One of the biggest expenses we incur while fixing up our cars is the paint job. As the cars we love get older and older, it's just hard to find one to restore that doesn't need a significant amount of body repair. If you live in the rustbelt or certain coastal areas, your car may even need to have all or most of the sheetmetal replaced or repaired, which involves hours of labor and significant cost. While it would be nice to just drop the car off and write a check for a new paint job, the fact is most of us are on a tight budget and simply can't afford to do that. Even if we can afford to have a shop perform the work, we want to make sure the body shop we're using has all the tools and equipment to repair our car properly.

The decision about whether to attempt body and paint work yourself is a tough one. If you're like us, you have more time than money, so you may be tempted to perform the bodywork on your car yourself. Be warned, however, that bodywork can be an arduous and frustrating task. Replacing sheetmetal is dirty work and involves hours of drilling, grinding, and welding . . . and that's just the beginning. After the sheetmetal repairs comes the hammer and dolly, then the body filler, then hours and hours of priming and block sanding to make the panels straight enough for paint. If you get bored easily, the repetitive process of straightening body panels can drive you crazy, but if you're patient, the actual physical process of performing bodywork isn't too tough.

There is, however, a certain touch that's required to get panels super-straight. Experienced body shop personnel will tell you that you can't tell if a panel is straight by simply looking at it . . . it has to be felt. This "feel" for straightness isn't something that comes naturally to most people; it has to be learned. Some people, this author included, simply never acquire the feel that tells them a body panel is straight, so we have to leave that part of the process to a professional.

But even if you can't get the panels razor-straight yourself, you can still save money by performing some of the bodywork at home. If you can drill, grind, and weld, you can replace sheetmetal panels, and roughing in the panel with filler and block sanding isn't too tough either. As for the actual paint job, however, be careful if you don't have a paint booth at your house.

We have seen some great paint jobs on cars that were restored by owners in their own garages, but then we've also seen some pretty crappy ones. The outcome of a paint job is dependent on a lot of variables, so unless you're pretty comfortable performing bodywork, prepping, and painting, or don't mind spending the money and time to re-do things as you learn, you might want to leave it to a professional shop. If you really are into performing bodywork yourself and don't want to screw things up, consider taking a class at a community college or tech school to learn the basics. There are also books available that can be very instructive, but in the end, there's nothing like experience.