By on March 5, 2018

It’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of readers (and writers!) at TTAC wrench on their own wheels. Those who don’t likely don’t have the facilities in which to do so. Condo living, overbearing HOA, whatever. To you, we extend our deepest sympathies.

Today’s QOTD you get to dream … and spend imaginary money. Given half the average price of a new car in America to spend — half of $33,560 — how you would kit out your dream garage?

For the purposes of this $16,780 fantasy, not an unrealistic sum, let’s imagine you’ve already gotten the structure built. It’s a 30×30 garage with a half loft. The other half extends all the way to the ceiling. Use your imagination for how many doors it has.

I’ll set an opening bid with the purchase of — you guessed it — a lift! A decent two post lift runs at least $3,000 plus tax. By the time I’ve paid a professional a few shekels to install the thing (in my amateur hands it’s likely to fold like a cheap tent), we’ll call it about a $4,000 expenditure.

That leaves about twelve grand. Professional grade sixty gallon air compressors are around $1,500, plus about the same for tools. A snazzy box and shelves in which to place my shiny new tools is alarmingly expensive, bringing my total expenditures now to roughly $8,000. Halfway there!

Send out my wheels and tires to a third party to get mounted on rims? Pah! With our budget, we can easily afford a tire changer and balancing machine. Just put it on my tab.

Naturally, I don’t want to work in a cave, so a few stacks will be spent on epoxy floor covering (bright red, natch) and slick racing themed artwork for the walls. Having a good time is essential to this author, so dropping a couple of grand on an Xbox racing simulator with which to play Forza Motorsport 7 is completely logical.

Roughly, that’s about $16,000 worth of kit. How would you outfit your garage?

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58 Comments on “QOTD: Garage Nirvana on a Budget?...”


  • avatar
    srh

    I strongly suspect that the majority of TTAC readers /do not/ wrench on their own cars.

    That said, this is a timely question, as the concrete is being poured today in my 56′ x 37′ shop with a vaulted (14′ – 18′) ceiling and half-loft, three doors (10×12 and two 8×10), so I’ll be reading the responses carefully!

    Only immediate plan for now is a lift, and I’m still debating which. I have a half finished fiat spider in a friend’w garage that I’d like to get on the road. Beyond that one of the bays will be dedicated to bike and ski wrenching.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I’m thoroughly surprised to discover how many people DON’T wrench on their own cars. I mean I feel like most everyone in the world does, but sometimes I wonder if its more like 25% or even less.

      The idea of going to a service place for windshield wipers or a battery blows my mind, and yet I hear people doing that.

      Now when you talk about the deeper stuff like major service, I’m sure its closer to like 3-5%.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      56*37? That’s bigger than my house.

    • 0 avatar
      Hoon Goon

      Have faith. I am 45 and still take a little pride that the only thing I ever take my cars in for is tire changes and alignments and I am considering buying a DIY alignment setup because they don’t do it right in my mind.

      I like older cars and could afford to take them in if I wanted. It’s also my hobby, so YMMV. I get great satisfaction knowing I can do more with less money by DIY, so I have overly maintained cars, as other claim.

      To the QOTD: I’d blow it all on a lift and massive air compressor with high dollar air tools. I still spin wrenches for EVERYTHING, even with my Harbor Freight compressor.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Where I live heat, and insulation, would be a number one priority . A floor drain would allow me to wash and detail during the winter months.

  • avatar
    relton

    My workshop garage is about 1200 sq feet. I had a choice, when designing it, to have a tall ceiling and a lift, or keep the ceiling at 9 feet, and build an apartment upstairs and rent it. The zoning of my house allowed that, and living in Ann Arbor meant that I could get top dollar for rent.

    I chose the latter. In the last 15 years, the tenants have more than paid for the garage and every piece of equipment in it.

    On those rare times when I really need a lift, I take the car to a friend’s shop and pay him to use his lift.

  • avatar
    relton

    Heat and insulation are important. But in the Midwest, so is air conditioning. When I was working, I often didn’t have a lot of time after work to play in the garage. If it was really hot, as it is about 4 months of the year here, it was just too unpleasant.

    I bought the biggest window air conditioner that ran on 120V, and installed it through the wall. I put a timer on it to turn it on a couple of hours before I got home every day. I accomplished a lot more in the garage after that.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I currently have a 24 x 30 garage, but it has some problems like a severely heaved floor and part of the front wall needs repair.

    This summer I’m finally going to fix it, which includes getting the floor re-poured, fixing the wall, insulating it, re-doing the wiring, replacing the garage door and new siding. I’ll be happy to just have a non-cracked floor and be able to go out and not freeze my butt off in the winter, since I try to schedule car maintenance in the warmer months now.

    If I could spend close to $17k, I would get a lift, epoxy the floor and probably spend a lot on tool storage and organization.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I agree with the lift, air compressor, tools (obviously), and flooring.

    However, I’d exchange the fancy toolboxes, tire machine and video game stuff for paint respray equipment, a hydraulic spring compressor, and a floor drain.

  • avatar
    TR4

    My dream garage would include a paint booth and supplied air respirator equipment for spraying today’s toxic paints.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The garage in the picture looks nice, but that $16,000 budget is just not enough. Thus the best solution for me would be sell my delivery mileage F40 or perhaps my Dietrich Packard 12 roadster and use the proceeds to build something like the picture, only bigger.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I am shopping for a four post lift now for my garage. I really dislike parking a car outside. I figure I owe it to myself for the amount of wrenching I do in my garage that would require me to pay someone else. probably a push and I enjoy it.

    But, the basics are a lift 2 post for working and a four post for storage. Tools and what not. You can blow through a 16k budget pretty quick. Though, you can find used two post lifts for a reasonable prices, very hard to find second hand four post lifts I am learning.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      You can use a 4 post for working OK too. Their are body lift jacks that allow you to lift the body off the wheels, so you can probably get by with just a 4 post… plus they are safer IMHO for a novice

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Agreed, that is why I am looking for a 4 post. Way easier to get the car up in the air. Just saying, **IF** I had a large shop, which I don’t, I would also want a 2 post.

        For my purposes, a four post works best.

        • 0 avatar
          Erikstrawn

          Having worked professionally around two-post and four-post lifts, I only want a two-post. On a four-post, something’s always in the way. Either way, make sure your foundation is built to spec to handle the weight.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Been there, done that, wish I had it back. My last place had a 2000 sq ft shop with 18 foot ceilings, 9000lb 2 post hoist, waste oil burning furnace, compressed air plumbing and a paint booth.

    -As far as hoists go, if you can only have one, get a 2 post. The easiest to work on most any job.
    -The waste oil furnace was great, but could be tempermental. The fact that the fuel was free offset the need for cleaning and adjustment. Natural gas is ideal for most personal shops and is worth it. You won’t want to work on things if it’s cold.
    -Unless you plan on doing a lot of your own body work, skip the paint booth.
    -Get a 220V MIG welder and learn to use it with gas. None of that flux core sh1t.
    -Work bench space is always at a premium, industrial and farm auction are great places to score good stuff.
    -Ligthing and lots of it.
    -Electrical outlets, and lots of them, plus a couple 220V circuits
    -Water – it’s great to have hot water and sink to clean up instead of messing up a bathroom in the house – Bonus ability of being able to install a urinal
    -Compressed air – With the advent of good electrical tools, you don’t need to go overboard here unless you’re a body guy running a DA sander all day. 60 gal is more than enough. Most hobbyists could get away with 20 and use the real estate for other things.

    Assuming the building is up, that stuff will eat up most of your budget here.

    • 0 avatar

      Kind of agree on the compressor unless you do a lot of paint and sanding excess capacity makes little sense. That said we have Kaeser at work and a friend has the smallest one they make in his home shop and they are great and super quiet.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I’d love a lift but my 24×26 shop isn’t tall enough. I agree fully on excellent lighting and electrical outlets. An electrician buddy of mine owed me a favour and wired my shop for free. I just paid for materials.
      Over the years most of my wrenching has been on motorcycles and bicycles so I haven’t really needed anything too heavy duty when it comes to air tools. A welder is what I’d like to buy but I also would like some carpentry tools. A 16k budget would more than easily cover what I’d want.

  • avatar

    Lift, rotary compressor, Tire changer and balancer. If there is any left over some used alignment equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I had tire equipment in my garage for a few years thanks to a buddy who needed a place to put them while he was between shops. And I quickly discovered that I would just as soon pay to have that done. For what little tire mounting and balancing costs, even with free equipment it was not worth the sheer amount of effort it takes. Hard, dirty work. Same with alignments.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @krhodes1 – agreed. A buddy had a tire machine in my shop for a few years. I’d rather pay someone to do it. I did my own tires on my dirtbikes and the biggest nightmare was working with my ice-racing prepped knobbies.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Tire machines are a nice luxury, but even well used ones tend to be pricey and they take up a lot of real estate. I had the opportunity to acquire these for my last shop but forewent them instead opting to cozy up to a tire shop for cheap tire swaps and balances. I wasn’t doing tires every day or week, so it wasn’t worth it.

  • avatar
    arach

    Great question!

    In fact, I just Did the same thing personally.

    However, the 28×30 garage cost me $44,000. Just to build it…

    I originally was going to do what you propose, a half-loft. The problem I found, is a half-loft on a 30′ garage is not enough for a lift. The loft would have to be 10′ or less, which doesn’t leave you much “loft”. That meant that I cried a little, and decided to give up the half loft for a full loft, crushing my lift-dreams.

    So the moral of the story is in my opinion, a 30×30 garage is not big enough for a lift unless you forgo the loft, in which case well, your tight on space.

    Now I spent about $300 putting full wall shelves up along one side. that was well spent, and work benches along the back. Instead of a lift, I went with an engine hoist and a scissor lift, allowing me to do wheel and tire work on some cars, but I can’t get them under my real low ones.

    So you said dream, but you have to be realistic too. I don’t think 30×30 is enough space to really have fun, and if you can’t really have fun then you have to optimize the space, and a lift doesn’t make the cut for me!

    What I would do is put a full floor in the loft for some GREAT space, run HEAT, WATER, and 240 for welders, pick up a scissor lift, shelves, and work benches, get an engine hoist, good work lights, and some good tool chests (which cost like a grand a piece by themselves), a mediocre air compressor and air tools, a good sound system for when your wrenching, and a tiny TV. I say a tiny TV, because you don’t want to WATCH TV, but what you do want to do is make sure you can’t miss wrenching time just because the ballgame is on.

    Also if you have trucks or lifted jeeps, make sure you have an extra tall garage door, plus I like having a 72″ wide rear door to pull lawn mowers or motorcycles in for servicing. I did get a good motorcycle lift as well, which is also worthwhile, and a good scissor lift. Then Make sure you have all the tools you need including power tools and air tools.

    Now if I do my math, this leaves me around $1-2,000 left over. This is where I’d have to figure out how I can “Break the rules”. Can I build a carport outside for more car storage room? Can I buy a car or motorcycle to go IN the garage?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    BTDT, didn’t spend that much. In Maine, I have ~1500sq/ft of garage, well-insulated and heated. 4-post and scissor lifts cover the basics – couldn’t do a 2-post due to not enough ceiling height. Lots of tools, and 30′ long workbench across the back. About a million candlepower of LED overhead lighting.

    In Florida, sadly I only have a 1-car garage. But I decided it would be a nice place to work, so insulated and air-conditioned. Lots of IKEA kitchen upper cabinets for storage. Tiled floor. Three rolling toolboxes plus a pegboard system and wall rails for storage. Has a stainless steel utility sink and a nice oak workbench. Small area but gets the job done. I’ll build the proper backyard shop next year.

    Majority of TTAC’ers work on their own cars? Yeah, right…

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Oh like stuff in the garage?

    – one of those scissor lifts that folds flat
    – wood/metal working stuff (table saw, drill press, MIG welder)
    – more storage

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    I hope we’re all honest enough to admit that these expensive garages and toys..I mean tools, are not used to save money on ‘expensive’ shop/dealer repairs ;)

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      If I couldn’t work on them myself, there is no way I could have owned all the interesting older cars I have owned over the 20+ years I have been DIY’ing. I’d rather spend money on tools than labor – when the job is done I still have the tools. With shop labor over $100/hr, even a simple job like changing the clutch on my Spitfire and a few other “while I am in there” projects would have easily been $1500+ in labor. I also did brakes and motor mounts on the 9-5 – probably saved another $500 there. That is just in the past year or so. 40K service on the BMW is $$$$ at the dealer, I did it for ~$150. My tools in Maine were bought over 25 years or so, I have pretty much everything needed to work on anything. In both SAE and Metric, due to my Olde Britishe Crocke habit.

      In Florida I probably spent $3-4K on tools when I bought my house last year – mostly woodworking, but enough mechanic’s tools to get by. I brought very little down from my place in Maine. But I also completely remodeled the kitchen on my own (and lots of other house projects). Only cost me about $10K. Price having a kitchen ripped out and replaced and you will see that the tools was money very well spent – and I used ALL of them in that project. Friend of mine just got a $30K+ estimate for a smaller kitchen that would be nowhere near as nice when it is done. Yes, I am valuing my time at $0/hr, but I enjoy doing this stuff.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A solid work bench with a vise, good jack or lift and some Rubbermaid bins. Also painting the floor with a good textured garage paint.

    Also for a budget of $16,780 what cars would I put in the garage?

    1st generation Miata, 79-85 GM E-body and a compact pickup say a later S-10 combined would come in around budget.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    $300 of tools from Harbor Freight, a punching bag, and about $15,000 worth of beer and fine spirits.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      I’m with gator. To everyone expressing skepticism about TTAC readers doing their own wrenching you are correct as far as I am concerned. I do my own brakes b/c I don’t trust anyone else, that is it. I have gotten a face full of gasoline changing the fuel filter, caused almost as many problems as I have fixed, argued with shops about taking my precious bodily (I wish we could still do strikethoughs) automotive fluids, no thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Count me in. $17k. Would clean out the garage, redo the floor, insulate it, finish the walls and ceiling, add a skylight. Add some running water (toilet and sinks), and HVAC system, small fridge, the biggest screen TV I could find, some comfortable chairs, and perhaps a gas fireplace. Plus a Scott Machine and move my workout equipment up from the basement.

        With the money left over I could either pay for a lease on a brand new Kia Soul (or similar) or the membership cost and at least one year’s dues at a very nice private golf club.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    $300 of tools from Harbor Freight, a punching bag, and about $15,000 worth of beer and fine spirits.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Lift, definitely ($4000). 60 gal air compressor ($1500) feeding into copper pipe distribution ($200). A MIG welder ($500), band saw ($500?), drill press ($250?), and table saw ($250?).

    Power is important so quad outlets should be placed every 3-5 feet and two shop air taps on each wall.

    I have a friend who lets me use his tire mounting equipment when I need so I can leave that off the list. In its place, I’d install creature comforts. Hot/cold water ($1000?), hot/cold air ($1000?), small bathroom ($1000?), small refrigerator ($100), sound system and small television ($500).

    Toolboxes will come from Harbor Fraught because they’re one of the few HF things that don’t suck badly enough to turn me off ($1100 for 6′ cabinet). Workbenches and additional storage will come from people selling their old kitchen fittings on Craigslist when they upgrade ($300).

  • avatar
    silentsod

    Epoxy flooring, lift, a drain system for indoor car washing with a closable partition to keep overspray from hitting other things. Heat and air conditioning available.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    A lift would be mandatory for me to start working on cars again. I hated (and still hate!) getting underneath a car with only jacks between me and certain death.

  • avatar
    Landau Calrissian

    Not in the spirit of the question, but $16,780 will pay a LOT of mechanic bills, so that’s probably the direction I’d go in.

  • avatar
    arach

    A lot of people are talking about flooring.

    1. Why
    2. What do you use?

    I’ve thought about putting something down, but when I bought my last house it had a painted floor and it started chipping up as soon as we got salt on it.

    I’m worried about oil leaks and stuff just soaking into the concrete though. No oil leaks yet, although massive coolant leaks have happened.

    Are there good floor coatings that actually hold up over time?

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I’d be happy with a single 4 post lift, a workbench that is bolted to the floor, outlets including 240v, and really good lighting everywhere.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    This QOTD and responses just make me sad about the itty bitty one car garage on the property I am currently in. Just enough room for my Mustang and to store a few odds and ends (lawn equipment and my golf clubs mostly).

    Still better than no garage at all.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Why is it that no contractors will build a pit when pouring concrete anymore? Is it liability?
    Or outright illegal due to residential zoning? My good friend in college had a pit in the garage of his home (yes, a regular suburban neighborhood) – it even had the metal grate in case the car was not lined up properly. He said that it was new construction and in the early 70’s his dad could just grease the palm of the builder to make it happen. We would all change our cars’ oil in his garage. That takes care of much of the need for a lift!

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @cognoscenti – Depending on the jurisdiction, a pit would require an engineered cement pad. That gets expensive rather quickly. Most garages are built on floating slabs since that is the cheapest way to go. Another problem with a pit is oil draining into it. The company my brother works for had to decommission some old logging camps with pits. The environmental cleanup bill was astronomical.

  • avatar
    SirRaoulDuke

    Can I just stuff this hypothetical building with $16k of motorcycles and some parts and call it a day?

  • avatar
    TW5

    I would probably just buy $12,000 worth of tools. Then buy an engine hoist, and do a huge built-in tool bench on the back wall. Then I’d spend the rest at a junkyard pick-and-pull. All of the engines and powertrain components I could get home would be dismantled, and placed strategically around the garage to make it look like I’ve got 10 projects going simultaneously.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Air compressors and air tools? Why? I switched to battery powered tools and don’t even use my air tools anymore. Hell, my battery powered Ingersol Rand impact gun has enough twist to snap a lug bolt in half in about two seconds. Why fire up the compressor, drag out the hose and work with air when the convenience of battery power is so much easier and quicker?

  • avatar
    jthorner

    DIY auto repair is vanishingly rare among the middle and upper classes folks in the USA. Even in the antique/classic car world a goodly number of folks do little of their own work.

    For modern vehicles I bet it is fewer than 10% of people. I’m one of those rare middle class DIY auto repair people, and I know hundreds of people thanks to my business life. I can only think of a half dozen who do anything to their own modern cars, and many of those guys don’t get much past oil changes.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Yeah I don’t touch a thing on my DDs, I have shops do it.

      But I love cars so I do all the work I can on my Jeep, collector cars, and exotics.

      Its kind of funny. The jeep needs an oil change? I do it. one of the two DDs needs an oil change? off to the shop it goes.

      May not be rational, but I guess if its a “hobby car” I love working on it. If its A to B transportation, bring me the mechanic!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’d have to buy a different house first. Current house is situated up an embankment from the street, so that it’s flatly impossible to build any car-accessible space bigger than the tiny 1-car garage built into the house. That space isn’t big enough to do anything that can’t be done from the front of the car by opening the hood or driving the car onto Rhino Ramps. So I can change oil, but not much else.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    I’m planning on building my 30×40 dream shop once my kitchen renovations are done and I’ve been thinking through this a bit.

    $8000 for a box is too much. Buy a big, cheap toolbox, but pop for roller bearing drawers if you can. Sliders are okay if you’re a cheapskate like me. I have an old, wide craftsman box with two end boxes I bought used. This gives me a long, low box with plenty of real estate on top. Sliders because I was a student at the time. Still in fabulous shape.

    Lots of lighting and lots of outlets. Put a 220v plug at either end and build a 15′ extension cord. I have a 220v plug at the front of my current garage, and with the extension cord I can weld pretty much anywhere I need to. I still need to add a 110v plug at the front of the garage, and I’m always tripping on my extension cord.

    One two-post lift. Four-post lifts are always in your way. Make sure your foundation can support it.

    If I were starting over from scratch with tools, I probably wouldn’t buy a compressor.

    Metal working tools are a must. Mig welder and plasma cutter are required. An oxy/acetylene torch is nice, but you can get most stuff done with a plasma cutter, cutting wheels and a hand-held propane torch. I’d like to buy one of the $400 Harbor Freight shear/press brake/slip rolls because I’m tired of forming metal over my bench vise with a hammer. A 3×6 metal work bench and a separate small welding table is advised.

    A small press is invaluable, as is a drill press and a big stereo for work motivation.

    Also, check out The Fab Forums on youtube. The guy has outstanding tool recommendations.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    $1500 for a compressor? That’s crack pipe territory, son. Buy an old propane tank for $90, a two-cylinder compressor and a 2-3HP motor on craigslist, booger-weld everything together, use one of those old crusty belts you have hanging on a nail for no reason and BAM! Literally. :)


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