Can I replace an entire car door on the cheap?
May 14, 2011 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Can I replace an entire car door & fender on the cheap with junkyard parts and parts ordered online?

My 1994 Acura Integra RS got t-boned in an accident. Despite its age it runs extraordinarily well. I can take $1800 and give nationwide the title, or take $1300 and keep the car.

Is it realistic to think I can find a door at a junkyard and have it attached at the body shop? (I've got power windows and a power mirrors.) I'd also buy a fender online, and have everything painted. Can I do this for $1300?

I can't afford a car payment, and I don't think $1800 will buy much of a car.

The damaged car, despite having 296K miles on it and having its door and back fender caved in in the crash, runs well and reliably (though there could be hidden damage -- should I have a mechanic look at it?).

I'm not that interested how the car looks. I just want to be able to open the door, roll up the window, and have the new parts match in color.

There's a junkyard nearby that's one of the biggest in the SE.

Can I really expect to be able to get a replacement door and have it put on (fender, too)? Is this realistic given my budget of $1300?
posted by Jennifer S. to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Looking at $1800 cars on my city's Craigslist, it seems like your insurance company is being incredibly generous by offering you $1800 for a car with 296k miles on it. Hell, a car with a quarter of a million miles on it is basically unsellable unless it's a true classic.

You may be able to get the work you described done for $1300 if you find a mechanic willing to do it, but forget about getting it painted. A decent paint job can cost that much alone (and even a crappy one would blow about half of your budget).

Take the money, and trade up. You're being given an opportunity here.
posted by schmod at 5:29 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can probably replace the door, if the threshold and surround are not bent. I'm guessing they are if you were t-boned. You cannot order a new fender online if it is the rear fender. It is an integral part of the body and requires cutting and welding to replace. I would counsel against it. Take it to a body shop and ask them what it will cost to just replace the door and see if they think there is enough additional damage to make that impractical.
posted by Old Geezer at 6:02 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

should I have a mechanic look at it

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

As Old Geezer said; rear fenders are not easily replaceable, and doors are. However if you were t-boned the car could be critically damaged in ways that you are unaware. A crack in the engine sub-frame, exhaust, broken suspension components or other damaged components could quickly yield you an uninspectable and dangerous car that would cost more than the vehicle is worth to repair.

Get it cleared mechanically from a good mechanic, and ask what you need to do keep it safe, drivable, and legal.

Paint is generally ~$300/panel.
Doors shells are generally ~$300 at a Junkyard.
The repair labor on fixing the fender is likely considerable.

With no other repairs; your probably close to budget.
posted by SirStan at 6:38 PM on May 14, 2011

Downpayment on a used car - as others have said, there is probably a lot of inobvious damage going on apart from the door and fender. I know car payments sucks, but a 300k mile car =with= severe crash damage? Man, that beastie is only gonna break your heart. Take the money and run and buy a 5-y.o. Hyundai.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:18 PM on May 14, 2011

Yes you can. My husband did this himself. He is not a mechanic. Just a farm boy. He went to the junk yard, took the fender and door off himself. Ordered some parts, including a new motor for the window and mirror. It all cost about $500.
posted by fifilaru at 12:11 AM on May 15, 2011

Had it been the front fender, the repair/replacement would be relatively cheap. Replacing the rear panel, however, will require cutting the damaged section from the unibody, then welding the new piece back into the unibody. That's pretty involved work. $$$.

However, you should definitely get it looked at. In addition to finding any hidden damage, it may be possible to repair (not replace) the rear fender.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the door wouldn't be a big problem. But unless the car is extremely lucky, I doubt the frame the door closes into is in repairable shape.

I would take it to a body and frame shop and have them give you a diagnosis/prognosis.

Upside: if you can find a skilled and honest repair person, there is almost nothing they can't do to a car to get it going again. Even unibody cars can be stretched and massaged and welded back into shape. But the cost might not be worth it.

Downside: people like this are few and far between. If I had to find such a shop, I would probably go to an area speed shop and ask them. Or if there is a classic car meet-up that happens in your area, wander around that and ask people if they know of such a craftsman.

As you say, this is an old car and there might be hidden damage. I don't know what its current state is, but off the top of my head, things that could easily have been damaged are:

-rear suspension parts. Not too terribly expensive, but getting them mounted and aligned properly can be a nightmare.

- fuel and brake lines. If they run under that side of the car, they might have been damaged. If they aren't broken now, their lifespan might have been seriously compromised.

- fuel tank/ fuel pump.

- light fixtures and the wiring to them.

- seat belt.

- seat adjuster rails.

Normally, I am a fixing-it-is-cheaper-than-replacing-it person, but in this case, I think you are right on the edge. If the damage really is confined to those two things, you can probably get back to par with the money you have. But in this case, par is a 20 year old car that probably doesn't have a whole lot of life left in it.

Get the prognosis and go from there. Especially if your car is in need of regular maintenance soon (like tires, brakes, battery, etc.), you may well save money buying a used Hyundai Accent. $1800 is probably more than you'd get for it as a trade in.
posted by gjc at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2011

Everyone, thank you for the useful and helpful answers. AskMeFi is a wonderful community.

Here's how it's all shaken out so far:

* Can I fix the car with junkyard parts?

No. The damage in a nearly perfect t-bone with the other car at a fairly high speed took out not only the door, the rear fender and the front fender, but the threshold and the hinge pillar as well. There's no way to ever get this car looking decent again without spending more than it's worth, even with the cheapest repair solutions I could find.

* Did the car check out at the mechanic?
Yes! The Red Warrior sustained no visible internal damage in the crash. It does need repair, but from unrelated age/wear and tear. The whole "problem" here is that despite this car's age, it runs well and reliably, with good mileage.

* What did you decide to do?
Keep the car. $1800 will not buy a car as good as this one. Despite its mileage, I think it's superior to whatever elderly junker I could get with that amount. As I'm currently unemployed, a car payment is out of the question.

I will try to repair the car in ghetto fashion, with a goal of just having a car that's weatherproof. The current idea is to weld on a new junkyard door that won't be able to open or close, but will at least let me lock the car and close the window.

* The current plan in a nutshell
Weld on a junkyard door (or otherwise weatherize the car) and drive it until I can afford a new one.

When this car finally dies, it will be given a Viking funeral aboard a burning ship. Chuck Norris will officiate.
posted by Jennifer S. at 6:21 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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