The topic of car door repair covers many different types of repairs. For this article, however, we will focus on the process for replacing the door skin of your car’s door. The door skin is the outer, painted sheet metal of your door. Completely replacing it is sometimes a better option than trying to reform the sheet metal of the door skin after damage occurs. This repair used to fall under the domain of professional repair because of the welding required, but it’s now something the accomplished do-it-yourselfer can tackle because of the advent of structural body adhesives that are now available to the average person.
The first step to replacing your door skin is gathering the necessary tools, which will include:
Remove the Old Door Skin
Once you have gathered the appropriate tools, the next step is to remove the interior door panel and all the parts that attach to it. Usually, parts such as the arm rest can be removed with a screwdriver. When these parts are removed, locate the screws that secure the door panel to the door. Remove these and then use the door trim tool to pop the panel off of the door frame.
The next step is to remove all the trim around and mechanisms inside the door. These usually include the door glass, power window mechanism, lock cylinders and speakers. Make sure to remove all exterior parts as well such as the mirror and door handle. Once all the internal parts are removed from the door frame, it’s important to slide all wiring out of the door. Be careful not to damage any of the wires while doing this.
Enlist the help of a friend to hold the door while you remove the bolts that secure it to its hinges. Be sure to use a marker to trace around the hinges to aid in installation later. Next, lay the door on your work table so that you can easily get to its edges.
Now on to the fun part, grinding. Your door skin’s outer edges are folded around the door frame. Use your grinder to carefully grind along the edges of your door to separate this folded section from the rest of the door skin. Once this is done, the folded flap can be removed, though there may be adhesive still holding it on in places.
Locate the factory spot welds holding the outer portion of the door skin to the frame. These are usually indicated by small depressions visible now that the flap wrapped around the frame is removed. Use your drill with a special spot weld bit to remove the spot welds. Once removed, you should be able to remove the door skin. Like the folded flap, there will probably be some adhesive or sealer holding it to the door frame in spots. Use caution and beware of sharp metal edges when removing.
Install the New Door Skin
Before installing your new door skin, it’s important to thoroughly clean your door frame. Use compressed air to clean out any dirt that may be trapped inside. Also be sure to remove any leftover adhesive and sealer from the frame. Your body hammer and grinder may be necessary to smooth some areas of the door frame depending on how removing the old door skin went.
Your new door skin will have its edges pre-bent at 90 degree angles to aid in installation. Lay your door face up on your work table and test fit the new skin. Note any areas that it does not fit well and use your body hammer and grinder to fix this. It’s not uncommon for this to be the case, so don’t worry. Next make sure to carefully clean the surfaces of the door skin and door frame that will be bonded.
Once cleaned, it’s time to apply the adhesive. When searching for the correct adhesive to use, consult a professional, the expertise of an online community or your local auto parts store specialist. Be sure to buy adhesive that is intended for this purpose and not a generic two-part epoxy. Also, be sure to purchase an applicator designed for this type of adhesive. Use your applicator to carefully lay a 1/4 inch bead of adhesive to the door frame where the door skin will contact it. Be sure to add adhesive to the side-impact beam if your door has one.
Carefully place your new door skin onto the door frame and make sure to line it up properly. Once on the frame, use clamps (the more the better) placed around the perimeter of the door to promote good contact between the skin and the frame. This is very important so pay close attention while doing this. Let the adhesive cure for the time specified in the instructions supplied with the adhesive.
After the adhesive has cured sufficiently, clean off any excess with sandpaper. Carefully flip your door over and lay it on the skin. Be sure to place something soft between your door and your work table so you don’t damage your new door skin. Use your body hammer to carefully bend the door skin’s excess sheet metal around the frame. Be patient and don’t rush this step.
Once the skin installation is complete, your door is ready to be primered and painted. Be sure to paint the inboard side of the new door skin to protect it from the elements. After your door is finished being painted, re-enlist the help of your friend to support the door while you re-attach the hinges. Use the marks you made before removing it to help line it up correctly. Next, reverse the removal process and reinstall all the components that go in and on your door. After the door is installed, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Though intimidating, do-it-yourself car door repair can actually be relatively easy and a great way to save yourself money while restoring your car’s body to like new condition.