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Replacing the Side Panels on a CJ

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Posted May 1, 1999

Few Will Be Able to Tell the Difference Between OE and Reproduction Steel

Step By Step

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  • The side panels of this CJ-5 were totally hashed. If they weren’t wrinkled and dented, there was too much rust to weld up. The Jeep logo isn’t available on the Raybuck panels, since they aren’t made by Jeep. However, a good body man can carefully cut out the old logo and patch it into the new panel, if you desire.

  • All the interior attaching parts, such as seats and rollbars, need to be removed. It’s a lot easier to work in an unrestricted area rather than having to fight around stuff. The windshield hinges need to be removed to release the old panel, and the dash needs to be loosened. Don’t forget to release any wiring from the panel and remove the emergency brake pedal assembly.

  • Side panels are spot-welded onto the rest of the body, and a special tool is needed to cut them off. This tool from The Eastwood Company fits in a standard drill motor and cuts a 3/8-inch hole in the outer panel, which leaves a nub on the inner structure. This nub is ground off after the panel is removed. The hardest part is finding the small impressions the spot welding creates, but after the first few tries, it becomes easier to find and drill.

  • The spot welds are nearly impossible to drill out where the side panel meets the back panel. The easy way to release the steel is to use a Sawzall to whack off the rear and leave the flange attached to the back panel. After the panel is removed, the spot welds are visible and can be drilled out.

  • The Sawzall trick also works well on the front section where the side panel meets the cowl. A large weld at the edge needs to be zipped through, then the same technique is done under the cowling. Make sure you take off the fenders prior to releasing the panel—and watch for the wiring underneath the cowl. This method leaves a piece of the side panel under the cowl, which can be removed easier with the major portion out of the way.

  • The side panel brace is welded to the floor and also needs to be dealt with. A torch is a quick method, if one is available, but a cutting disc works well too. Even a sharp chisel can be used, but be careful to avoid damage to the floorpan.

  • With all of the attaching welds cut or ground away, pry the panel off the rest of the body. Sometimes other brackets you didn’t see the first time are exposed, so go slowly and make sure nothing is holding the panel on.

  • The front of the panel slips down and out of the cowl structure in the front. Errant wires and switches may get in the way. It usually helps to have two people work on this part to avoid tweaking the rest of the Jeep’s sheetmetal.

  • One of the most time-consuming tasks is prepping the rest of the body for the new panel. All the flanges need to be straightened as shown. This will allow a good flush fit of the two pieces of steel. When the panels are welded together, there will be less warpage of the new sides if the other panels are as straight as possible.

  • Special tools are a great help when you’re working body metal, and consulting a good book or two on the subject isn’t a bad idea for the novice. A hunk of iron and a body hammer can work in a pinch, especially if you aren’t too concerned about the details on a rock Jeep.

  • New panels don’t come with the emergency bracket installed, so you’ll have to use the original one off the old panel. After cutting off the bracket from the panel, carefully mark the new location on the replacement piece and weld it on.

  • Slide the new panel into the cowl and butt it up as far as it will go. A selection of wide Vise-Grips will hold the panels in place for welding. The new panel has a slightly different radius on the door lip, but only shows up where the panel fits to the cowl. If this is a major concern, a good body man can fabricate a small piece of steel to be welded into the area.

  • Welding in the new panels can be tricky for the novice, but a wire-feed welder makes things easier. The important part is not to heat the panel too much, since it will warp and deform. Weld one area and then move to an area that’s some distance away. This allows the first weld to cool down before you weld near it again.

  • More Vise-Grips, or similar tools, keep the panel in place as you weld. Allow all the welds to cool before releasing the tools, and always wear proper safety equipment. Home wire welders can be bought for under $200 for this type of work and can be a wise investment.

  • The result is a straight and clean panel that’s solid and ready to ’wheel. Final attachment of all the accessories, such as seats and rollbars, can be done after the panel is painted. The paint that comes on the panel, is only a primer, so sealing the seams and priming the weld marks are musts.

Jeeps don’t always live a pampered life; they’re subjected to dirt, rocks, water, and mud—not to mention street hazards like Toyotas. If the trail doesn’t tear apart the sheetmetal, time and rust will have a cancerous effect. No matter how hard you try to forestall it, the sheetmetal can eventually become a mass of rust and wrinkles.

One solution is to replace just the body panels rather than the whole body. That’s the piecemeal approach to repairs, which can be more economical if you have the time and tools to do it right. At first you may think that this sort of bodywork is beyond your ability, and if you don’t know which end of a screwdriver to use, you’re right. But the truth is only a few simple tools to tear the old stuff off and a good welder to put the new steel in place are needed.

To show how the job is done, we enlisted the aid of Mike Flores and his ’76 CJ-5. Flores has shredded a panel or two on the Jeep over the years, and rust rot has taken over in some areas. The body creaked and was generally falling apart at the seams and crying for a rebuild. We called Raybuck Auto Body for advice, and the guys there sent us a new set of side panels that was extremely close to the original design. In fact, if it weren’t for the Jeep logo on the panel, few people would be able to tell the difference between OE and reproduction steel.

Check out how the old side panel came off, how the new panel was patched in, and the tools that were used. Except for the time it takes to do the seam sealing and paint and bodywork, each panel should take no more than a half day to install. The results were better than expected, and minus the old holes and wrinkles on the skin, the old war-horse will continue Jeeping.


Raybuck Auto Body Parts
Punxsutawney, PA 15767