How To Build A Hot Rod

Build Your Own Hot Rod
The Roadkill Customs Shop Truck was built in 30 days for under $1,000 ~ Here's how we did it...

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Hot rods are more popular than ever, and that popularity has driven up the cost of original parts and finished cars, making hot rodding more expensive than ever. But there’s hope for the hot rodder with a limited budget: Build Your Own Hot Rod!

These resources are intended to help facilitate your hot rod or classic car build from inspiration and planning to building and customization without breaking the bank. But a car and truck restoration or customization projects can be daunting — Where do you start?

There’s no getting around the fact that a vehicle build or restoration is a big, expensive, time-consuming job. There are many parts of the job rely on one another, which can really make it hard to know where to start, let alone what steps to do, and in what order. And what if you need parts? Do any other vehicles use the same part? How do you even know?

Buying a Project Vehicle or Parts Donor

What’s the best way to set things up for a successful build?

In the loosest of terms, we like to break it down to:

  1. Chassis/Suspension
    • Wheels/Tires
  2. Engine/Transmission
    • Exhaust
  3. Bodywork
  4. Mock-Up
  5. Wiring
  6. Paint
  7. Interior
  8. Final Assembly
  9. Make It Yours
  10. Make It Legal


It’s often best to start on the chassis, as wheel and tire choices will determine whether or not wheel tubs need to be widened or flared.

As with any other aspect of the build, choices here have cascading effects, as wheel choices determine what brakes will fit or vice versa. Engine and transmission choices might necessitate firewall or floorpan modification as well.

While on chassis, if you’re thinking about a Chassis Swap, we’ve put together an overview of swapping a classic vehicle to a modern drivetrain.

Finding a chassis

(or looking up specs for your project vehicle)

Building a chassis

Getting your chassis dialed-in



Your engine block/transmission can be used for mock-up purposes before the vehicle is fully assembled and painted, which is why it makes sense to sort out the chassis first.

With the chassis planned, your vehicle needs a heart. We’ll assume that you won’t be machining your block yourself. If your block needs boring, honing, and decking, send the engine out to be machined.

If your transmission is in need of a rebuild, or your choices make a custom bellhousing or adapter a requirement, now is a good time to get crackin’ on those things.

Finding and engine/transmission

Going junkyard or salvage engine/transmission?

Getting your engine/transmission dialed-in

Additional engine resources

Additional transmission resources


Like many other parts of the build, this overlaps to point with mock-up. You’ll need to ensure exhaust clears inner fenders, for example, and may need to fit timgs to fashin body mounts or perches on the chassis.


If you’re planning anything close to a full restoration, you’ll need access to at least the door jambs and sill plates, and likely the entire floorpan and dash as well.

Strip the car down as far as possible, especially because everything will get covered in sanding dust. Once the panels are nice and straight and rust is repaired, the bare metal and filler can be sealed.

Get your sheetmetal and body dialed in

Looking to go old school? Here’s how to use lead instead of plastic filler.

Bodywork will largely, and to a point, coincide with mock-up and making sure everything is going to work and fit.


High-end shops will assemble and disassemble any given build dozens of times. A mock-up, or dry fit, allows panels to be fitted and gaps double checked ensuring any fitment issues are cured, or anything else that could cause a the paint to rub.

Seats and any other bolt-on parts and accessories should be fitted and checked to ensure repaired or new components match the factory mount and attachment locations

This is the time to get your engine back in between the frame rails to plan out where to run wiring and plumbing to confirm that your headers fit with the inner fenders in place. Aftermarket radiators should be fitted, and any addition firewall penetrations should be made, and those unused patched.

This step is your last to chance to get things dialed in and solved before final assembly, and you biggest opportunity make sure things go smoothly when you’re putting things together.


Running the original OEM harness? Here’s tips for cleaning and freshening up a wiring harness.

Going bare bones? Here’s a basic hot rod wiring diagram and links to diagrams for lighting and turn signals.

More wiring, lighting and electrical How-To and DIY Guides


With the panel gaps and mounting and fitment issues sorted, it’s time to do the final priming and block sanding before the basecoat and clearcoat are sprayed on.

Don’t have paint in you? Consider vinyl wrap to give your old ride a new look.

Sticking with the original patina? right on. Here’s how to protect and preserve patina.


Additional resources:

Final Assembly

At this point you should be very familiar with your car’s every nut, bolt, and wire. Most importantly, there shouldn’t be any surprises when everything goes in its proper place and your project car is once again a driver.

It’s especially important during these final steps to stick to the same methodical process you’ve been doing all along, lest you undo months of careful planning.

Make It Yours

Customization and Universal Kits

via Amazon…

Getting Things Done a Budget

Getting Things Done Yourself

DIY Guides and How-To Articles

More help…

The Right Tools for the Job

We get it. Tools can be pricey, and sometimes you only need to use them once. If you’re short on tools, borrow them from your local auto parts store. We’ve put together a summary of the tools and services available from your local auto parts store, most for free.

Auto Repair Lift and Bay Rentals and Other Garage Spaces

We explain all of your options for space to work on your car — from DIY auto shops and garages to more unconventional alternatives.

Find Vintage Car & Truck Parts

Find a Project Vehicle or Parts Donor

Search unfinished project vehicles, salvage cars and trucks, motorcycles and more. Select a Make below to browse vehicles for sale by Model…

Looking for a little bit more? Or for a Finished Vehicle…

Browse several Buyers Guides and Tip Articles we’ve collected, with more to follow. Select a Make below to browse vehicles for sale by Model…