It’s a pretty good bet that when you restore a vehicle, no matter the make, sheet metal work will be in your future. It’s becoming pretty rare to find a classic car out there that is rust free or in no need of any panel repair. Obviously, this is a factor when shopping for your next restoration project. If you choose a brand that has a plentiful supply of restoration parts available and you have the equipment, you can pick something that is in rougher shape. You can rest easy knowing that sheet metal parts such as floor and trunk pans, quarter panels and fenders are available. That being said however, sheet metal work does take skill and practice, even if it seems as straightforward as cutting a rusty panel out and replacing it with an identical new panel. If this sounds like something you would like to tackle, the following five tech tips will give you some pointers on successful panel replacement.
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OPGI’s Top 5 Tech Tips: Sheet Metal Installation
#1. Seek professional help. If this is the first time you have attempted to replace or repair sheet metal on your project, seek professional help. Do not start cutting on your car without researching what is involved and the equipment required. The internet has become an excellent resource in the form of forums, dedicated websites and thousands of Youtube videos that show step by step instructions. The number one best help to have is a person who has successfully replaced body panels looking over your shoulder – guiding and giving pointers.
#2. Do not start cutting until you have the replacement panel as a reference. One of the biggest mistakes amateurs make when replacing panels is cutting away the old sheet metal before having the new panel as a reference. It’s very easy to cut away too much and then be left with gaps you will have to fill. Remember, not every square inch of sheet metal may be available and cutting into an area where there isn’t a replacement patch or panel to be had will require some fabricating.
#3. Be careful not to warp the metal when welding. When welding sheet metal, be mindful of how much heat is being put into a single spot. Jump around the seam while tacking and let the weld cool before moving back to a previously welded area. This will ensure even heat distribution and limit the chance of any of the metal warping.
#4. Have the right tools available. When replacing sheet metal, it makes all the difference in the world to have the right tools available. Not only is it more efficient, it’s also much less stressful. Cut-off wheels, grinders, spot weld drills, chisels, magnets, measuring tools and of course safety equipment are all essential in replacing body panels correctly the first time.
#5. Support the body when changing structural panels. Before an entire floor pan is cut out and removed, especially in a convertible, it’s necessary to reinforce the rest of the body by welding pieces of metal from the cowl to the door striker area and from side to side. This will maintain the structural rigidity of the body and ensure it won’t collapse in on itself before the new pan is welded in.
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