Every now and then, you’ll hear a classic car coming down the street before you even see it. It sounds different and deserves a pause as it cruises by, just so you can admire its energetic engine and unique craftsmanship. You’re transported back in time for a moment. And then it turns the corner, out of sight, and you wonder, “What happened to cars like that?”

“What’s really cool about the auto world is that you’ve got everything you need to know in the palm of your hand, as long as you’ve got a smart phone.”

The truth is, so many vintage vehicles are sitting in junkyards and open fields across the country, abandoned and forgotten. It’s on those back roads that auto enthusiast Richard Rawlings finds old gems he can restore to their former glory at his shop in Dallas, Texas. The Gas Monkey Garage — featured on the Discovery Channel reality hit “Fast N’ Loud” and now “Misfit Garage,” which airs Wednesdays at 9pm/ET — is where Rawlings and his team “turn rust into gold.” Their expert work sometimes results in a $500,000 trade-in, making the hunt and labor worth it. If you ask Rawlings, though, fixing up an old car has always been worth the effort to him — even when he barely made a profit.

Growing a business  

Watching his dad restore cars and motorcycles was what ignited Rawlings’ passion. “My father always had a toy to play with in the garage,” he remembers. Learning and honing his skills at home led to Rawlings trading in refurbished cars for a few hundred bucks in high school, starting him on the slow and steady road to opening up his shop at age 33.

But Rawlings always knew he wanted to be more than a mechanic. “After Gas Monkey Garage opened its doors, my team and I spent three or four years traveling. Every swap meet and trade show, we were out there building and showing what we could do.”

They were showing folks that these rusty old vehicles still had potential but, what’s more, that anyone could learn how to bring them back to life. “When I first started decades ago, you needed a box of tools,” says Rawlings. “Now, all you need is a computer. It’s amazing — you plug it in, let it run and it will tell you what’s wrong with the car.”

Embracing new tech

Such advanced equipment calls out to younger generations, who are familiar with a tech-driven world. “What’s really cool about the auto world is that you’ve got everything you need to know in the palm of your hand, as long as you’ve got a smart phone,” Rawlings says. “You can build a ’65 mustang by just watching videos.” For those thinking about a career in the field, there’s remarkable opportunity, with an estimated shortage of 60,000 auto repair technicians by 2020, according to the Automotive Services Association.

And for auto owners, simply understanding the possibilities of the technology can lengthen your car’s life. Take water damage, for example. We’re often convinced that a vehicle is totaled after seeing the wrath of floods or hurricanes, but Rawlings says it can be as good as it was before. Whether because of damage or cost, giving up on a car doesn’t have to be the answer. Just ask the 12 percent of Americans in a 2017 Harris Poll that saved $1,300 annually by re-financing their auto loans.

The bottom line: cars can last a long time. They’ve always been something you can take apart, figure out and put back together. And with today’s tech, Rawlings says they still are. He’s hoping he can inspire others to see the potential under the hood. “I tell the kids I meet, ‘Does your dad have a lawn mower? Take it apart!’”