Auto Restoration: How to Avoid Being Ripped Off

car-garage.jpgRestoration can be accurately estimated.  Buffalo Restorations in Puyallup restores vintage automobiles at costs ranging upwards of $100,000 and more, and has a number of unhappy customers. One of these customers recently obtained a jury verdict against Buffalo and its owner Robert Newgard for fraud, conversion and breach of contract. At the trial, among other witnesses, two former employees testified about Buffalo’s practices and two former customers testified about their experiences.

If you are considering having a car built or renovated, here are a few things to consider in choosing a shop and in reviewing your bills. First don’t let your decision where to take the car be swayed by advertising; let it be determined by the results of your “due diligence.” Also bear in mind that the quality of work is not necessarily related to the size of the company. Some of the best shops are one-person shops (as are some of the bad ones). Consider these things:

1. Check with the Superior Court to see the number of lawsuits that have been filed and check with the Better Business Bureau.

2. Contact the people who have sued or filed complaints.

3. Find out how long the people have been working there (high turn-over is a bad sign).

4. Find out where the employees worked before they were hired.

5. Get a list of customers who have had something similar done for them.

6. Ask for references, both customers and trade references.

7. What recognition has the shop received, such as awards or mention in publications.

8. Get an estimate and create a budget for the job, recognizing that experienced professionals can give a very close estimate of the final restoration cost with a good description of what things might be found that could change the cost. Discuss these variables in detail. Some renovation shops will spend a lot of time examining the car and preparing a budget and they will often charge a fee for this, sometimes around $500 (a good investment).

9. Discuss a completion schedule so that you have some notion of how long the car will be at the shop and be clear about what billing procedure will be followed.

10. Take the car to more than one shop and discuss with a consultant what needs to be done to the car if the estimated cost of restoration warrants it.

11. Get a written contract and make sure that it reflects what was actually agreed upon. If the contract is for a high enough amount have a lawyer review it.


18 Responses to Auto Restoration: How to Avoid Being Ripped Off

  1. […] How to avoid being ripped off – don’t go to Buffalo Restorations, I guess. […]

  2. Mark Bardwil says:

    I am an attorney who successfully obtained the first large judgment against Buffalo Restorations back in the late 1990’s, which forced them into bankruptcy. I have had many calls to represent others against them but turned most down because I wanted my first clients to be compensated first, and saw it as a conflict. I later took one case against them (with the blessing of my first clients), which subsequently settled. I am glad to see that their exploits are being publicized finally. I went to the Sec of State years ago, but they refused to take action. Can’t believe he is still actually in business. I am aware of another collegue currently representing someone against them.

    • mary hendrix says:

      Hi my name is mary hendrix we also have a story 6 years ago we took our 73 challenger in just got it back 147,000 we were charged we are having a hard time with this if you could give some advice the car is not running right restoration is not good 936-828-7673

  3. Kent Rupiper says:

    I have a car in restoration and I believe I am being ripped off. I did not do all the proper things like a written contract. I am going to see a lawyer in a few days to see about my options. The car is of sentimental value (from my dad who died when I was 17) and it is quite frustrating.

    Do get contracts and do be careful.

  4. Bill Ong says:

    Hi Kent,
    Have you decided what to do in this case?
    I have similar situation and just would appreciate if you can share what advice did you get back from you lawyer?

  5. R says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I have a similar situation. The restoration company refused to provide a written estimate, gave us oral estimate and now they are off by $5,000-7,000 and there is no end. The contract says that we are billed by the hour, company produces Excel worksheets stating the labor hours but we have no idea what those hours are spent on.
    If anyone can share any information–I’d highly appriciate it.
    The car is also very sentimental to me.

  6. RaR says:

    I had a very similar resto experience as some of you have mentioned. Had a shop restore my car. Gave me an estimate of $25,000 which included parts. I ended up shelling out double that, and bought most of the parts myself. They said it was a “slippery slope” to estimate exactly. Had no contract and the resto was not even total. Nice ody work and paint, but no real work performed to the engine or undercarriage (other than cheap undercoating) The A/C they installed ($3,000) doesn’t even work and they are not willing to make it right without charging me. I made a mistake due to my enthusiasm.

  7. Steve Curran says:

    Who told any of you that you could get an estimate before you brought a vehicle in? That is absolutely false, I don’t care if an “expert” or an attorney told you this, it is absolutely false.

    Before you strip all of the paint off either chemically, with sanding or with media blasting how do you know he condition of the metal underneath? Answer, you don’t, you may need no metal work (very rare, but I just had it on a 1939 Ford which was stored indoors by the same family since 1939) you also may need 10 – 20K worth of metal work/replacement/fabrication

    Before you disassemble and engine, transmission or any other part on a car how do you know if it works? Can be fixed? Has replacement parts available? Answer, you don’t. Every car is different, this is more like collision repair as opposed to mechanical repair.

    Many shops are capable of doing good, high quality work, the problem with most of the above cases are the customers, unprepared for what is ahead and undercapitalized. Watch “Two Guys Garage” they filmed their show in our shop in January and stated on the show titled, “How to pick a restoration shop” have he car you wanted to use as he base car checked out by an expert before under going the restoration process, $1000 in the quality of the base car can save you 10’s of thousands in future metal work.

    It is impossible when a vehicle first comes in to write and estimate that will acurate and to he penny and if someone tells you that hey can, run. If anyone has that expectation you will be disappointed.

  8. northwestlaw says:


    I don’t think you read the blog very well. You seem to be in complete agreement. I say an estimate will cost around $500. You say $1000 and I certainly do not believe that $1000 is necessarily excessive.

    • Resto guy says:

      Steve you hit it right on the button give the man a cigar.You cannot accuratly estimate total cost to totaly restore a 40 year old vehicle people ..there are just too many variables involved ..True quality auto restoration is done by people like me who love building cars.It is a passion dampened by the very lawsuits you cheap, misinformed ,confused, sue happy weekend warriors file ,and probably have no business getting involed restoring dear old dads pontiac 2+2 that he willed to you because you dont have the money is takes to build the car the correct way… then run to court holding your lawyers balls to try to recoup some $$ that a hard working guy sweated to earn.I never ever give a solid dollar amount in writing or otherwise and never will ..its suicide has to be somewhat open ended because if thats what you want then you can take it down to Johnny Blows shop but guess what …somewhere somehow he will cut corners.. You may not see it now but you will find out soon enough..,and when you do you will be trying to contact me to sandblast the car and ..Do IT RIGHT THIS TIME..We will find all kinds of cool things like pop rivets …..braze..always cool…tiger hair and newspaper…weeee …overlapped …wavy mud work…yesss..catch my drift?

  9. Stephen L. says:

    I currently have a vehicle at Buffalo restorations in Puyallup and couldn’t be happier. They have kept me well informed as to what my project needs as it needs it and I am asked to “ok” any work before it happens and I am asked to come down as often as I can to actually see and witness what needs attention.

    They do not start any work without my approval as I am in complete control of my project. Maybe this is due to the fact the were just bought out, I don’t know but for those that are reading, it has been a great experience.

    As far as estimates go, if they claim are a pro shop then you’re not going to get one. There is no accurate way of doing so, I would honestly stay away from a shop that claims they can do your restoration for a specified price up front.

    All that will happen is they will scimp and save on things you can’t see in order to attempt to stay within an amount. I would rather know as things happen and get shown what it will take to do it the right way as I go to my weekly visits.

    Most people I find who are unhappy, never were involved in visiting their project as the restoration was in progress. Bottom line is, go down an take a tour of the shop, and see the work they do for yourself and decide what your expectation is going to be and go from there. Communication is key.

  10. Insider says:

    Say Stephen, Being with your car is the only way you can keep them from pulling a fast one. This is their typical deal- Make initial parts list with lets say a elect ignition system; Charge you and you pay; Then add Coil, Distributor, Wiring kit, Brain Box etc. then charge on several invoices- These parts are stored with your other items on the shelf; You pay for these parts on each billing; Then think…You had one installed and one is on shelf (Including various other items) You are happy with your car and leave…Buffalo then sends the shelved parts back to supplier for credit.You Pay Buffalo’s new owners for 2 sets of Elect. Ignition.They received those 2 payments then the credit for thr returned items. You Received 1 item, Buffalo Charged you for 2 Items, Buffalo Made Money on Item Installed, Item on Shelf and for that paid for items return credit. My Advice for everyone going to any restoration business is to keep track of all charges and invoices and demand everything in detail. Also Estimates are LAW. A Customer is entitled to a written estimate so get one and then keep track on any added charges and demand Proof including getting any and all old parts removed from your car right down to rubber and spark plugs.

  11. Innes says:

    I agree that you can’t be sure of the costs until you get into the restoration. That said, shops should be aware that most people are not rich and have a finite amount of money to spend. I have a car right now at a restoration shop. I told them my budget was $25,000 to $30,000. We quickly agreed that for that price, it would be a partial restoration. Basically body and paint. I was told if I sourced my own parts that it would be much cheaper for me. I would avoid the shop’s mark-up. So I’ve been doing that. I managed to get some bumpers already re-chromed for much less than the shop wanted to restore mine for. I also found other pieces that were in better condition than what was on the car. All in all the shop manager said I saved myself about $5,000 at least. he went on to convince me to pull the engine out and they would clean up the surface rust around the engine bay and apply POR 15 to the metal, sealing it. I agreed to that, trusting the manager new what he was doing. After all, he’s the professional. Turns out they uncovered some shoddy body work on the fenders and some other places. It would up the cost of the restoration. Now my car had solid floors, trunk, engine bay and a solid under carriage. The welding done to my car was minimal but difficult at times. They quickly blew through my budget and asked for more money. Okay, I understood the uncovering of the damage that couldn’t be seen would effect the pricing. So after sitting with the shop manager we settled on an extra $11,000 to finish the car, prep, paint and assembly. This is after all the damaged had been uncovered and the body work was almost complete. They blew through that just prepping the car to paint. Now I have a real problem with that. As a professional shop surely you can assess the rest of the job within a few hundred dollars. Every estimate they give seems to double regardless of the facts at hand and I have a BIG problem with that. Now I feel like their milking me for all I’m worth while my car is sitting in their shop in pieces. Now they have me over a barrel. that is unscrupulous and wrong. Also, if they new my budget and had a good knowledge of what they were doing, they should have turned down the job based on not enough funds available. That’s the professional thing to do. The shop does great work. the guys in the back who are busting their balls are doing the right thing so should the shop management. That’s my 2 cents.

  12. Leah A says:

    About a month ago my partner took his 1968 cutlass to Oregon street machines on west 11th. It has been a lifelong dream of his to fix up an old car, however he spent a large part of his life in the military. When he went to talk to the owner (Kelly Silveria) he was told yes we can do the restore. Excited about this he gave the owner 14 thousand in advance, it has now been four months and they have done nothing but rip his car into a thousand pieces and have not worked on it at all. He was told today to come pick the pieces of his car up and that if he wants his money back he’ll have to sue him. We have now found that there are about six other people who have been taken for twenty plus thousand dollars and had to literally pick the pieces of their car up today with literally no money to put them back together. People and families are devastated. As he was leaving today he overheard the owner talking on the phone with a customer saying “yes we can do the restore just bring in the money”. Many of the family’s this man has robbed were using the restoration as an investment so that they can sell the car afterward or for their children. Please help us stop this man from taking from any more families and please help us get the word out about this!

  13. tommmm says:

    It’s true that auto restoration is difficult to estimate initially, but there are ways to do these kinds of projects that protect both the customer and the shop owner.

    Doing these jobs in stages will keep everything under control. Whether the project comes into the shop in a million pieces or is a fully assembled rig, i can be broken into small bites. And paying stage-by-stage is the most honest way to go.

    For example, rough sheetmetal may be stage #1. All rust repair and panel replacement can be estimated fairly accurately and completed thoroughly before moving to stage #2, which may be body filler/mud work. Steering/suspension, primer/block sanding, etc. Virtualy every element of auto restoration can be broken down and performed in a plan that stresses STRUCTURE.

    It’s basically a “pay as you go” plan. If the customer starts running out of money, the car isn’t a hostage in a shop strewn out all over the floor. The customer upon payment is given the car back at the end of each stage and is left to decide what to do next and who will do it. And the shop owner is kept honest as well.

    Anyone who objects to this is either incompetent or up to no good.

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