluids and items. I track the items I use for maintenance: oil type, Mobile 1 Synthetic 5W30, coolant brand, etc. It has a columns for:

  • brand
  • part #
  • manufacturer recommended replace by (date or miles)

This info informs my dates on tab one.

Tab Three

Upgrades and replacements. This is my wish list + progress list. I have several columns on here:

  • Name: Generic basic name like "New headers"
  • Brand: If I have a specific item I have purchased or would like to purchase
  • Part # or Notes: If there's a specific part number or description/link to the item
  • Completed: this column is YES/NO. Really simple, have I installed this item? YES/NO
  • Date Completed: if item is on the car, then I mark the date. This will help if and when something goes out. I can look at when I installed it
  • Before Track: this column is for me, I mark some items as "I need to install this item before I try going to the track". Most of these that are marked YES are for safety reasons.

That's it for my spreadsheet. It will change over time, but i have a plan. How does that saying go?

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it ~ Peter Drucker

Tip Two: Make a budget

Yearly, monthly, quarterly, what ever type of schedule works for you. Put cash aside because this is an expensive hobby.

Tip Three: Prioritize maintenance

If the core of your car is not working well, it does not matter that you have that rad MUGEN header or rad Type R shifter. If the car is older, focus on the what drives the car. It can be hard, because she may be an ugly duckling for a little while, but it is well worth it! Remember that compound interest applies to everything, not just money. The more time and attention you put into maintaining your car, the longer and better she will perform. Make maintenance the priority not an after thought.

Most of my focus has been upgrades to the core components on the car. For example:

  • DCSports headers, mine where cracked and it caused me to fail smog, b-pipe and exhaust
  • catalytic converter & o2 sensors, I figured while I was at it might as well update this
  • struts and shocks, I went with a basic stock setup because I could tell they were due
  • brake pads, same just stock to ensure that I was being safe
  • headlights, I tried polishing mine but they were so foggy it was pretty unsafe
  • distributor o-ring, vtec solenoid upper and engine gasket
  • Skunk2 cam plug
  • valve cover gasket, grommets, and spark plug gaskets
  • Mishimoto radiator, stays, fans, hoses, temperature sensor, oil cap
  • Timing belt, A/C belt, P/S Belt, Alternator belt
  • AEM intake w/K&N filter
  • DCSports Front and rear strut bar, not maintenance
  • Hasport motor and torque mounts, mine where completely shot and the engine pulled hard right under acceleration

Tip Four: Shop around

Now that you have a budget and a plan, now it's time to shop around. Take your time making purchases! I always consider serveral factors before I make purchases:

  1. Is this an "I want this" or "my car needs this" purchase? It doesn't ALWAYS need to be a "need" but remember the plan
  2. Is this item on my master plan?
  3. Is this the best I can buy or is what I want out of my price range? If it's out of your price range, then save your cash and wait. Get what you really want, don't settle.

Where to shop

  • 98gsr.com community join our discord where we all can buy, sell and trade items
  • Craigslist is still a good option
  • Facebook Marketplace is where everyone is currently
  • Instagram follow other enthusiasts that have the same car, look at who they follow. There are many used part resellers in Insta
  • Amazon Buyer beware, but there are also many official stores on here, like Mishimoto
  • eBay the old tried and true! There are deals to be found
  • Direct brand websites: everyone who exists now a days has web presence. Look them up, read reviews, and visit forums

Tip Five: Tools

The right tool does not make you a mechanic, but it will make the job easier. I am not saying go out and spend all your hard earned $$$$ to buy tools. But it is helpful to have the right tools. Some tools are really expensive and some tools, you might only use once. Look around because many places rent tools. Autozone has a tool rental program, just ask.

Tip Six: Manuals, education and time

I highly recommend sourcing the maintenance manuals for your car. eBay has a many Haynes manuals and there are electronic ones also online for free. Scour YouTube for helpful content, do your research before your start a project. Watch several videos from different youtubers. Make sure you understand what needs to be done before you take things a part.

Tip Seven: Find a shop

Find a good local shop that you can work with. Ask questions, take your car in. Inevitably there will be items that you cannot complete on your own, and that's ok. It's going to happen. Learn to lean on the pros.

Tip Eight: relax, it's a marathon not a sprint

Life will get in the way, don't stress. Other things will take priority, it's no the end of the world. Take a deep breath, enjoy the ride.

The prize is found in the journey and not at the finish line.

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