Bodywork and Panel Beaters
Whether your car has just been dented in a fender bender or is suffering from decades of rust and wear, a professional panel beater is the expert you need to get your vehicle back to tip top shape. A panel beater is the person who specialises in restoring the bodywork on damaged vehicles. Their work may be as simple as maintaining the shine and colour on a collector car, or as complicated as machining and reshaping all of the body work after a collision.
At first glance, the body work done by panel beaters may seem to be simple enough for anyone to do in their own garage. After all, most of the work just involves hitting or sanding pieces of metal until they are the right shape. But don't be fooled into thinking that just anyone can restore your vehicle. Panel beating takes a lot of training and expertise. Professional panel beaters have worked through an apprenticeship and several years of training. Most vocational training consists of three years of formal schooling followed by a year of on-the-job experience. Becoming a top panel beater takes determination, patience and a streak of perfectionism.
Panel beaters must use many different tools and techniques in their trade, know how various metals will respond to shaping and be familiar with the production techniques used in every era of car making. While a hobbyist or general mechanic may be able to restore a car's function, a panel beater is able to turn back the clock and remove all flaws and evidence of damage from a vehicle's body.
Before starting any bodywork, a panel beater will spend time looking over the car in detail. He may review the car's original manual and look through archived parts catalogues for specifications about the materials used to build the car. From there, he will come up with a plan for the restoration. If the frame is twisted, he will arrange to have that repaired as that is the foundation for the rest of the vehicle. The panel beater works with various plastics, fibreglass, steels and metal alloys to smooth out surfaces, fill in dents and fill any holes left by punctures or rust.
As their name suggests, panel beaters often reshape a car's body by beating plates of steel that have been damaged in a collision. Usually, the panels are removed from the vehicle and various types of metal folding, welding and forming techniques are used to get the right shape. Often, the metal is placed over a sand mould and pounded gently, filed and shaped until it perfectly matches the vehicle's original condition. This technique of shaping in three dimensions takes an exceptional amount of skill and persistence and is where the panel beater really shows off his expertise.
Older vehicles often require bodywork to repair damage from rust and road salt. Unlike the aluminium used in modern vehicles, classic cars were often made from steel that corrodes easily. The area around the wheels and along the underside of the car is usually the most damaged. This is also the area with the most curvature and takes the most expertise to repair. If the damage is not too extensive, the corroded areas may be patched, filled, filed smoothed, primed and then painted. When the damage is more extensive, the panel will be removed, damaged areas cut away and then replaced with new metal that is welded on. The metal must then be reshaped, filed, primed and painted. The work is treated to prevent any new corrosion in the future.
Using the services of an expert panel beater is especially important to owners of classic cars. The value of collector vehicles is based on how close the car is to its original condition. Any visible damage or repair can substantially reduce the car's value. In older vehicles, replacement panels are often unavailable and the panel beater will recreate the part from a sheet of flat metal. Pieces will be assembled, deconstructed and reformed repeatedly until all the imperfections are removed. It is meticulous work that may take many hours, or even days, of effort before the job is complete. In the end, the car is restored with a smooth, glossy finish and no hint of its previous damage.