How to Align Body Panels

Written by chris stevenson
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How to Align Body Panels
Having properly aligned body panels is as important as a nice paint job and body style. (funny car image by diter from

Improperly aligned body panels detract from the appearance of a car or truck, no matter how catching the paint scheme or body design. Wide or narrowing bonnet gaps, fender panels that stick out or doors that won't close can be frustrating. Fortunately, basic adjustments can help tackle one of the most challenging automotive maintenance procedures.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Penetrating oil
  • Lithium grease
  • Socket set
  • Ratchet wrench
  • Wooden ruler
  • End wrenches
  • Towels
  • Rubber hammer
  • Wood blocks
  • Shims (large assortment of sizes)

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  1. 1

    Inspect all the rubber weather stripping that insulates the doors, boot and bonnet. If you do adjustments to these panels, they will need to close at a certain crush depth originally designed by the manufacturer. Clean all jams and lid seats of leaves, twigs dirt and other debris. Oil all hinges and latches first with penetrating oil and then with white lithium grease.

  2. 2

    Open the boot lid. Loosen the hinge bolts on the boot with a socket and wrench if it appears misaligned. Tighten the hinge bolts only enough to allow the boot lid to slide fore and aft and side to side by applying hand pressure on it. Gently close the boot lid. Use a ruler to measure the gaps. To move the lid in any direction, place the end of a ruler in the seam and wiggle it to move the boot lid.

  3. 3

    Do this as many times as it takes to centre the boot lid. After alignment, gently lift the boot only high enough to slide a socket and wrench under the lip to tighten one hinge bolt on each side. Now you can lift the boot all the way and tighten the two other hinge bolts. After aligning the boot lid, remember not to jar it upward, as it could slide down out of adjustment. Place a shim or two under the latch to raise the boot lid height.

  4. 4

    Loosen the hinge bolts on the door with a socket if you need to align the door. Use an end wrench to remove the striker stop. The striker looks like a thick round pin bolted to the door jam; the door latch locks on it. Loosen the door hinges only enough to allow the door to slide on its adjustment slots, using medium force. Push the door against the jam and measure the gaps all around with a ruler.

  5. 5

    Decide which way the door must move. Bring the door out and shove it in the direction you need to move it -- up and down or fore and aft. Keep doing this until the gaps have equalised. Replace the striker with an end wrench and adjust the striker depth in and out until the door latches at the correct panel height. To install a new door, set the height of the door at the front and the rear first.

  6. 6

    Set the side-to-side measurement next by adding or subtracting shims from either the top door hinge bolt or the bottom hinge bolt. Last, set the striker adjustment where the door latches by screwing the striker post in or out from its base. Open and shut the door to make sure it closes properly. When you complete the alignment, tighten all hinge bolts with a socket and wrench.

  7. 7

    Loosen the hinge bolts on the bonnet if you need to align it. Tighten the bolts only enough to allow the bonnet to move with pressure on the adjustment slots. Close the bonnet. Use a ruler to measure the front-to-rear and side-to-side gap. Get equidistant gaps by using a wooden ruler to pry the bonnet in the desired direction. Once aligned, gently lift the bonnet and tighten two hinge bolts on each side with a socket. Then lift the bonnet to tighten the remaining bolts with a socket.

  8. 8

    Wrap a large, flat wood block in a soft towel if you need to knock down a bonnet or boot high spot. Place the block over the high spot and strike it with a rubber hammer, moving the block slightly back and forth over the panel. This will lower a bowed area. If the boot or bonnet has a dip or low spot along the outer edge, coil up some towels and place them between the bonnet or boot and the quarter panel seat.

  9. 9

    Use your hands to shove down on the bonnet directly over the high spot. Use push and rebound motions, starting off with low pressure. Check your progress between shoves. This will remove a bow or high spot in the bonnet near any edge.

Tips and warnings

  • For bonnets or boot lids that refuse to align from side to side, loosen the top quarter panel bolts with a socket and wedge the quarter panel in or out toward the desired direction. Tighten the bolts when finished.

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