In 2004 my daughter bought her "dream car" which at the time was a 1998 Dodge Intrepid ES. It was sporty and it was RED. It also had a lot of other good things going for it, like a 3.2 liter 24 valve engine, traction control, leather seats, super sound system, auto stick override transaxle, ----and more --- . Overall it was a good car. She took very good care of it, always had the oil changed regularly, had all the maintenance done right. Just recently she spent a bunch to have the brakes all redone and a new radiator put in. So the car was well maintained. She did have a run in with a deer in 2008 but that was all repaired, or so we thought.
So when she called me and told me (both angry and crying at the same time) that her car was ruined, it was not a good day for her. Someone ran a red light and went through the intersection right in front of her. She hit the brakes and then hit the car broadside. Long story short, the airbags did not deploy but the crash was consider a serious accident and the damage that was done and the age of the car made the insurance company decide to consider the car a total loss. They did not want to spend the money to fix it. Instead they told her they would give her a check for what the value of the car was at the time of the accident, which was around $3,000.
Not to long after the accident I went and visited and looked the car over and I thought they were wrong. I repaired my mini van after hitting a deer and that damage was worse than this. Of course I was figuring it as a DIY project in the true instructables spirit. I did not have to pay full dealer price for parts. So I told my daughter to tell the insurance company that we were keeping the car. I paid her the $300.00 salvage that they wanted and I became the owner of the "rocket car" which is what we used to teasingly call it.
There is a full cost breakdown of the total cost on the last page. it is fraction of the $3,000 that they said it would cost.
I rented a U Haul car dolly and we towed the car to its new home. That cost me about $125.00 in rental fees and gas.
I spent another $70.00 to transfer the title and get license plates. Yes, I was pretty sure it was going to be back on the road again.
We moved the car in the winter, and once it was parked it sat there waiting for better weather, because one thing I don't have but really need is a garage. And you just can't work on cars outside in the winter in Montana.
Well I finally got around to fixing it and this Instructable will show you how to fix a crashed car for a reasonable cost.
Step 1: First Thing to Do Is to Carefully Dismantel the Damaged Areas.
Take pictures of where stuff goes so you can use them for reference when it is time to put things back together. Try not to cut any wires, wires can be difficult to splice back together so disconnect them when possible but don't cut them.
Remove the Battery
Make sure to remove the battery. It should be one of the first things you do. If it still has a charge then any of the wires could have power in them. You can't get a shock from them but they can short out and burn up an entire wire harnesses or even set the car on fire. Also, if the battery is still good you need to charge it up right away to keep it from sulfateing. If it sits in an uncharged condition for a length of time it will become nonchargeable and no good. If it is below freezing and the battery does not have a charge then it can freeze and the ice will warp the plates and cause physical damage and short it out permanently.
Get a Repair Manual on your Car
A good repair manual will help you a lot in a project like this. It is a reference for how things are supposed to be and it can have a lot of tips for dismantling and reassembling
Resist the temptation to just hammer things off. Remove bolts whenever possible and put all of them in a safe place like a coffee can with a lid. As you remove parts you will get a better idea of just how deep the damage goes.
Don't throw parts out until its all finished
Keep track of the damaged parts, make a list if necessary because you will need to get replacements. Make a shopping list and it will be a lot easier when you go looking for parts. Where will you get parts??? By far the very best place is an auto salvage yard more commonly known as a junk yard, and this is why its important for you to remove your damaged parts because a lot of times you are going to be getting salvage parts from other cars and you will need to remove the replacement parts unless you want to pay a premium for someone else to do it for you. So make mental notes of what tools you will need and how to get those strange bolts loose and what you will need to do it.
Step 2: Drain the Fluids and Save Them Carefully.
If your radiator is intact and holding water, drain out the antifreeze and save as much as you can. Put it in a container that you can seal to keep dirt and also animals out of it. It is poisonous and animals that drink it will die.
You can't save the Air Conditioner Coolant
If your air conditioner still has coolant in it then you are going to have to vent it. I know that you are supposed to take it to a service place and have them remove and recover the refrigerant but lets be realistic here. The car is not drivable, you can't take it anywhere. They won't come to you and if they actually did they would charge you a fortune for it. The value of the refrigerant is not that much. Its about 20 bucks worth. And since this is not Freon it is meant to be environmentally safe. So just accept the fact that some is going to escape. I made a short video to show you how to safely remove the hoses. If there is refrigerant in it, it will come out in a big puff and the compressor oil is going to go everywhere. It makes a loud bang. Mine was empty because it had a hole punched in the condenser in the accident. At the junk yard the system in the car I was salvaging was still charged. When I unscrewed the first bolt it all came out. That actually was great because it told me that the condenser I was buying was good. It had been holding pressure for years, so I knew it was good.
Keep your distance when you unscrew these lines.
To remove radiator hoses take the clamps off and slide them back along the hose. Don't try and pull the hose off, instead try and twist it to break its connection and then twisting and pulling work it off the connector. You can also use a screwdriver but not in the way you might think. If there is room you can put the blade of the screwdriver between the hose end and the radiator and twist the screwdriver. This will push the hose away from the radiator. Use leverage rather than yanking on the hose.
Transmission cooling lines
The little hoses are the cooling lines for the transmission. They run through the radiator and also through the little cooling unit in front of the radiator. They will leak transmission fluid when you disconnect them. If you can find a dowel that fits you can plug them temporarily to keep it from leaking fluid everywhere. The transmission fluid in the radiator is going to leak out. Again try and push the lines off with a screwdriver if possible. Expect them to leak fluid. Keep some rags handy to soak it up.
Stupid Plastic Rivets
Then there are those stupid plastic rivets and fasteners. You can just cut them off if you want. I try and salvage them if I can because the stupid things cost almost a buck each for replacements. Push the center pins out with a pair of long nose pliers and pull the rivets out. Some you can't save and for those a pair of wire cutters works great for snapping the rivets off.
Save ALL the Bolts and Screws
By the way, when you dismantle a car at the junk yard, keep all the bolts and screws and plastic rivets. After all they are part of the stuff you are buying and having a few extra can be very handy.
Step 3: Get Ready to Go Shopping.
With all the broken and damaged parts removed you now know what you are going to need for replacement parts. Make a trip to an auto wrecking yard, maybe even several of them, and tell them what you are looking for. They will know where the parts cars are and if they have enough parts for what you need. Ask them for an estimate of what it all will cost you. There are no set prices for used parts so feel free to dicker with them if the price seems to high. Let them know you would rather get all the parts from one place for one price but that if you need to look elsewhere you will.
I didn't even take any tools with me the first visit. I was trying to find where I would get the parts from and what was available. They usually will not buy stuff back from you so find the best parts that you want before you even pick up a wrench.
I needed a hood, an AC condenser, maybe a radiator, and the fans. The top metal piece or brace or whatever they call it, 2 headlights, The plastic pieces that were broken and the front bumper cover. One junk yard had 2 different cars that had all the parts I needed between them so we agreed on a price. They charged me $175 for everything and I removed the parts myself. From a dealer just one headlight is over $300, and a hood is over $400. But these are not in new pristine condition. I had to degrease everything and clean it all up.
If you are getting air conditioner parts take some plastic sandwich bags with you and put them over the open hose ends and put rubber bands around them. You don't want to get dirt and water in the lines. Keep track of your tools, anything you leave behind will belong to the next guy who finds it. If it looks like you will need help with heavy parts have a friend come and help, or you can even hire a high school kid to help. They will love just being there and they are usually interested in learning things like how to salvage parts.
Take all your parts home and clean them up. Lay them in the sun for a few days to dry. You will probably need to clean them several times to get all the grime off.
Step 4: One of the Best Body Repair Tools, the Come-a-long.
Having a collection of things like big old bolts can really be handy. A piece of junk can become a tool in the right circumstances.
Set the parking brake and block the tires of the vehicle so it stays put.
I ran the bolt through the hole, put the nut on and hooked the cable to it. Take up the slack in the cable and ratchet it until it is tight. When it is tight enough to pluck like a guitar string, stop. This has to be a controlled process. It is possible that just ratcheting the cable will stretch out your dent but probably not. You need to add a little more force and the best way to do this is to step or sit on the cable and bounce it a little. You will see the dent move forward with each bounce. Be gentle, just do it as much as you need otherwise you will be pounding things back in the other direction.
When I hit a deer with my minivan it pushed the front radiator support all the way back to the engine. Using just a come-a-long I was able to pull it all back out to its original position. I moved the hook around to different spots and pulled it out in small amounts so it came back out straight with no problems. It is amazing what you can do this way.
Step 5: Hammer Time.
The sides of the supports got pushed out so with the cable still tensioned I hammered on the bowed out parts and some of them moved back to where they were supposed to be. Don't get carried away with the hammer. Hit it a little and if nothing happens then hit it harder. Do one hit and check your progress. A little bit at a time is the best way to do it.
Some were a little harder because of being crushed in. I used a combination of punches and chisels to push and hammer the metal back to where it should be. Hammering a punch down alongside the front will push the steal out if its not bent to badly.
What I found really annoying was that I was repairing damage from the deer hit that my daughter paid to have repaired. They never pulled the damage out but instead just hid it. All the damage to the driver side support was from a deer hit because the main impact of this accident was on the other side. If they don't fix it they should at least not charge you for it.
You can use any type of steal as a tool for doing stuff like this but keep in mind that soft steal will likely deform. Punches that are made for hammering on work really good.
After I was satisfied with the results of all the hammering I sprayed everything with a coat of primer. It will help keep the metal from rusting.
One thing I was surprised about in this whole process was how soft the car's metal is. It is very easy to bend. Some things were so thin you could bend it with a pair of pliers.
Step 6: Bumper Bashing
Not a problem.
Take your trusty comealong and attach it to each arm and ratchet it together. It worked a little bit but not enough so now it was time to bring out the big hammer.
Using a sledge hammer and with the comealong adding tension, whack the outside of the support arms to force them back into position. Hit them in a place where you won't dent them but can get enough force to make an adjustment. This can take several times. Don't hit it really hard, just a good solid hit and then check the alignment of the holes. (Also make sure to loosen the bolts of the bottom support so it allows the arms to bend.) When the bolt holes line up you are done. DO NOT go to far.
Step 7: Straighten the Radiator
Aluminum is a soft metal and bends easily. The core of this radiator is aluminum. It should be able to be bent back.
That's called using your feet
First I put it on a flat surface and pushed on the main bulge with my foot. Yes, I stepped on it to make it straight. That got it close.
And then use a rubber hammer
Next I took a rubber mallet and gently hammered out the high spots using a wooden block in back for an anvil. I checked it with a straight edge to make sure I got it even. It flattened out just fine.
Then I had to repair the little fins that got bent in the accident and that got bent from me hammering it. I used an old linoleum knife and just bent the fins back up. Its tedious but its part of the job.
Step 8: Assemble the Radiator.
Hook up the transmission cooling lines and then the radiator hoses. Plug the fans in and make sure nothing is in the way of them turning. Fill the radiator with the saved antifreeze and check that its not coming out somewhere as you you put it in.
Don't charge the Air Conditioner Yet
Hook up the AC lines but be careful how you do it. First, don't damage the O rings in any way. Wipe the connectors with a clean rag so there is no dirt in them. Now, to hook up these lines, do not put the connector in the hole and then try and thread the screw in. This is soft aluminum and the screws can strip the threads out with just a little force. First, hand thread the screws into the condenser and make sure they are going in correctly. You should be able to turn them with no resistance if they are threaded the right way. Once the screws are started, slip the AC line over the bolt and then push it into the hole. Now tighten down the bolt. It will draw the hose into the right position and when it is flat with the surface it is seated properly.
Step 9: Put in the Battery, Start It Up.
Don't run the engine without the radiator hooked up
Why Not? Because there is still a lot of antifreeze in the engine block and with this car the water pump is powered internally so if you start it up it will spray out all the antifreeze and make a big mess and add the cost of antifreeze to your list. Second, the transmission will pump fluid through those little cooling hoses and you will have that nice red fluid everywhere except in the transmission.
I had to get a new battery for this car because the old one was damaged in the accident. Some of the plates shorted out and it would not keep a charge.
The battery in this car is mounted in what has to be the worst place they could think to put it. You actually have to jack the car up and take the wheel off to get access to where it goes. You also have to take the headlight out in order to service it. Its a half day project just to put in the stupid battery.
So, I finally got that in place, had power again finally and cranked the engine over.
It started with no problem.
Sometimes things are a Pain
But it was making a racket. I tracked down the noise and it was coming from a tensioner pulley. But much more serious than that I noticed that the crankshaft pulley was wobbling. It is also called a harmonic balancer. Apparently it was bent from being impacted in the accident. It was about 1/4 inch off. This was a problem. If the balancer wobbles it will tear up the bearing and the seal of the crankshaft. It is also possible for it to actually cause the shaft to break since the shaft is hardened but brittle steal. So, I would need to replace it. That meant that I was going to have to drain the radiator and disconnect all the hoses and remove the whole assembly so I could pull the pulley off. What a pain.
Step 10: Changing the Harmonic Balancer.
The harmonic balancer is a key part. It drives all the belts among other things. I did not want to put in a used part here because this is such an important part. So I got a new balancer for $65.00
To take it off you need to use a puller.
I took out the center bolt and then set up the puller to take the pulley off. These things are on really tight, you cannot just pry it off.
What NOT to do
I used a socket extension bar in the shaft hole for the puller to push against. I thought it was a good idea. It fit perfectly. This turned out to be a bad idea. The pulley did come loose and start to move off the shaft the way it is supposed to. Then it reached the socket flare so I had to change to something else. Only problem was I found the extension was stuck. I guess it was softer steal than I realized and it somehow jammed itself in the bolt hole. What fun. I could not get anything to get a grip on it including vise grips. It finally dawned on me that there was a way to grab it, sort of, and that was to put a breaker bar in the socket hole. So, with that I managed to jerk it back and forth and it got loose. With the breaker bar and a nail puller crow bar I finally got the thing out. What I ended up using there instead to get the pulley the rest of the way off was a large drill bit. I put the bit in the hole and the puller against the butt end and that got the pulley off. I also figured that if the bit got stuck I could attach it to a drill and spin it out but that wasn't necessary.
Just another little job that ended up taking all day ----- . It's how we learn to do things better.
I tried putting the bolt into the hole, just out of paranoia, and sure enough it tore up the bolt threads. So I now needed to get out the tap and die set and clean up the threads on the bolt and the threads in the shaft as they apparently were damaged by my socket extension. The tap cleaned it out with no trouble so it wasn't damaged badly. I shot a squirt of WD 40 into it to wash out the metal bits and then blew it out with compressed air.
It is recommended that the pulley be put on with a special tool. I didn't have one. I really didn't want to buy one. I did a Google search and found a lot of comments about it. If you hammer on the front of the pulley. trying to hammer it onto the shaft, it can flatten the steal and make it impossible to get on all the way. In addition hammering on the crankshaft can do damage to the bearings inside the engine. Then I found a Youtube of one Long time mechanic who said its really simple. You use a rubber mallet to hammer it part way until the center bolt can reach the inner threads. The mallet won't do any damage to anything, it will just take a few extra hits to get it on. I do have a rubber mallet. it worked perfectly. So, bang on it with a rubber hammer like a preschooler until you can get the center bolt to grab. Then just use your ratchet and the bolt will seat it the rest of the way. Ta Da. Put the belts back on and tighten them to the recommended amount. Then quit for the day while you are ahead.
As it turned out the idler pulley for the air conditioner belt was bad also. So I ended up replacing all of them. I would highly recommend that if you are ever in the position that the front of the engine is open that you go ahead and replace the pulleys and maybe even the belts as it is a lot easier to do when its all open.
Step 11: Some Assembly Required.
Now that the crankcase pulley is done I can go back to putting things together. Put the radiator assembly back in and hook up all the hoses again. Fill it with antifreeze and then start it up again. This time its very quiet. No noise other than the engine noise. So that was a success. Run the engine until it gets warm and the fans turn on. You need to check to make sure the fans are working so you don't run into trouble later.
Now the top piece can be put in place. This is actually a pretty important part. It ties together the top part of the engine. It keeps the radiator in place, provides a place to secure the plastic bumper and provides a way to mount the headlights. I could have tried to hammer out the bent one but I thought it would be better to get one that was factory correct so I could tell if everything was lining up right. If some of the holes were off then it was due to the parts underneath being out of alignment.
Once again the friendly comealong comes into play. If something has been pushed back you can hook on to it and pull it into alignment. Just be careful not to over pull something and not bend something that is not supposed to be bent. This part also holds the hood in place so its important that it be pretty close to where its supposed to be.
Double Check your work
Its actually beginning to look like it should. After you get all the bolts in go through them again and give them a last turn. Don't over tighten them so they strip, but don't leave them lose either. Always, after you bolt something down run back over all the bolts again and give them a final crank.
Step 12: Headlights
A word about the headlights ---- Almost all the lights on older cars are foggy. This happens from weathering and such. Buying used lights you are almost assured that they will be foggy. But this can be fixed. There are kits available for restoring the lights and they really do work. The best one I have run across so far is made by Turtle Wax and is simply called "headlight lens restorer". It did a fantastic job on the lights. I took one of the broken lights which was really foggy and cleaned a spot on it. You can really see the difference. This stuff makes them like new. For only 8 bucks you get like new lights. One of the lights I got was so foggy that I couldn't really see the inside. When I did clean it up I discovered that it had had water inside it and so had tarnished the reflective coating. Oh well, that one is a little duller than the other one. I might get a replacement if it bothers me to much.
The lights are made to be adjusted. After you bolt them in place check to see that they line up correctly. They will almost for sure need to be adjusted.
If a light unit does not go in easily or seams to fit wrong don't force it. You may still have some frame elements that are off. Make fine adjustments if you need to by pulling out or even pushing in mounting brackets. Remember, this is a traumatized vehicle, its going to be a little off. Be patient with it and you can get it right.
Step 13: Really Stupid Stuff
I removed the fender as it just bolts on and tried to see what was going on. It is possible that there was some place where it had been bent and so did not line up. I could not see anything. I loosened the door hinges and slid the door back an eighth of an inch or so. When I put the fender back on everything was just fine. the door cleared the fender, seated correctly in the frame and all the bolts were now in the fender. This is really basic body stuff, how did these people get this so wrong?
So I suppose the bottom line here is never trust a repair shop. If they say they fixed something have them show you how they fixed it.
Step 14: Replace the Hood
Hoods are not heavy but they are large and difficult to change by yourself. You really need an assistant for this step. And keep in mind that it is possible for the hood to slide down and hit the windshield. The pointed edges would probably punch a nice hole in it. So get help for this.
All you have to do is take the bolts out and lift the hood off. Then bring over the replacement and put the bolts back in. You can adjust its position by sliding it around on the supports. The bolt holes are big enough so you have a little room. On this car the hinge hood supports were not bent by the accident. But they easily can be. They are not really heavy duty, their job is mostly just to hold the hood in the right place. If you do have bent hinges get replacements when you get your hood. It is also possible to bend the hinges to adjust them if they are not mangled to badly. You can put a block of wood under them and close the hood to bend them. Just figure out which way you have to go and use the leverage of the hood. Again, make small adjustments a little at a time.
My hood did not line up straight with the fenders. It did on one side but not the other. Again it is possible that the car was bent 1/2 inch but there is no way for me to fix that. Instead I adjusted the fender to match the hood.
The hood latch is usually adjustable also. Once you get the hood in the right position and the hinges bolted tightly, lower it and see where it hits on the latch. Loosen the adjusting bolts and move the latch to match up with the catch. Tighten those down and then close it tight and check it for fit. There are a number of adjuster and bumpers that will allow you to get the hood to match up with the rest of the car. A car book will have all the details.
I left the headlights unbolted while I was adjusting the hood. I didn't want to take a chance on the hood being to low and hitting them. You might want to do the same thing. Plastic will always break first rather than steal so watch out for plastic parts.
Step 15: The Last Piece, the Big Plastic "Bumper Cover"
These are pretty easy to put on. This one has holes that line up to the holes in main support for the hood. Slide that on first and just stick bolts through the holes to keep it in place. Then go around to the fenders and lift and slide it into place. With mine there is a support that it slides onto to hold it and then a screw goes through the bumper, the wheel well liner (also plastic) and then is secured into the fender. Once that is in all you have to do is stick the plastic rivets into the holes and push them tight. Your done, its that easy.
Step 16: Charge Up the Air Conditioner
I have had to have this done several times and the minimum I paid was $75.00 It is not the coolant that costs that. So I decided to buy the equipment to do it myself since only 2 recharging's would pay for it. I bought a vacuum pump so I could evacuate the lines and a manifold valve thingy that hooks up to the lines and lets you know if things are going the way they are supposed to go. It cost me $150.00. I have now told my friends that I can recharge their air conditioners because I have the equipment, and that it will cost them $40.00 and they buy the coolant. All I need is four cars and I am making a profit.
Hook up the lines and the vacuum pump and let it run for a little while, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. You should read a vacuum on the gauge. Shut the pump off and close the valves and leave it sit for half the day (or a whole day) It should still show a vacuum. It might go up a little but if it has lost its vacuum completely then you have a leak somewhere.
If you have no leaks then disconnect the pump (after running it again to get out as much air and moisture as it can) and hook up the lines for the coolant. Start the engine and follow the directions on how to add the coolant. Its pretty simple. It does take a while for it to all get in there. Add as much as they recommend. I bought some special leak sealing additive and a lubricant also. It is designed for older systems that have some wear. All together I put in one can of that and one can of coolant and it cost me $20.00
Step 17: On the Road Again
The Cost Breakdown
I paid $175.00 for parts at the junk yard.
I bought a Harmonic balancer for $65.00
and the replacement Pulleys were about 20 each so that was another $40.00
Lets say $110. for those parts.
I bought about $15 worth of those stupid plastic rivets.
The Air conditioner coolant was $20.
I spent about $5 for degreaser.
A new battery cost me $75.00
That all totals up to $400.00
So, I repaired 3,000 dollars in damage for 400 dollars worth of parts. Now to be fair, its not painted the right color. I have been thinking about that because I have several vehicles that could use some paint. So right now my thinking is to get a good paint spray gun and do that myself also. Maybe yet another instructable!
If you add in to the above, the $300 for the salvage cost, the $125 for towing, and the 70 to transfer the title, I have invested about $900 in this vehicle. With a book value of over $2500 that is not a bad investment. And I know the car, there are no surprise issues.
And it drives really great!
So, how ironic is it that the daughter is now driving a conservative, gray, economical car and the dad has the almost all red sporty (rocket car) car that goes from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds.
Cool, wonder what color I should paint it.
Oh, and I found some super custom made LED headlights for it on E bay ----- well, I did save a lot on fixing it, Maybe a little extra for the fancy stuff would be OK.