Step By Step
When we painted our 82 Blazer we wanted to ditch the old front sheetmetal for a rust-proof fiberglass front clip from Autofab. Autofab told us we couldnt bolt on the fenders and hood (Autofab has fiberglass parts for a ton of different trucksjust call em) until we reinforced the radiator support. This is so we could drive the truck with no hood or fenders because the fiberglass parts will not work as structural members like the old steel pieces did. We removed everything but the radiator support and fashioned a set of struts out of 5/8-inch threaded rod to span between the firewall and the radiator. This has been fine for street driving but will require some form of triangulated reinforcement for tire-lifting off-road action.
A friend of ours who owns a body shop back East tipped us off to the idea of using red Scotch-Brite pads as a great tool to scuff painted areas in order to prep them for final paint. The red pads are cheap, last a lot longer than sandpaper, and dont clog up with old paint scum as you use them.
In its simplest terms a dent is a locally low spot surrounded by high points of sheetmetal. When you sand down a dent with a sanding disk or block, the parts that get sanded down to the bare metal are the high spots, and the parts still covered in paint are the low spots. A trained bodyman can see this in his sleep, but for the rest of us the-sand-the-dent-first technique can help reveal the path to repair.
For the absolutely best paint job possible you want to remove every taillight lens, door handle, lock cylinder, grille, and even windows and weatherstripping to avoid having to mask anything. Every line that you mask off is a paint edge that could lead to pealing or chipping. Yes, its time-consuming to remove all of these things (this is where body shops make some of their money in labor costs) but anything you can do at home will lead to a better (and less expensive) paint job. Having said that, if you cant trust yourself not to scratch your new paint when you bolt the bumpers back on, leave it to a professional to do it right.
Dont bother trying to get new body panels to line up without first checking the condition of your body mounts. Weve seen the stock rubber bushing totally fail and hollow out the sheetmetal body mount on the floor, requiring extensive repair work before you even get to think about hanging a new door or fender. When it comes time to replace a mount wed go with a new set of urethane body mounts like these pieces from Energy Suspension. The company has body mount kits for nearly every make and model, and theyre often priced much cheaper than a set of stock rubber mounts. Scared that the urethane will transmit more vibration into your cab? Dont be! If youre running even a mild set of all-terrain tires youll get more noise from them than your new body mounts.
The scent of body filler hangs over every body shop that we have ever been to. Its really great stuff when used properly, and that means sparingly. Body filler is a two-part compound that sticks to just about any hard surface and can be used to fill in both major and minor imperfections. The base-metal surface should be scuffed for best adhesion, and the filler should be applied in as thin a layer as possible. You should plan to use too little filler because you can always add more when the first layer hardens. When it has kicked or hardened, you should use a fine grain (like 150-grit) to contour the filler into shape. When you have the shape and surface you want, prime and paint as normal.
When all else fails, professional bodymen use a Vulcan healing technique on whacked-up sheetmetal.
We spent this month scurrying around body shops and sniffing Bondo to bring you some ideas on better bodywork for your 4x4. Were usually good at destroying sheetmetal so it was kind of refreshing to find a few ways to repair what we typically take for granted.