By Jim Kerr

The most difficult part of restoring or performing major repairs on a vehicle isn’t turning the nuts and bolts or lifting heavy parts. The most difficult part is preparing oneself mentally to complete the task. This is especially true of someone attempting their first major work on an automobile. I am not a psychologist, but there is definitely psychology at play when working on any complicated task, and those who don’t realize this leave projects unfinished time and time again.

A complete vehicle doesn’t look that complicated. Remove a few bolts or nuts and it looks like it should come apart fairly quickly. Actually, it doesn’t take long – ask at any auto salvage yard. They dismantle a vehicle in a few hours. An experienced restorer can also dismantle a vehicle in a couple days, but there is a difference. The restorer plans on putting it back together again. The salvage yard doesn’t want to see the pieces back.

With parts scattered all over the place, the novice or tinkerer has probably just made their first mistake and reached their first hurdle. Experienced technicians and restorers will make sketches, take notes, and even take pictures of what they are working on as they take it apart. Waiting for replacement parts or special repair services can mean the parts will be disassembled for days or even months. A vehicle can have 15,000 separate parts and they only fit together correctly one way. How good is your memory?

The hurdle faced when doing this work is the magnitude of the task in putting something back together again. Parts that were so easily disassembled now take days to reassemble. Here’s where the psychology comes into play. You need a plan, goals and a vision to keep you mentally on track. Plan with lists: you need a list of all the parts needed, another list of parts that need to be refinished, and a list of what order you are going to perform the work in. If the task is a relatively simple transmission overhaul, the order of work is usually set, but if you are working on a complete car, then you need to identify sub-assemblies such as brakes, or rear suspension, or dashboard and plan to work on them one at a time in a logical sequence. You shouldn’t be installing a dash pad if the windshield needs to go in first!

Goals are another important part of keeping the project on-stream. “I intend to have this timing belt installed by the end of April, or the front suspension will be done by the end of May”. Not all goals will be met, as sometimes it takes longer than anticipated for parts to arrive, or another important activity takes precedent over your work on a vehicle. Simply set a new goal then, but setting goals is an important part of any task.

A vision is probably the easiest part of any project – at the start! Every time we do something, we have an idea of what we want to accomplish. It is no different working on a vehicle. Your vision may be to have the vehicle achieve better fuel economy, or perhaps it includes winning a trophy at a car show. Without a vision, few would ever start a task, but when you have dirty unfinished parts scattered far and wide it becomes difficult to keep that vision intact. I always keep my vision alive by having a few pictures of a finished vehicle similar to mine on my computer and posters on the wall of my shop. Somehow the hours of drudgery spent cleaning parts go by much faster when you can look up and see what you are trying to achieve. It keeps one going even when the task looks impossible.

Finally, there is the psychology of self-evaluation. Few of us are good at doing everything. You need to evaluate your strong points and weak points. In areas where you are weak, it is better to pay someone else to do the work rather than get bogged down and never finish the task. Concentrate on your strengths. As experience grows, you will discover your strengths will increase, but there are still tasks even the most experienced restorer farms out. For example, most convertible tops are installed by a professional. I have gained enough experience that I want to try my own top installation. True, I may destroy the first top learning how to do it, but I understand my limitations and am willing to attempt it to expand my experience.

Planning, goals, a vision and knowing yourself: the keys to completing any auto repair work. For that matter, it sounds like the key to a successful life.

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