A few months ago, while visiting my neighbor and good friend Matt’s house, he pointed out damage to his Suzuki Aero that was caused by an unfortunate encounter with a deer one early evening. The car was in horrible shape, but, amazing, it seemed to be undamaged mechanically, and ran and drove fine. But, with a busted headlight, and front bumper assembly broken and dangling, it was in no shape to be safely or legally driven:
Matt mentioned that because of the lower value of the car, he only carried liability insurance coverage, and so had no coverage for physical damage. In his assessment, the repair bill from a commercial body shop would cost more than the car was worth. So, he told me he just wanted to get the car out of his driveway, and that I could have it for free if I wanted!
No self-respecting car-guy worth his salt is ever going to turn down a free vehicle, not even a Suzuki! A few days later, I showed up at Matt’s house, where he bestowed the key and title on me. I then drove it out to my workshop some 15 miles from my neighborhood. On the drive out, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the little Suzuki actually drove and handled quite well. While by no means a sports car, its manual transmission provided plenty of pep and driver engagement, and all the systems, air conditioner, radio, etc., seemed to be functioning like new.
It was at that moment that I decided this car was just too nice for my neighbor to just give away. Once I arrived at the workshop, my shopmate Doug came out and together we assessed the damage to the car. Neither of us has any prior body repair experience, but that has rarely held us back in the past, and this was no exception. We quickly (and foolishly) decided that this repair could be within our amateur capabilities.
With a decision in hand to move ahead, our goal was to repair the Suzuki back to original condition, and then return it to my neighbor with charge, as a good neighbor gesture.
Once we gave ourselves the green light, we wasted no time in stripping the front of the car down to its essentials, and were pleasantly (but alarmingly) surprised to find just how easily these things come apart, and how much of the entire front structure is held together with plastic push connectors!
From what we could determine, the damage consisted of:
- A smashed-beyond-repair hood, and front left fender
- cracked, broken and dented front bumper assembly.. possibly repairable
- pushed in front radiator support
- broken beyond repair left front headlight
I started by acquiring a hydraulic ram (a tool I’ve been itching to add to the toolbox anyway) to use to push the damaged front radiator support back into original position
Then, a search on eBay netted a used but nice condition headlight assembly for $70, and, amazingly, a brand new left front fender for $117 including shipping! Next, I found a used and hail-dented hood from a local Austin dismantler (I even found a replacement for the missing inside driver door pull (unrelated to the accident) for $5), and it began to look like we were on a roll. Using the paint code found on the body tag, I ordered model-specific paint and supplies: 2K primer, reducer, base coat, clear coat, and body filler from an online source.
The bulk of the repair time involved prepping the new (old) hood for painting. There must have been some 15 hail dents in the hood which had to be repaired with filler before continuing.
Additionally, a good bit of time was expended repairing the cracks and dents in the front bumper assembly, using a special plastic bumper repair adhesive and filler. But after those tasks were completed, the remainder went quickly: paint prep, primer, sanding, base coat, 2 coats of clear coat, color sanding down to 3000 grit, machine buffing, and polishing.
Reassembly of the entire project took less than half a day, and when all was done, the finished job surprised both of us, we had actually ended with a car in better condition than it was before the accident (note.. the towing panel below the driver side fog light, was missing BEFORE the accident and we opted not to source a replacement):
At the end of the day, discounting our personal time, I had expended less than $600 on the entire project.. parts, paint and supplies, and I had the great satisfaction of returning the completed car back to my neighbor!
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