Repairing rust on your vehicle’s body, from rocker panels to wheel arches, can be a fairly straight forward job if you plan appropriately. You’ll obviously want high quality replacement panels to start with, but that aside, here are a few simple tips to help you plan for, and complete, a successful sheetmetal replacement job.
- Determine your ability to complete the job – It may seem obvious, but a lot of people buy rust replacement panels without thinking through the tools necessary to complete the job. Most repairs are going to involve an angle grinder with grinding and cutting discs and a welder (mig, tig, or stick), at a minimum. If you’re buying a slip-on panel to go over top of an existing panel, you will still need the grinding discs to help remove as much existing rust as possible prior to installing the new panel. Most slip-on panels can either be welded, riveted, or secured via an automotive adhesive.
- Be patient – Wait until you receive the new parts prior to tearing/cutting your vehicle apart! Everyone wants to get a jump-start on their project, but it’s best to have the new parts in hand to determine how much area they are going to cover, and to make sure that you ordered the correct parts. Delivery times can vary depending on the time of year (holidays/weekends) and weather conditions as well, and you don’t want your daily driver being out of commission any longer than necessary, so just be patient.
- Test fit the parts before cutting and installing – Test fitting the parts before cutting and attempting to install them is crucial to an accurate fit. In some cases you can clamp a replacement panel over top of an existing panel to see the area that it will cover. Compare the new parts to the existing panels to make sure there are no major differences. If you can clamp the new over the existing, this may also allow you to cut through both panels at once, providing an accurate and consistent butt joint to weld along.
- Only work on one section at a time – The more you cut out, the more the overall body alignment can skew. When your vehicle was originally assembled, it was held together at the factory with jigs that you don’t have in your garage. These jigs kept every panel in alignment. Without them, it’s best to work on one panel or section at a time. Also, if your vehicle was every wrecked and repaired, the original alignment of the body panels may be different now.
- Support the body to maintain proper alignment – The best way to ensure that your vehicle’s body does not twist when an existing panel is removed is to evenly support it from the frame. Start by having your vehicle on a solid surface, like a concrete slab, and then put jack stands under each corner of the frame. Once you ensure that the vehicle is level front-to-back and side-to-side it’s ready for you to start your work.
- Remember that it’s sheetmetal and not adamantium – Sheetmetal can be easily damaged, especially when being shipped. Small dings and scratches are considered normal when dealing with sheetmetal parts, so don’t get all worked up if you receive a panel that has some of these on it. Keep in mind the amount of cutting, welding, and body work that you’re going to do to that panel. When cutting, as the saying goes, measure twice and cut once. The last thing you want on a project like this is to cut a panel short and then have to patch the patch. When welding, space out your welds versus making one long, continuous weld in order to distribute the heat. Work in small sections, rotating around the panel. If you try to start on one end and weld across the entire panel you’re going to end up warping it and the body from the heat.