Ownership, or just want to boost your car’s morale, you can make body and paint repairs. A window has a crack in it or is leaking. A door doesn’t close tightly. The garage attacked your car’s fender. A rock-or a boulder-whacked your car when you weren’t looking. The upholstery has a tear or a cigarette bum on it. You can fix these and many other body and paint problems yourself. Here’s how.
Makeover Tips for Your Car
These are the last ones. I promise! Here are some guidelines for troubleshooting automotive body and paint problems that I’ll cover in this article:
- If your car is parked overnight in a rough neighborhood and it isn’t stripped, it probably needs body and paint work.
- Before spending big money on a new paint job, spend a little money on cleaners, rubbing compound, and polishes to see if elbow grease solves the problem.
- Rust-neutralizing products like naval jelly really work to remove and stop rust. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Your auto parts retailer probably has bunches of aftermarket car-care products designed to tempt you to keep your car looking good. In this case, give in to temptation. Look them over, buy a few, and make your car feel better about itself.
What Kind of a Crack Is That?
Car windows are amazing. They allow you to see where you’re going without letting the wind muss your hair. Windows keep the rain and snow from joining you inside the car. So what can you do if car windows are cracked or leak? You can easily repair them using products you can buy from auto parts retailers and even many super-duper stores. Depending on what you’re doing, you might also need one or two glass suction cups to lift and position larger pieces of glass.
To repair a car window with basic tools, follow these steps:
- Identify the damage to the window. If it is a small chip or crack, it probably can be repaired using an automotive window repair kit. If possible, check the damage over a few days to learn whether it is stable or spreading. If it is spreading, a repair kit might not be able to stop the spread. New glass will be needed.
- To repair the glass, read the instructions on the packages of various window repair kits. Some are for cracks, others for chips, and some are for both. Find one that seems to best solve your car window’s problem. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some kits require that you remove rough edges from a chip, install a retaining cup, and then inject plastic filler into the chip. For glass scratches, apply a glass abrasive and cleaner available from larger auto parts retailers or at a glass shop.
- To replace the glass, first figure out how you’re going to get it out. Even if it has shattered into a thousand pieces, you’re going to have to remove glass at the edges before installing new glass. Door glass typically requires removal of door paneling to access the mechanism that moves the window up and down (called the lift channel; call your local cable company for availability). The glass is attached at the bottom. Front and rear window glass requires that trim and a rubber gasket be removed. Replace the rubber gasket with a new one as you reinstall the glass. The car’s service manual sure comes in handy for removing and replacing glass.
- To repair a leaking window gasket, run water on the glass to identify how it’s getting in. lf it is getting in through a gasket, use a putty knife to lift the gasket away from the glass and then squeeze a little window sealer (from the parts store) behind the gasket. Clean away any excess. Let it dry, and then retest and repeat as needed.
Sagging Doors Make Your Car Feel Old
There are few things more frustrating than standing at a car door in the rain trying to get it to close tightly. Bang! Slam!
To adjust doors using your car care toolbox, follow these steps:
- Check for door sag. Open the door and slowly close it, stopping just as it touches the latch. Is the door too high or too low for the opening? Then lift the door from the bottom edge below the handle. Does the door move very much before it moves the car itself, indicating play? In either case, open the door fully and look at the hinges for loose bolts or obvious movement in the hinges. To move the door forward, back, up, or down, slightly loosen the hinge bolts on the body, move the door to the correct position, and then tighten the bolts. To move the door in or out, slightly loosen the hinge bolts on the door, move the door to the correct position, and then tighten the bolts.
- When the door is aligned correctly, check for door latching. Carefully close the door to see how it catches. Either the striker bolt on the door or the latch on the door frame can be adjusted. By carefully opening and closing the door a few times, you can roughly estimate how much of an adjustment is needed. To guide you, look at the relative positions of the latch and striker on the opposite door. Once you’ve adjusted the door so that it’s almost but not quite right, make small changes in alignment by adjusting the screw(s) on the top or bottom, but not both at the same time. When the door latches well, tighten the screws as much as possible to make sure that the force of closing the door doesn’t knock the latch out of alignment.
- Inspect the rubber seal around the door’s edge for cracks or stiffness that can keep the door from closing securely.
- Let your kids or nephews test the door for you. They love slamming doors!
Un-Denting Unavoidable Dents
Someone should offer a T-shirt that boldly exclaims “Dents Happen!” No matter how careful you are parking and driving your car, dents will happen, especially those little ones that no one knows anything about. Of course, you can call your insurance agent and let him or her take care of it-except that your policy has a $1 million deductible! Here’s what you can do to remove body dents. Repainting the car is covered later in this article. You might need some specialized body tools for the following job. Read on. You can find them at larger auto parts stores.
To remove body dents, follow these steps:
- Scrutinize it. Is it a deep scratch, a large indentation, a crease, or many of the above? A scratch might need only touch-up painting. Deeper damage means that you must move some metal.
- Visit an auto parts retailer and ask to see the tools for body repair. There are bumping, pick, and slide hammers, and a variety of metal blocks called dolleys.
- To hammer out a dent, hold a dolly on the back side of the dent while you bang on the front side with a hammer.
- To pull out a dent, drill a hole in the dent, screw the slide hammer into the hole, and then move the handle back and forth to pull it out.
- To fill holes and finish repairing a dent, use a file or grinder to remove paint from the area, and then use filler to contour. Filler can be lead or plastic. Easier and more popular, plastic filler is sometimes called Banda, the brand name of a popular filler product.
Painting some or all of your car isn’t really difficult-as long as you take your time. Much of it is common sense: Remove the old finish, cover the parts you don’t want to paint, and then paint. You’ll actually paint twice. The first coat, called the primer coat, gives the second or finish coat something to hold on to. Many cars also have a third coat, called a clear coat, to protect the color coat..Painting equipment you’ll need includes an applicator and a respirator (for you, not the car). Applying paint by brush doesn’t produce a smooth surface, so automotive painters spray on primer and paint. The spray can be powered by an air compressor or compressed air. An air compressor, in turn, can be powered by hydraulics or electricity. Hydraulic-pneumatic air compressors are expensive, but they can be rented. Electric air compressors are less expensive and can be purchased for less than $100. Paint in compressed air cans can be bought for a few bucks each, but is offered only in standard car colors. A respirator is any device that keeps you from breathing paint fumes as you workdangerous stuff. Your paint or auto supply store can help you pick out one that is both functional and fashionable. Maybe you can find one that matches the color you are painting your car.
To repaint your car, follow these steps:
- Pick your equipment. Depending on the size of the job, your budget, and the value of your car, choose a paint application system. You can often rent what is too expensive to buy, such as a sprayer and compressor.
- Pick your paint. Automotive paint supply stores are located in larger cities. Most sell to the public as well as to paint shops. Find one with helpful clerks who don’t mind questions. They can help you choose between lacquer and enamel paints and select the right supplies and equipment, as well as offer techniques for easy application.
- Pick your spot. Paint in a clean, dry, well-ventilated area. Follow paint and equipment manufacturers’ recommendations.
- Prepare the car. Make sure the body work is done and that rusty areas have been cleaned. Use masking tape and paper to cover any area you don’t want to paint. If you’re painting a small section, you need to mask off only the area around it. If you’re painting the whole car, mask off windows, and mask or remove chrome and plastic parts.
- Apply primer to the car. Spray primer on the areas to be painted. Some primers also include a filler to fill in small scratches. Follow the primer paint manufacturer’s recommendations for sanding and second coats.
- Paint the car. Lightly apply paint in long back-and-forth motions, overlapping edges. If you’re repainting an entire car, start with an obscure part to build your skills. Don’t get in a hurry. Follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations for sanding and second coats.
- If you’re painting a portion of a clear-coated car, make sure you apply a clear coat to the repainted section.
Beautiful on the Inside
Car interiors get lots of use-and abuse. If your car’s interior looks like an emotionally disturbed gorilla lives in it, here are some things you can do to repair it (after you’ve carefully evicted the gorilla).
To repair vinyl upholstery, follow these steps:
- Identify the damage. A few small tears can be repaired. If the damage is more extensive, consider seat covers.
- Buy a repair kit. Most auto parts retailers and larger department stores sell vinyl repair kits that include a patch, glue, and filler of the same color as your existing vinyl.
- Follow the kit manufacturer’s instructions. The typical steps are to trim the tear, install the backing, cement the vinyl to the patch, and then fill the edge.
- Stand back, look at the job, and repeat these words: “Good job!”
To remove stains, follow these steps:
- Identify the stain. Typical stains include pen ink, food grease, automotive grease, and body fluids.
- Apply the cleaner. If the stain is dry, use a brush to remove as much as possible without extending the stain. Pen inks require rubbing alcohol. Greases are removed with a cleaning fluid. Body fluids are removed with mild soap and water.
- Reapply as needed. Some stains require heavy-duty upholstery cleaner.