Auto Body Basics
Summary: Rust and dents are inevitable, learn how to keep your car's body looking it's best. Get tips on preventing rust, and fixing dent and accident damage.
Your car's body is made up of steel, plastic, aluminum and sometimes fiberglass. These materials all have their plus and minuses, and all need to be cared for. Steel is cheap and strong, but can rust when unprotected. Plastic is flexible, durable, and can be molded into complex shapes unlike steel. Aluminum is light and strong, but comes at a price.
No matter what your vehicle is made of, there is a top layer of paint to protect the body from the elements. Automotive paints have a tough job protecting your car's body panels from the sun, dirt, rain and snow. While you can fix minor paint chips at home in the driveway, major panel resprays with today's modern paints are best left to professionals with the proper equipment and environmental controls.
When shopping for a new car, make sure you check on the rust protection plan, and consider getting a rust proof coating applied when the car is new. I would avoid rust proofing when buying a used car, as the sheet metal may have already started to rust, and covering over it, will not help.
- Rust: The most common problem with an automobiles body is rust. Rust can work from the inside of your cars body and show up once it's too late. Fortunately most newer cars have very good rust proofing applied when built. Older cars can last along time also if you follow some simple tips given below.
- Accidents: It's bound to happen sometime, a fender bender or a major accident can really ruin your day. Make sure you have a reputable shop do the repair work and insist on original equipment parts. Cheap import parts can put you and your family at risk.
- Paint: The suns UV rays are your paints worst enemy. Park in the shade whenever possible and always keep a good coat of wax on your car. The wax should have UV protection just like the sunscreen you use at the beach.
- Wash the underside of your car during and after the winter season. This will wash off the salt used to melt the ice on the roads. Folks in the southern and most west coast areas don't have this to worry about.
- Make sure all drain holes around the trunk and hood are clear. These holes allow water to exit the ledges around the trunk and hood and prevent rust. Also check your weather stripping around all openings for rips and tears. Water will sneak in where you least expect it and eventually rust away your car.
- Waxing your car will keep your paint protected from the elements but what about the other side of the body? The inside is often neglected on older cars. Rust proofing is an option but if the rust has already started just covering it will not stop it. The existing rust must be removed or chemically converted before rust coating is applied.
What to discuss with your mechanic:
- Like looking for a mechanic, check your body shops accreditations. Also ask for their guarantee, good shops will do the job until you are satisfied. In my experience even the better shops have to redo a few jobs here and there. Do not hesitate to ask to have the job done to your liking.
- Inspect the repair job in different lighting situations. Some defects only appear when in direct sunlight or cloudy days. Most shops will give you a time period to inspect their work.
- When you get a quote, insist on using OEM parts, not cheap imported ones. This can put you and your family at risk.
- Make sure to ask around for recommendations, friend and family can lead you to a reputable body shop.
Also see our Car Care section to help you keep your car looking it's best.
If you have any other questions feel free to ask me.