How to Build a Rat Rod

The term rat rod has become a little ambiguous recently but really should refer to a pre-1949 American vehicle with a finish that makes it look like a 1940s hot rod. Rat rods are usually, unlike modern hot rods, devoid of body paint save for a primer or matte black finish. Little to no chrome fixtures are added and the interior is left unfinished. Without prior experience in building cars, building a rat rod will be a difficult task to undertake; consider this before continuing with the project.


  • Car
  • Chassis
  • Engine
  • Tires
  • Pistons
  • Transmission
  • Car lights and other car components


  • General garage tools


Selecting the car frame and choosing an engine

  1. The lighter the car components, the less weight it will carry and the faster it will go. Therefore, choose a car frame that is as light as you can possibly get and eliminate any unnecessary accessories or parts, leaving only the essential ones.
  2. Get a new or used engine; the largest one that will fit into your car is ideal. The more powerful the engine the faster the car will go. The engine size will not matter if the rest of the car is sufficiently light. After your engine has been selected, mount it on the car chassis.

Installing the remaining car components

  1. Add car components starting with the batteries, steering wheel, transmission, and clutch. Try not to add too many extra accessories or parts, using only components that will allow the rat rod to have optimum speed; simplicity is essential to get the most power out of the lightest component parts.
  2. Remove back seats and center consoles. You may replace the driver’s seat with a lighter one if this is to your liking. Unless you will be racing with someone else, leave only the driver’s seat intact.

Safety measures

  1. Ensure there is a working seat belt installed in the car that will fit the driver safely and securely.
  2. Roll cages are not being used in most rat rods, but it is advisable to install one on your own. Roll cages keep the driver in the vehicle even when an accident occurs, and so is a good safety measure.
  3. Invest in additional safety gear to get the most security out of your rat rod assemblage.

Painting and finish

  1. Most rat rods are painted with a black matte finish. However, the paint job is entirely up to the driver and can be a solid color or a theme finish.

Tips and warnings

  • Consider weather and terrain when choosing tires, and buy them according to what is best suited for these conditions.
  • After the car is completely assembled, take it for a few hours-long test drive before racing with it.
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