When I was young, yeah, I crashed a car. So when I got a call and went to rescue my daughter after she crashed the Lancer I couldn't be angry about it...
When you crash into the person in front of you on the freeway, even if it is raining, even if you've spent 9 hours at college, even if you're tired, even if it is the peak hour traffic jam cars suddenly stopping and starting, it only means one thing - you were following too close, and it is your fault.
And just as Murphy would have it, I'd dropped the insurance cover down to 3rd party. So while the other car was fixed, I was left with a broken car.
JAW's tip - when you are in the middle lane, crashed on the freeway, and the car won't run, and a towie hauls you out of the way, and then they quote a price to tow you the rest of the way home - they are going to take you for whatever dollars they can, in this case (AUD2022)$350. If it wasn't for my daughter standing there in shock in the rain, I would have said "unhitch it and get lost" and then come back later to fetch it. Put it this way, a month after this I had another car towed 5 times further distance for (AUD2022)$120.
Look he did pull my daughter out of the traffic, that was banked up for 3kms, that is worth money to me, but not that much extra. He was cheeky too - he said he "would take the wreck away for free if that was better for you". Ha! What a joke!
If this ever happens again, I would halve the number, and say "I'll give you $x in cash". You can always come back later if they won't take it.
The radiator was wrapped over the engine, and all the front panels were damaged, but it didn't look like the engine itself was damaged, and the front doors weren't touched, they still opened. Hmm. After discussing it with three of my mates who work on cars, one was "of course you'd fix it yourself", one was "it is fixable, you need to decide if you fix it, get others to fix it, or a bit of both, or sell it off as a wreck or for parts" and the other was "sell it as a wreck."
You know what, people just don't fix things anymore, it's such a throw away society, I'm going to attempt to fix it myself. So then I can write this story about fixing it.
One of the first things I decided was I needed to pull the front end out so I could at least get the radiator out and check that the engine is still okay. If the engine was not okay, I would bail out and sell it was a wreck.
So out came my pulling-things chain and I hitched it up to the tractor, ahem, The Mighty Falcon, and did some "adjustments". Where someone sits in the broken car pushing the brake hard, and I sit in the tractor and drive off a bit. It worked better than I expected! Even one inner fender, which was bent, came back to nearly square! I went a bit far in one place, no matter it was a first pass. I was able to remove the radiator, and she started up just fine. Who would have thought if you use the opposite force to the original damage force that the damage would be (at least partially) undone? That was my trigger to begin the DIY fix.
The Donor Car
So with a front end damaged car, what do you need? (a) thousands of dollars worth of parts from a wrecker, worth more than the car itself, or (b) an unlicensed wreck that was rear end damaged? (That was a rhetorical question.) In the usual online car selling places I noticed there weren't many Gen 8 Lancers about, and the cheapest one I could find was (AUD2022)$2000 and I didn't even like the condition of the front end. So I watched the car auctions, and as luck would have it, within 2 months a rear-ended model came up. Conveniently, it was an online auction rather than an in-person auction, so on the day, based only on the photos, I put in a $500 bid but towards the end of the auction was outbid.
Hmm. How badly do I want it? I mentally decided that I would pay up to $1500 for it, but tentatively put down a max $800 bid just to get back in the game. I knew it would be around $200 in fees and around $150 in towing so I was looking at around $1200 all done.
So the auction ended and it's all mine, for $700 plus $188 for auction fees, and a tow for $120 (a cash job from a mate of a mate, which was incredibly convenient - I sent him the paid invoice and he delivered the car while I was still at work!) so total delivered (AUD2023)$1008. Under budget, nice one!
What do I Need?
I parked them both up in my garage side by side, and began by taking apart the donor car front end. Knowing there is always a trick, I checked YouTube, there were plenty of "how to remove the bumper" type of videos for this model car. Thanks internet! There were a bunch of broken parts I needed, the more I looked at the damage, the more I took. The battery was actually newer than the one I had, that came along too.
The donor car was an auto, so it had a radiator with an auto cooler in it. That's not really a problem, just leave that disconnected. The radiator was a replacement one, it had a 2015 date sticker on it, but a real skimp out - a single core! It was lucky if it was 20mm wide! But, it was keeping the donor car cool and it was newer than the factory 2007 radiator in the old car, so, keep going...
It had four brand new tyres on it! Still had the factory tyre paint line on them! Somebody would have been cross about that. If I didn't already have 8 reasonably good tyres for the car, and that they were on steel rims, I would have taken them too. For interest, here is what I ended up using from the donor:
I wanted to donor car to be rolling and running to make it easier to sell as a whole when I was done. So as I was pulling parts off, I would make sure it would still run - like the power steering coil, after I took that I connected the rubber hose back onto itself - the oil would still circulate, just without the cooler. And the auto trans line, and the radiator, and the mass airflow meter (transferred the broken air box across).
Now all these parts are well and good, anyone could do that that, the real issue is the crumpled up metal that is part of the car. I got a mate of mine around for some advice, and he gave me the single most important understanding I needed, let me impart that to you.
So you can unbolt a fender, sure, but what about all the parts of the car that are spot welded on? Well, they too are like a fender, they are a piece of folded metal, but they are "stitched on" by spot welding rather than bolted. With a special spot weld drill bit, you can "unstitch" the spot welds by drilling them all out, and then that part comes off, like a fender. The spot welds are drilled out sure, but the metal underneath is mostly untouched, you can now attach an unbent part on by welding inside the drilled out spot welds.
I watched a few YouTube videos of people unstitching and restitching some cars back together a lot worse than this, and I was really inspired!
Take a quick moment just now and jump on eBay and buy yourself a spot weld drill bit, they are around (AUD2023)$10, if you want one in a hurry like I did you will pay $30 for it. I went with the 8mm drill size, it seemed like spot welds are around 6mm so that gives you 2mm of play when you miss the mark. And it was very successful!
The drill bits have a tiny point in the middle which helps you locate your starting point, and then the cutting edge ever so slightly inwards facing, so as it cuts it forms a ring around the outside, so once you have gone through the top sheet of metal, thus breaking the weld, it lets go. You can mostly recognise when this happens, for a few welds I drilled out I missed the cue and accidentally drilled all the way through both. It's okay, this is not a show car. Just weld somewhere else.
Once you unstitch the good one and the bad one it is time to stitch the good one to its new home. There were 5 mounting points with 3-4 spot welds each for the radiator support cross member - at the fenders, the middle bonnet catch bar and two uprights. The bonnet catch bar was simply bend backwards, so I bent it forwards. The fender mounting points were already very close after the initial chain pull, so I left them.
The two uprights however were mangled. They were just another part to unstitch, but they were going to be very hard to get at, a lot more complicated than the top crossmember. And the reinforcing bar below it was also bent, that was even more complicated stitching, complete with bigger stitching holes where there were three layers of sheeting stitched together allowing access to the bottom two layers for spot welding. The reinforcing bar only had three bolt holes that had to be straightened into alignment, so with my pry bar I bent it up close enough. The uprights also got a workout with a hammer and pry bar.
Basically I was aiming for everything to be back in line so all the parts would bolt up again. I wasn't too concerned if all the belt pieces of metal still had a few minor bends left in them.
A Good Idea?
Does this mean that the car is going to be less capable if it is in an accident again? Maybe, it depends. None of the metal was torn, just bent. Metal fatigue? I guess? Am I concerned that one of my kids might be injured or killed if they front end it again? This has gone really philosophically existential fast.
I feel this is an acceptable repair. The radiator support crossmember and the uprights are not structural. The main structural parts of the car were unaffected, and even the slightly bent reinforcing bar is just an crumple-zone type addition to the main structure. In this particular accident, the airbag did not go off. It was a fairly minor fender bender.
If I was very concerned about repairing accident damage, first up my kids shouldn't be driving around in 15 year old cars, they should be driving around in brand new 5 star safety rated cars, in fact they shouldn't be driving at all, they should be wrapped up in cotton wool at home all the time.
Phew, okay, moving right along.
Align and Weld
Armed with a tape measure, I made sure all the mounting points matched the donor car. I dropped the crossmember into place, and it was a snug fit, it didn't feel like anything was being forced anywhere. With that, I clamped it all in place and hit it with the welder. I just used my basic arc welder with 2.5mm rods. I wound down the current to the point where I wasn't blowing holes in the metal immediately, but hot enough to get some good penetration.
I had hoped to borrow my brothers mig welder to do this job, but it was out on loan. I've only ever used an arc welder, I keep thinking it is time to upgrade to at least an inverter welder, but I'm pretty used to arc welding, I've done quite a bit of it. I have a reasonable feel for it. Are my welds immaculate? Ha, no. Do I quite often grind back and have another crack? Yes! Do I burn holes in the metal? Sometimes.
However here were are talking about something that had say 3x6mm spot welds. I then arc welded 3x12mm welds in its place, including a bit extra on edges and the like. Nobody is going to be unstitching this - I have made this change permanent.
Everything after the welding was straightforward rebolting up of parts. The first thing I did was put on the bonnet and the bonnet catch, and then close the bonnet. Not a single adjustment required, pulled the bonnet catch and pop up she came like nothing had happened. So happy!
The bumper had actually been in a minor bump, at the plate number mounting point, and was bent in a bit. Not that noticeable, but I thought I've have a crack at fixing it. I got my heat gun out, put the bumper down on some towels and had some chunks of wood and clamps at the ready. I applied generous heat around the affect area, and I started pressing it with my chunks of wood, yep, the plastic had gone soft and pliable and I managed to move it a bit. There was suddenly this "pop!" and I thought "what was that?!" and upon closer inspection, it looked a lot like the bent spot had popped back to its original shape. Wow! I looked, and looked, and thought it wasn't quite perfect, but that will do!
The top bolts for the headlights went on perfectly, the bolt underneath was on the previously bent upright and was about half a centimetre off - putting the bolt in would pull the bottom of the headlight back a bit too far and the headlight would be pointing down a bit far. A couple of washers to shim that out does the job.
Otherwise, everything bolted up, no new holes needed to be drilled. I suspect it is not as good as the original factory fit, but once again, this is not a show car.
Air-con is Not DIY
Now there is one issue, when fixing broken car front ends, that represents a problem. The air conditioning. Legally you aren't allowed to vent air-con gas to the atmosphere, and regassing an air-con is not a DIY job. Even though the heat exchanger was badly bent, it was still holding pressure. So my plan was to get a mobile air-con fixer around, degas both, swap the heat exchangers over, and regas the good one.
Which is exactly what happened. A friendly and chatty Italian bloke about my age came over and got to work, while he was degassing each one I was pulling the parts of. There was a scratch in the top high pressure pipe, so I swapped that over as well. He replaced a couple of o-rings too, put in the air-con dye/oil and gassed her up. We ran the engine for a minute with the air-con going (note - you can run the engine for a while with no radiator, I had put a bit of hose to bypass the radiator and filled the engine with tap water). All good! He was impressed, apparently most people don't obey the law and will happily degas air-cons to the environment...I paid $65 to have them both degassed. The additional regas was $165, so it ended up being a total (AUD2023)$230 exercise to get the air-con up and running again. Side note - it works much better now too.
See Ya Donor Car
So one of the last parts of the puzzle was what to do with the donor car left overs? The air-con guy reckoned "wreck it, you'll make your money back on it". But my wife would not be happy having a wreck in the front yard for a month while I sell bits off it. My mate mentioned "a running engine is worth a thousand bucks, see how you go". That felt like too much for an engine that sounded fine but had 230,000kms on the clock and I had no idea about its history, I didn't want to be responsible for that. My other mate said "take every part you possibly can as spares and get rid of the rest". But I didn't want to have a stockpile of parts sitting around probably never to be used.
I decided to put it online for $500 - driveable with 4 new tyres. Within 10 minutes I had been contacted 3 times and a guy was already coming over to get it. Argh! I went
In hindsight, when I bid on it in the auction, the bid I beat to win it was $650, so plus fees that's around $800. That means somebody was prepared to buy it for $800, potentially as scrap. I probably could have got a few hundred bucks more. Oh well. What it turned out to be was (AUS2023)$508 for every single part I needed to fix the bent car, so, I'm really chuffed.
So after two days of parts swapping effort and an air-con regas I filled up the radiator with coolant, topped up the power steering fluid and checked the oil/brake fluid - I was ready for a test run. My daughter and I went for a cautious cruise, swapping drivers half time, no faults found. Success!
While I joked that we could put some silver flame stickers on it and make it look like it is supposed to have a silver front end, my daughter likes the idea of painting it, but that would be another story...