The fastest way to make your vehicle stand out is with exterior modifications, but in order for them to look good it must be done the proper way. Adding new pieces such as wheels, tires, bumpers, etc. is one method but it can easily be over done and just look tacky. How many times have you seen a car with parts that just don’t belong? I’ve seen way too many. The other, and sometimes more difficult method is to remove parts that were originally there. Not only does it make the vehicle look more seamless it also separates it from all the others. From the factory this 2009 Ford F-350 Super Duty came with chrome plastic fender vents that stick out more than 3/4″ from the panel. Some may like this look but it ruins the body lines of the truck. Just like Hot Rod guys shave door handles you’ll see step by step how to remove these vents and make it look like they were never there in the first place.
These are the vents I’m talking about, yeah they are flashy and catch your eyes but they don’t do much for the over all look of the truck. With these removed the side of the truck is stream line all the way to the tail lights.
Using a plastic trim tool to pry off the vent, the recessed area underneath is revealed. Having a recessed area the exact shape of the vent provides a great starting point because it will be much easier later on when I weld the new piece in. As you can see in the above picture the fender is slightly curved so not only will the patch piece have to be the correct size it will also need the bend to be exactly the same to appear seamless.
I started by making a templet with a piece of poster board, to do this I cut a rectangular piece slightly bigger than what I needed and with masking tape attached it to the fender so the the vent area was fully covered. Then using a marker and my finger I pressed on the edges of the recessed area and drew “+”, one in like with the edge and one perpendicular to the edge. I did this along the whole outer edge of the vent area and using a ruler connected all of the intersecting points. Note that I did not once use a tape measure, on most patch panel fabrication an exact measurement it pretty much necessary but for a small piece like this the method I just described takes a lot of the guess work out because you are using the actual panel to get the shape. Using a ruler and an exacto knife I cut out the shape using the marks I made earlier.
The template was was a perfect fit, I want the panel to sit as close to flush as I can, this will reduce the amount of filler and body work later on.
Next using a piece of 18 GA steel I carefully traced the shape on to the metal. For the first side I wanted to use my Versa 40 Plasma Cutter to cut out the shape.
The plasma gives me the ability to cut the curves of the piece near exactly but for extra assurance I used two pieces of 1/4″ Bar as a guide to make the the cuts perfectly straight.
Using a 60 grit flap disc attached to a 4.5″ Grinder I removed the burrs, beveled the edges, and removed the surface rust. when making patch panels like this its very important to bevel the edges, this gives the allows for a cleaner weld that will lay much more flush with the panel.
Next to get the patch piece to match the slight curve of the factory panel I used my Bench Top English Wheel to gently curve the panel. Be very careful to only apply forward and backward pressure on the panel in line with the wheel. Putting too much side pressure on the panel will give it a dome and not match the contour of the fender. One way to eliminate giving the panel a domed effect is to put a rubber band over the upper wheel. This reduces the side to side stretching of the metal because the band stretches instead of the metal.
You can see the difference in the two panels with the one on the right being the one that I ran through the wheel and the one on the left has not been touched. Even though the curvature in the fender is very little, the extra time rolling it through the english wheel will save a lot of time later on when it comes time to apply filler.
Before prepping the fender for welding I used a magnet to hold the patch piece in place and look at the fitment and gaps from multiple angles to make sure no corners were too high or out of place. After taking it off to grind a few areas down I was satisfied with the fitment and sprayed the back with Self Etching Weld Thru Primer to prevent rusting from the inside.
To prep the panel for welding I used a flap disc on a 4.5 ANGLE GRINDER and removed the paint down to metal all the way around the areas where I would be welding.
Starting with the top edge I used my MIG 175 on a very low setting to tack weld the panel in to place, making sure the panel was seated in the right place before tacking in.
If you find that after your first tacks the panel is no longer sitting flush with the opening there is a way to save the welds without having to cut the piece out. To do this use a wide flat blade screw driver putting half of the blade on the new piece and half on the original. Press the panel so it sits just below flush with the opening then place a tack weld right above the blade. In the event that the panel sits too low in the opening you can use a very fine flat blade screw driver to pry the panel up to the desired depth.
The first step in the filling process I started by using Contour Short Strand Fiberglass Filler. This filler is infused with fiberglass which makes it much much stronger than ordinary filler allowing it to be applied much heavier to fill larger gaps and depressions. Before application I wiped down the fender with PRE Painting Prep to remove and contaminants that would affect the adhesion of filler. I applied the Short strand on all of the weld seams as well as the top section of the patch which were the lowest areas that needed the most support.
While some say this material is hard to work with because it gets too hard too quick making it more difficult to sand. I’ve found that the ideal time to sand is about 10-15 min after application using 40-60 Grit to knock down the high spots then 80 grit PSA to level the rest. Be aware that this is a very tough material and will harden very quickly so make sure you get all of the sanding
After the Short strand is leveled I applied and block sanded Contour Glazing Putty to finish off the panel. I would have only needed one pass of Putty but I went too light with the short strand in the lower corner. To knock down the high spots I use 80 grit PSA on a 11″ x 1 3/8″ Durablock, this block is great for smaller areas like this because it is easy to hold and is long enough to be able to slightly bend so all areas of the block are in contact with the panel at all times.
Now that the filler is blocked down flush it is time to apply primer to seal the area. First I again wiped down the with PRE then used 2K Urethane Primer Surfacer using the Evolution Paint gun with a 2.0 tip. This primer will not only seal the panel but also build up enough that I can come back with 320-400 Grit on a block and do a final blocking in case there are still any imperfections. The best way to apply this primer is to start from the outside and work your way in, as you can see in the picture I taped off the area about 5 inches off the filler edge this will prevent primer overspray from getting on other parts of the panel that do not need it. I am not using the tape to create a hard edge and will never have to primer in direct contact with the tape edge.
The final step before paint is to block the whole fender with 400 grit to remove and sanding scratches and scuff the existing paint so the base coat will stick. Additionally I scuffed the whole fender with a red scuff pad to create a uniform painting surface. Wipe off the panel with PRE and then with a tack rag to remove any dirt or lint from the painting surface. You MUST use a blow gun and move as much dust and dirt away from the area surrounding the panels. Even dust on the floor nearby can get kicked up by the paint gun and get trapped in the paint.
I sprayed the base with the Concours Pro HVLP Gun with a 1.3 tip. The color I used is a Ford color code UD which was mixed at a local automotive commercial supply store. Although these stores supply to collision shops most will mix as little as a quart of color matched paint at a reasonable price. I was lucky enough that this Ford UD Ebony color was a very common mix and a quart was just under $25. Depending on the color code and the additives that go in prices can go as high as $200 just for a quart. After three coats of base with about 15 min flash time and a wipe down with a tack rag between each its time for clear.
I applied 3 wet coats of 2:1 European Urethane Clear also using the Concours Pro HVLP Gun with a 1.3 Tip. I mixed the clear 2:1:1/2, the 1/2 being urethane reducer. This helps the clear flow a lot better and lay on the panel much nicer. I applied 2 coats allowing about 15 min flash time between coats, because it was about 85 degrees the flash time was greatly reduced.
The fenders still need to be buffed to remove some small dirt specs but other than that there is no reason a job like this cant be done at home as long as all the preparation is done properly. Post a comment about what you think, or any questions about the project!