Dented Your Aluminum-Bodied Truck? Can A Stud Welder Help?

Construction & Contractors Articles

If you recently became the owner of a new aluminum-bodied truck, you're probably already enjoying the increased fuel efficiency and high-powered feel of the engine coupled with a lightweight frame and body. However, if (or often, when) you suffer the misfortune of a small dent or ding, having your truck repaired by a professional outfit could be pricey. Are there any DIY options that will help remove the telltale crease of an aluminum dent? Read on to learn more about aluminum's finicky nature when it comes to the repair process, as well as how you may be able to repair your dent yourself using only a stud welder and sander. 

Why is aluminum trickier to repair than steel?

Aluminum holds a hefty advantage over steel when it comes to auto construction -- although it equals or even outperforms steel when it comes to crash protection, it is much more lightweight. This allows aluminum-bodied vehicles to achieve greater fuel efficiency than steel vehicles without altering the horsepower or torque output. However, much like aluminum foil, aluminum body panels can create an ugly crumple upon impact; and unlike steel, these aluminum panels are not eager to snap back into their original positions. Small steel dents can often be pounded out or drawn out with a magnet without leaving a mark, but this repair process isn't usually as effective for aluminum body panels.

In addition to aluminum's tendency to remain in whatever position it has last been left, it has a chemically sensitive composition and can be easily contaminated. While steel body panels are generally non-reactive and can be touched, moved, and manhandled just prior to painting, aluminum panels must be painted only after being thoroughly cleaned, and should only be worked on with aluminum-specific tools. Painting your panel with an oil smudge as small as a thumbprint could cause the paint to quickly bubble and peel -- and this damage may even spread to other panels beyond the one repaired. 

What can you use to restore your aluminum body panel to like-new condition? 

Aluminum's static-impact and corrosive qualities often mean that aluminum repair is best left to the experts. Making a small mistake during the process could leave you with a pitted or pockmarked paint job. However, if you have some welding experience and want to avoid repair shop costs, you may be able to use a stud welder to draw out the crumpled aluminum and a sander to get the paint back to its original shade.

You'll want to start with a set of clean tools, a belt sander, and a spark-free vacuum. Your normal shop vacuum may not be a good choice to vacuum up aluminum dust, as this dust can be highly combustible due to its conductive nature. (In fact, using a non-approved vacuum for aluminum dust may even be an OSHA violation if the process is performed in a repair shop.)  

A belt sander is a good choice for aluminum, as it's less likely to become clogged with the relatively soft aluminum dust. You'll want to start with a relatively coarse grit, moving to a finer grit once you've removed the top layer of paint without incident. It's crucial to your vehicle's paint job that there's no cross-contamination with other metals or particles in your shop. 

After sanding away any chipped paint or other exterior damage, you'll then want to heat up the aluminum panel to between 400 and 570 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping a close eye on the surface temperature throughout this process. Exceeding the top end of this temperature range could permanently warp your aluminum, while keeping the temperature below the low end won't give you the flexibility you need. Often, you'll be able to significantly reduce the size of this dent simply by applying heat to it and slowly moving it back to center.

After sanding the paint and carefully removing any dust specks with a spark-free vacuum, you'll want to apply your studs to the dent with adhesive and prepare for the welding process. You'll thread pulling loops to these studs once they've been affixed and then begin heating with your torch, carefully moving your panel back into position once it is soft enough to be flexible without further creasing. Be sure not to remove pressure from the studs until the aluminum has cooled enough to harden, or you may find yourself repeating this process from the beginning. 

For more information on stud welding, contact a company like Northland Fastening Systems.

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