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This year, one of my New Year's resolutions was to become more of a DIYer. I was in a fender bender a few weeks back (not my fault) and insurance just cut me a check for the repairs. This car is a junker/winter "beater" (2002 Toyota Corolla), and so, rather than bring it into a collision center I'd like to see if I can do the repairs myself. The worst that happens: I blow all the insurance money and wind up not being able to repair it at all. I can accept that.

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Since I'm (clearly) not a gearhead, I'm not sure what to call the different components here. So before I get to the damage that needs to be fixed, here's what I'm calling everything:

  • In the pictures above, there is what I am calling the "main headlight"; this is the primary light that turns on/off and has highbeam/lowbeam capabilities
  • To the side of the main headlight is what I call this the "side light"; it is yellow and seems to be a foglight of some kind
  • You can see damage to the metal body around the side light
  • You can see damage done to the edge of my hood

So the punchline:

  • The plastic covering over my passenger side light was smashed, but the electrical (and even the bulb) are perfectly fine and still work
  • The whole side light unit around the bulb (see pic above showing the side light unit hanging by cables) is completely loose and is held in place by duct tape
  • Even the main headlight unit (plastic covering, housing around the main headlight) is loose
  • Damage to the metal body around the side light, as already mentioned
  • Damage to the edge of my hood, as already mentioned

My game plan:

Body damage

To fix the body damage, from the research I've done, I need to:

  • Sand down any crumpled slivers of metal that have protruded up; probably using an angle grinder
  • Use Bondo to fill in all the cracks, dents and depressions in the metal, and to shape it (probably using some kind of molding material) just like it should look
  • Try to find a matching paint and spray it on

Lights

We have a good used car parts shop in town; I'm hoping I can find replacements to the side light covering, and hopefully they just snap back on to the housing unit somehow. As for fastening the side light housing/unit back into front of my car (so that I can remove the hideous duct tape currently holding it on!), and as for securing the main headlight unit (again, its a little loose), I would think that metal screw applied at the correct/appropriate locations should do the trick.


My questions

  • Body damage
    • Is my approach right (sand, Bondo, paint) or am I missing any crucial key steps?
    • What type of angle grinder (I should be able to buy a decent one with the insurance money)? What kind of pad/head (I assume there are different kinds)?
    • Any special surface preparation for the Bondo?
    • What kind of paint? What kind of sprayer?
  • Lights
    • Is my approach right (used plastic parts)?
    • Recommended approach to snapping these used plastic parts back on to the light unit, and how to fasten/secure the units back in place?

Remember, this is not a Ferrari, this is a junker, and I have no real desire to get any real trade in value out of it in a few years, whenever it dies. It's value to me is that it drives me from A -> B. That said, I don't want my car held together by duct tape, and anything I can do to prevent rust and other down-the-road problems is of concern to me.

Thanks in advance for any help/insight whatsoever.

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    I appreciate your wanting to learn and do ... this is commendable. However, your best bet is to not worry about doing body work and try to just replace the panels. There is a point where you will be putting more man hours into it than what you can purchased used body parts for, so it just doesn't make sense. A fender at the local pick-a-part yard runs about $50 ... that is less than one hour's work in labor. There is no way to clean up that fender in under an hour. You may get lucky as well ... they might have one in your color which would save on paint as well. Just a thought. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 31 '15 at 19:59
  • Thanks to both Paulster2 and @Peter (I'd upvote you if I had the rep to do so). I'll defer to your wisdom here, and will start looking for a replacement side panel. If either of you would like to change your comment into an answer (bonus: if you can provide in that answer, how to replace a side panel!), I'll happily give you the green check. Thanks again! – DirtyMikeAndTheBoys Feb 2 '15 at 14:14
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I recommend looking for a replacement side panel. Otherwise the standard panel beating approach is to try and hammer out the worst of the dents first. Car bog/filler/bondo is a last step to fill minor imperfections. This is harder than it sounds. Panels that have been creased or stretched seldom pop back to thier original position. Judging by your photo the side panel has been punched sideways and creased at the top . It will be quite difficult to get that back it the right position so that it clears the hood correctly and you have an even gap between them.

To remove a side panel can vary from one car to the next, but generally they follow the same rules. If you lift the hood you should see a row of bolts just inside the edge of the hood. Follow your way around the edge of the panel looking for bolts.

You may have to remove headlights and front fender to get at some bolts. Some may be hidden behind plastic guards. Behind the door, along the firewall and underneath the car. Take your time and work your way around. Leave a couple of the top bolts until last so it doesn't drop on your head while you are working under it.

If you buy a replacement panel first you should be able to see where all the bolts and attaching points are.

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    Bondo is really a lot harder to get nice and smooth than people think. I did an antenna hole fill on a racecar and despite my best efforts it's VERY obvious. Luckily, racecar, so nobody (except me) cares... – Brian Knoblauch Feb 3 '15 at 18:30

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