Scope creep is a business term that defines a point when a project explodes in cost and magnitude because it “continues to grow and change as the project is carried out”.  

The car hobby is based on project scope creep, so it shares the same problems major corporations face when a project goes off the rails.

I know this because I’ve talked to thousands of car guys and nine out of ten projects are completed under scope creep—so how do you minimize it in your project?

Jerry Sutherland

The first thing you have to do is accept scope creep as a fact of life in the world of car projects. The biggest reason? Everything costs more in 2023—old car parts have hit stratospheric levels thanks to supply problems and sheer demand.

Everything you farm out in a car project is going to cost more—from the guy who installs a muffler system to a paint job is going to cost more because the last few years have been a hellfire of supply problems. Pair that with major inflationary costs on things like fuel and that reproduction fender costs a lot more now plus you’re going to be waiting three times as long for delivery.

Basically the concept of scope creep begins and ends with time and money in 2023.

There are several ways to combat scope creep in a car project, but the best way to avoid it is to have a strictly defined game plan for your project. For example, I interviewed a guy a few years ago who inherited his grandfather’s ’58 Plymouth.

He was a young guy with a new family, and he couldn’t dedicate truckloads of money to saving this car, so he did it in stages. Every year he’d do something to the car over winter and every spring the old Plymouth came back looking a little better.

He beat the labor costs by doing everything himself, and he picked the times when he could swing the costs of new parts or supplies. The net result was he ended up with a really nice driver-level car plus he saved a family legacy for a minimal cost over several years—the opposite of scope creep.

He’s the exception to the rule. I’ve interviewed so many owners whose plan started out as fixing a dent or doing a tune-up–then it ended up as a body-off restoration. The car hobby is like crack cocaine because once you get into them, you never really get out of it. You may be a reformed car guy in your own mind, but that conversion evaporates when you spot a dusty old car with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it.

There’s a strong competitive streak in car guys too, so once you repaint a hood the rest of the car looks a little bleaker. The next car show will have 67 guys pointing out the mismatch, so once winter hits, that car is coming off the frame.

Scope creep is a grim reality in the car hobby and most car guys accept it as a fact of life and let’s face it—a car project is still better—and a lot more fun than a bad gambling habit.

Despite that fun factor there’s nothing wrong with being the guy-who-saved grandpa’s ’58 Plymouth because he knew how to punch scope creep right in the mouth.   

Jerry Sutherland

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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