Aligning Your Door, Hood, & Trunk BEFORE You Paint!

Anyone who has been around bodywork and painting for any length of time knows all too well that paint not only won't hide bodywork imperfections, it will make it stand out like a sore thumb.  The saying is that paint is only as good as the bodywork underneath it, and it could be said that a great paintjob is as much defined by what isn't seen as by what is seen.

But perfectly smooth, flawless paint by itself isn't enough to win awards.  Have you ever seen a car with great looking paint, but with body panels that just didn't seem to fit right?  The gap around the hood might be inconsistent.  A door doesn't close completely flush with the quarter.  Maybe the trunk lid is even with the quarter on one side but not the other. Perhaps the most noticeable flaws are bodylines that run the length of the car and change from one panel to the next. Unfortunately, our eyes are all too often drawn to imperfections and inconsistencies, and soon we can't see the forest for the trees.  In other words, we don't tend to notice how well body panels fit together unless there's something inconsistent or out of place.

Of course it's no surprise that 30-40 years of use and, all too often, abuse have just torqued these cars out of shape.  Not to mention what can happen with careless collision repairs or hacked-up backyard rust repair. Never mind the fact that, dare I say it, a lot of them came out of the factory that way.  I mean let’s be honest, the cars of the 50’s and 60’s were not the most well put together cars to come out of Detroit.

Perhaps where most owners get tripped up with this issue, is that they don't realize just how much a car body can flex during use.  Some big block powered cars would twist so much that they would break the windshield and, after a while, the door would become hard to open.
  Okay, that's an extreme example, but it would be smart not to assume that your car is perfectly square, and even smarter not to wait until the car is painted to align everything.

Just like great paint can only follow great bodywork, perfect panel alignment can only follow expert metal work, which means assembling and checking the sheet metal on the car before it's too late to do anything about ill-fitting parts.  So take the time to mock up each panel on a given car after the major metal work is finished, but before the body is ready for paint.  That way, the panel fit and alignment can be fine-tuned. Now with that said, the one final mistake most people make is that they don’t use the weatherstriping to do there alignment and then BAM!, just like magic, nothing fits.

Well think about it, you are adding an inch thick material to the equation so of course it’s not going to fit. Try taking the weatherstriping you are going to use and tape it on the car or truck so you will know just how everything is going to fit together.  Aligning "hinge-able" panels like the trunk lid needs to be done with the weatherstripping in place.  Since the trunk seal glues on and you don't want to install it permanently yet, you'll need to tape it in place.  But you can't let the tape adhesive touch the seal because it will pull off the adhesive coating.  Wrap the tape around the seal outside in and then use a second piece to hold it to the car. Once everything fits correctly, the car can come apart for the rest of the restoration and finish work, knowing that it will go back together fitting perfectly.

Again this article is just my point of view and opinion.  If you have found a better way then please drop me a line and I will be happy to include it in our next article about paint and body, and will give you the credit. Take your time to enjoy your ride and, if you can, take a kid out with you.  We as enthusiasts in this industry have to foster the love and enjoyment to the next generation or sooner or later there won’t be an industry.