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A Guide to Eco-conscious Vintage Vehicle Restoration

 Posted on: August 8th, 2023

Many people enjoy repairing and riding in classic cars, boats, and motorcycles. Maintaining these rides can be a fun hobby, along with driving around town to show them off. Some enthusiasts join local communities where they swap tips on repairs and compare different models and their restoration efforts.

While this hobby can give you a strong sense of accomplishment as you turn an old beater into a restored vintage cruiser, there are also some drawbacks to working on classic vehicles. There are multiple sustainability factors to keep in mind as you improve these machines. Use this guide to take a more eco-conscious approach to your favorite activity.

The Environmental Impact of Classic Vehicle Restoration

There are multiple ways that restoring and using classic vehicles adversely impacts the environment. First, restorers often need to buy specialty parts that work on older models and aren’t as easily found in the average auto parts store. There is also an environmental impact that comes with buying and using paint to restore the exterior of these old cars. Many body shops follow strict guidelines for safely handling and disposing of hazardous paint waste.

You also need to consider the environmental impact of driving your restored car compared to newer models. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that cars made today are 99% cleaner than cars from the 1970s. This is because technology has advanced over the years to produce cleaner cars — often as a direct response to federal emissions guidelines. Your car will produce more carbon monoxide and particle emissions as you drive down the road than a modern model.

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up your beloved classic car or motorcycle if you want to help the environment. Here are just a few ways to make vehicle restoration more sustainable.

Eco-friendly Components

Parts from new models can often be used in order cars. This is because the foundational elements and hookups remain the same. As a result, you might find a car junkie pulling parts from a 2005 Chevrolet because they know it will work in thei r 1975 model.

Pulling from salvage yards can actively keep junk out of landfills and give throw-away parts a new life. They also prevent the consumption of new parts, which consume valuable resources and could contribute to pollution depending on the fa ctory where they are produced. If you decide to visit your local salvage yard, wear close-toed shoes and bring durable gloves, water, and tools to remove the specific parts you want.

Efficiency Upgrades

You can still enjoy your classic vehicle while making it more fuel efficient. Some car owners install modern motors into their old vehicles (or replace older carburetors with fuel injection systems) so they can minimize their emissions while still enjoying a cool ride.

Maintaining efficiency has multiple benefits to the environment and your wallet. If you can make your classic car even slightly more efficient, you can use less gas throughout the year. Even if you maintain an original system, keep an eye out for leaks, broken seals, and dried-out rubber that could cause you to use key fluids — your car will stay functional and efficient for longer this way as well. If you have a classic boat, preventing chemical leaks will keep dan gerous fluids out of the ocean.

Painting and Coating

Car show visitors are often drawn to shiny models that have fresh coats of paint. They appreciate the baby-clue exterior of classic Mustangs or bright red models that are fun to pose with. If your paint is starting to look worn, consider upgrading the exterior with sustainable options.

Look for low-VOC paint —paint that has low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs harm the ozone layer and release toxic chemicals into the air — which you can also breathe in while you are painting. You can find a variety of low-VO C automotive paint colors that match your color palette and makes your vehicle look amazing. This is a small way to have a big impact on the environment.

Upholstery and Interior Design

If you are ready to reupholster your new vehicle, look into sustainable fabrics and recycled materials. Search for ethically-made fabrics that still provide the vintage feel you need.

As you rip out your old interior fabric, consider repurposing it so it doesn’t end up in a landfill. For example, handba s can be made from seat belts, guitar straps can be made from vintage car upholstery, and more. You could work with a local craftsman to create a set of bar stools or a table with your old interior fabric.

Disposal of Waste Materials

Unfortunately, working on cars and other vintage vehicles creates a ton of waste — from broken parts that no longer work to unused paint and ripped-out interior fabric. Often, these materials are meant to be du rable, which means they won’t degrade in landfills for years (if not centuries). To avoid further building into this waste, follow these best practices:

  • Carefully collect any fluids that leak out of your vehicle while you are working on it. Don’t just hose them off of your driveway.
  • Always dispose of hazardous waste safely. Check your local guidelines for where (and how) to dump chemicals.
  • Sell old parts when you can. A working part might be valuable to another car collector.
  • Try to repair broken systems instead of simply replacing them.

Additionally, recycle what you can. Identify what materials your local recycling center will accep t so certain parts can be given a new life.

Cleaning and Maintenance

There is good news if you want to keep your classic ride clean while protecting the environment: many cars, boats, and motorcycles benefit from gentle chemicals that are already environmentally friendly. Soft soaps and sponges will protect the paint so your car shines. Ask around for some top recommendations to keep your car clean in a safe way.

Additionally, make sure you conduct thorough inspections to look for defects that may be reducing efficiency or leaking hazardous chemicals. For example, some riders use motorcyc le lift tables so they don’t have to bend over while conducting an inspection. Just make sure you are operating these lift tables correct ly so you (and your bike) stay safe.

Operating and Showcasing Classic Vehicles

Decide how much you want to use your classic vehicle and its potential impact on the environment. Remember, classic cars and motorcycles are not held to the same emissions standards; they might be impractical for everyday use. H ere are a few ways to showcase these vehicles without driving them everywhere.


If you want to present your vehicle at classic car shows, consider using carriers and trailers to transport everything to and from the events. This will allow you to attend shows outside of your city without wearing out your vehicle or driving up your carbon emissions.

You can also change your driving habits to reduce pollution so these excursions are more eco-friendly.


You can also transport your vintage motorcycles on hitch carriers or use motorcycle trailers to bring your bikes to various events and engagements. You can still make a dramatic entrance at the event but you won’t have to ride all the way there. These trailers and hitches are also ideal if you need to drive through inclement weather (like rain or snow) where riding a motorcycle is dangerous.


Attending classic boat shows is a great way to spend the weekend. However, poor marina planning and boating practices can contribute to pollution. Before you arrive at a show or even for a spin around a lake, know where you are going to dispose of waste, dock your boat, and clean everything up. Otherwise, you might end up idling for longer than you want and contributing even more carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

If you can dock your boat at your home, look into a shore docking system. This will keep your boat out of the water so you can wash it regularly (preventing rust) and easily maintain it before your next day out.

Collaborating With Other Eco-conscious Restoration Enthusiasts

You don’t have to be a sustainability expert to enjoy restoring classic vehicles. Instead, collaborate with other environmentally conscious vehicle restoration enthusiasts to learn new techniques and access new resources. After all, part of having a hobby is connecting with others and growing your skills. Let other vintage vehicle fans help you out.