The venerable Jeep Cherokee XJ is only getting better with age (Image: Powhusku/Flickr)

You’ve saved up some money. You’ve made peace with the spouse. Time to start a car project! Now, where do you start? With a bone-stock blank canvas or something pre-wrenched?

There are merits to both options, and in my opinion it comes down to your end-goal. And patience. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each, then I want to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Starting stock

A “clean-slate” car is appealing because it gives you the headroom to do precisely whatever you want. I think unmodified cars are also less likely to have been driven hard or abused. If you’re looking for historic value, maximum fidelity to “original” is paramount.

But if your project plan is to modify and personalize, stock vehicles aren’t always the way to go. Clean and unmolested cars generally sell for more than ones that have been tweaked, and once you start slapping parts on yourself the vehicle’s value is most probably going to go down.


Your build from stock will also take more time—modifications cost money, and if you buy the base car at the upper-end of your budget you might realize your end-goal dreams are pretty far away. Add save-up time to the actual labor time of installing your mods as well of course.

Buying pre-modified

You might have been advised to “never buy somebody else’s project,” and there’s some truth to that for sure. When you buy a car that’s been messed with, it can be tough to tell if previous modifications were executed by someone with legitimate skills or a ham-fisted gorilla on bring-your-kid-to-work day.


That means you have to be exceptionally careful when you’re scoping a modified car to buy. In fact, we could probably do a whole post on that (and maybe we will) but basically if the ad doesn’t include anything more than blurry picture and a phone number you might want to give it a miss. But a classified post with a little backstory and great photos might be coming from someone I’d be more willing to trust.

On the flip side of that, you could streamline your own project significantly both from a time and money standpoint if you can find a car or truck that’s already got a few of the mods you had in mind installed.

You can let someone else eat more depreciation and get closer to your build-goal in one fell swoop.


So would you rather start your own project with a modified car, or take the time and cash to get your dream machine dialed in from zero? If you’ve tried either strategy, let us know how it’s going!