The rocker panels on your truck take a beating, from daily use and from the elements. Rocker panels are some of the most vital components of a truck’s body and we want our rocker panels to remain in solid, rust-free shape throughout ownership. Unfortunately, rocker panels are also some of the more vulnerable parts of a vehicle. Rusted out rocker panels can expose your vehicles frame rails, which can accelerate rust in this area.
Rocker panel replacements come in two styles, slip-on and full rocker panels. Slip-on rocker panels go overtop of an existing rocker, where full rocker panels are meant to be an exact replacement. There are pros and cons to both and choosing the right panel for your needs and capabilities is important if you are going to take on the job of replacing them yourself.
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Longevity of Panel Repair
Strength of Panels
When it comes to replacements, the value of the repair work will largely depend on the quality of the panels. Can the slip-on panels withstand an ongoing stream of rain and road salt exposure, or will they rapidly succumb to the rusting issues that consumed the older rocker panels? And can they handle day-to-day wear and tear?
What matters most when it comes to the durability is the quality of the repair job and the thickness and strength of a given set of slip-on or full rocker panels. At Raybuck, all of our panels are made out of quality gauged steel. Full rocker panels can offer a stronger, more permanent solution, but only if you have the skill and experience with a welder. A poorly applied welded rocker will be much weaker than a carefully applied slip-on.
Security of Installation
As mentioned above, how successful the job is primarily depends on the quality of the work done. If a slip-on panel is insufficiently fastened to the vehicle, screws or rivets could possibly pop out when the truck bends and twists during normal use. Likewise, a full rocker panel that was welded on could tear loose at the edges if the welding work is thin or inconsistent, or if the metal was warped during the process.
Either panel type could be strong or weak depending on how it is installed. However, slip on panels are naturally more prone to coming loose— especially on trucks that are driven on rougher roads or terrain.
Rust Resistance of Surfaces
The whole purpose of buying and installing a new set of rocker panels is to rid your vehicle of a hopelessly damaged or rusted body panels. However, if the new panels also rust within the next few years, the money and work that went into the installation process will amount to little in the end.
In order to reap the full benefits of rocker panel rust repair, you shouldn’t leave your new panels vulnerable to the same corrosive elements. Whether you get welded or slip-on panels, the surfaces should be periodically treated with an anti-rust formula. Better yet, recoat the undersides annually to ward off the impact of water and salt.
Using the correct methods of application will also extend the life. For example, if aluminum rivets are used instead of steel you will see rust much sooner.
Though not directly related to the longevity, welded or slip-on paneling can nonetheless affect the resale value of a truck. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on the quality of the installation. If the new panels are seamlessly installed and well-maintained, they could possibly enhance the resale value.
But if a pair of full rocker panels have been poorly welded, it could lower the vehicle’s value.
If you wish to get new panels for functionality, but do not intend to ever sell the vehicle, you might not need an aesthetically perfect installation — just a secure one. However, if you do intend to sell the vehicle at some point, you will want to make sure the new panels blend in with the rest of the truck’s body. In this case you may want to consider using a full rocker panel, assuming you have the welding capabilities.
The Appearance of Replacement Work
Rust rot diminishes the appearance of a vehicle and can shorten its useful life. Rust will keep spreading along surfaces unless it is caught early, sanded out, and treated with a rust inhibitor to prevent the rust from returning. Whether you drive a jeep or a Ford Super Duty, rusted or rotted out panels need to be removed and replaced if they have become overrun with rust.
Both slip-on and full rocker panels are a viable solution for getting your truck back to like new conditions. Slip-on rocker panels will allow you to replace only the rotted portions or sections of the rocker panel, whereas with a full rocker panel you will be replacing the entire panel. With either of these options, the most important factor is to make sure all of the rusted metal from the previous panel has been removed.
On trucks, jeeps and other vehicles with full rocker panels, you may sometimes notice bumps along the seams where the panels are joined to the vehicle. These can be prevented by using tack welds to set the piece in place before fully welding it on and using an angle grinders to even out any unevenness.
Without a significant amount of welding experience, the average home mechanic may not be able to smooth out the seams of a welded panel to factory perfection, but by following these best practices you can come close. An actual piece-perfect welding job could run into the four-figure range. Therefore, slight bits of inconsistency should be expected if you do decide to weld full rocker panels to your Dodge Ram or Chevy Truck.
On vehicles with slip-on rocker panels, metal fasteners and/or adhesive glues are generally used to hold the panels into place. While some jeep and truck owners make do with only adhesive applications, most people prefer the more solid and proven means of using adhesive and screws or rivets to hold panels into place.
This does mean that fastener heads may be noticeable along the top edges of the rocker panels. However, a body filler can be used to make these less noticeable if desired. Moreover, opinions vary regarding the look of screw and rivet heads. You might even say they add character to a vehicle’s exterior.
When new panels are installed on an old vehicle, there will often be some inconsistency between the new replacement part and the preexisting body. Whether there is a slight difference in color or a noticeable gap in the age of the part, it’s rare for a new panel to blend in seamlessly with an old auto body. These inconsistencies will be much less likely to show if care is taken in the replacing of the panel.
Slip-on rocker panels may show more inconsistencies than full rocker panels because slip-ons go over the preexisting panel, they do not replace it the way a full rocker panel does.
Tools and Knowledge Required for Rocker Panel Installation
Welding Full Rocker Panels
Full rocker panels will completely replace that area of your vehicle. The old panel will need to be cut out and the new panel welded in its place. As with any welding project, the installation of full rocker panels requires at least a moderate level of skill. Even application of heat is needed for an even weld seam that will effectively fasten the panel without weakening the metal by making it too thin. Avoid making long welding beads as this could warp the thin metal.
You should have some experience with an MIG welder – or a similar portable welder – before attempting this kind of repair project. The more skill and experience you have, the better the finished result will be. If you are new to welding, doing practice welds on scrap metal may be helpful before working on your vehicle.
Fastening Slip-On Rocker Panels
Slip-on rocker panels are an alternative to full welded panels. Slip-on rockers literally go overtop of the existing rocker panel. They are designed to follow the same contours of the original, but are slightly oversized so that they fit overtop. Fastening slip-on rocker panels with screws,rivets and/or adhesives may be a better alternative for you if you do not have welding experience or do not have access to a welder. To successfully install a slip-on rocker panel it is crucial that the rocker panel be accurately fitted to replace the rotted portion that was removed. Also ensure that the holes for the fasteners line up without shifting the new slip on panel out of place.
While they may not require welding, slip-on rocker panels come with their own challenges. Depending on your skill set and available resources you will have to decide which method will work best for you.
Cutting Away Old Panels
Before you replace a rocker panel with a new full or slip-on panel, you must cut away and remove the old, rusted panel. When you remove the old rusted metal, it is important to sand several inches beyond the rusted edges using an angle grinder or similar tool. If not enough material is taken the new panel may rust prematurely, however you should not cut or grind away more metal than necessary.
Both installations – full and slip-on – will require you to cut away and sand the rusted, old panel for best results. You may be tempted to simply cover the rust with a slip-on panel, but you will experience rust much sooner on the replacement panel this way than if you remove all of the rust first.
Measuring and Adjusting
Replacement rocker panels need to be properly measured and cut before the welding or fastening of the new panel takes place. This will determine how well the new rocker panel fits in place.
For slip-on panels, holes must be measured and marked, drilled, and their edges smoothed out prior to fasteners being applied. For full rocker panels, accurately measuring and cutting will make for more even (and less noticeable) weld seams.
Repair Difficulty of Slip-On vs. Welded Rocker Panels
Unless rust is caught early and removed and treated you will likely have to replace the rocker panels on your truck and some point to restore it to like new condition. The likelihood of rust returning to this area of your workhorse will depend on how much care you take during the removal of the old rocker panel and the installation of the new.
Rust needs to be completely removed from the area of the truck before the replacement panel is installed and treated with a rust inhibitor. This will involve the careful use of a grinder and a wire brush to effectively remove all of the rust.
Treating the underside of your vehicle regularly with anti-rusting formulas, especially if you live in an area that sees a lot of heavy snow or rainfall, will help keep rust at bay. Any early rust formation should be scraped off and treated with a rust inhibitor before it becomes a larger issue that will require a body panel to be replaced.
Strength of Application
The durability of your repair job will depend on your skill and how carefully you complete each step of application, regardless of whether you are using slip-on or full rocker panels.
A poorly welded full rocker panel may have weaknesses in the welded seams that could cause them to fail. For example, if the welding beads you made were too long you may have warped the thin metal of the panel. Slip-on panels could have similar issues if the panel was not cut accurately or the correct type of fasteners were not used, or they were not correctly applied. The combination of poor cutting and alignment of the new panel and the incorrect use of the fasteners could cause them to pop out
The Cost of Different Rocker Panel Types
Slip-On Rocker Panels
The least expensive rocker panels are generally of the slip-on variety, which are available for various makes and models of trucks and jeeps. Slip-on panels can either be installed in front of or in place of older, rusted panels, though it’s generally best to remove the worst parts of an older panel before installing the replacement.
Prices vary, but a set of rocker panels typically cost anywhere between $175 and $250 dollars depending on the vehicle you are restoring and where you purchase the replacement panels.
Full Rocker Panels
Full rocker panels typically cost more than the slip-on version, in part because require more material to manufacture as they are completely replacing the old panel.
As with slip-on panels, the price for a full rocker set could depend on the model or age of a given truck and the vendor. Full rocker panel sets generally cost $250 to $350.
A professional rocker panel replacement from a body repair shop can run anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 or more. Part of the reason is the additional work required for neat, clean installations, such as the removal of truck doors. If you opt to replace the panels yourself, you can opt out of these measures and the only cost will be the parts, tools and your time.
Replacement Rocker Panels from Raybuck Auto Body Parts
Your truck is as tough as the work it does, but the rocker panels on your work horse take a beating day in and day out on demanding roads and rough terrain. Even with proper preventative care your rocker panels will most likely need to be replaced at some point to extend the life of your vehicle. Raybuck Auto Body Parts, we sell replacement rocker panels for a variety of vehicles manufactured since the 1950s. Whether you’re restoring a classic pickup or repairing your work horse or weekend warrior we have the rust repair panels you need to get the job done.
With panels designed for Dodge Rams, Chevy trucks and the Ford Super Duty trucks among the variety in our inventory, we have suitable rocker panels for practically any truck or jeep. Check out our inventory and feel free to contact our knowledgeable sales reps with any questions you may have!