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Body rust work

I have a 1997 Ford Thunderbird that is my daily driver. The car runs good and is kept up as far as fluid changes and repairs go. However for the past couple of years, I have had a rust area on the lower right side by the back tire. I think this is called the rocker panel. I was considering the option of having the rust fixed but a few auto body shops would not give me time of day because of the age of car. Then today I went in to a Maaco to get an estimate. The guy who owned the Maaco told me after taxes it would be $2700 to fix and take two weeks. According to the guy, I need a new rocker panel to take care of the rust on the right side and then I need it painted to match the rest of car. The guy is telling me that when he types it into his sytem, it comes up that the rocker panel is $900.00. Then he tells me it will be at least seventeen man hours to replace plus it will be almost five hundred to paint it afterwards. I walked out of the place feeling like I would be ripped off if I did this. I am wondering if anyone has any experience with this and is this a realistic price for the work? I am also wondering if I do not fix it, then will the car get worse over the next five to ten years assuming the car is still running at that point?

First I am surprised that a rocker panel even exits. Yes, the price sounds very reasonable Yes, it will get worse. Look at the Kelly Blue Book price and I think you will do nothing and just drive it until it is no longer safe.


Body work is expensive and laborious, I am not surprised. Also, given we are dealing with rust here, the problem might be more severe than it seems to the eyeballing guy.

They have aftermarket slip on rocker panels for $40. Even with that, the labor would still be quite high. There might be more rust than you think once you dig into it.

Maaco would likely provide a budget type repair that won’t last 5 years much less the ten years you are planning on.

Rust restoration is expensive, there will be rust damage the estimator will recognize that the owner is unaware of. This is why the other shops turned you away, they don’t want a $10,000 rust restoration job abandon by the owner.

There is a nice, rust free 1997 Thunderbird for sale near me, $1900. There is no reason to try to repair your car, you will have rust problems with the suspension, fuel lines, brake lines etc.


My personal opinion is that the car will not last five years and its time to look for a replacement. Yes it will just get worse, and yes there is probably more hidden damage to be found. Not worth it. If you did your own body work, you would simply do a cosmetic fiberglass job to make it look better, but would not be a restoration.

Rust never sleeps. Bodywork is expensive.

Cost of repair = Bodywork to the Rust power (or Bodywork ^ Rust)

So really, really expensive.

My part time neighbor owns a very large body shop in Northwestern PA. It has been in business for decades. He will no longer do any rust repair because he cannot guarantee it. The estimate you got was another way to say they didn’t want the job.

Time to move on.


My S10 has rust developing inside the drivers rocker panel and the fender bottom. I spray oil inside the panels twice a year. It’s not a fix but it does slow the rust down. I noticed the paint bubbling on the rocker 10 years ago. I plan to install the slip on panels myself at some point. It won’t be a pro job in the least but it might look better for a few more years.

I have no idea where you are, but you can probably buy a rust free copy of your car from somewhere in the western US for less than the cost to fix your car.


I did not realize the body work was so much money. I thought it was just a case of fabricating some new metal, welding it on and painting it. I think I going let it go and just keep car as it is. The rust been this way for a while. I just wanted to something nice for the car. how do people who have thirty and forty year old cars take care of body as it rust after being used daily and always parked outdoors?

When it comes to repairing a rusted body, always remember, the rust you see is only about 30% of the amount of rust that’s actually there.


Your assessment is correct, either fabricate some metal or get a replacement part, weld it and paint it. A skilled person will make this look good, but they also get a fair days pay for quality work. It adds up quick. Parts and labor cost $$$ $2,500 does not get you much body work.

They either don’t live in the “rust belt”, or they keep the car garaged and don’t drive it in the winter. No other choice, unless you find a car built entirely out of fiberglass or aluminum or stainless steel.

I got antique plates for my rust free garaged 37 year old car. They are half price, but do not allow you to drive in the winter months. Perfect solution, as I will not drive that car in inclement weather. I have, however, had numerous daily driver vehicles with severe rust; both GM and Ford. I keep everything in working order underneath, but the body starts to look almost comical by 250,000 miles, at which time I get another.

The cost of a repair like this depends a lot on how perfect thje final result is required to look. Most car owners want it looking nearly new after the repair and paint job is complete, so that’s the kind of quote you are getting. There may be other alternatives that won’t look as good when the job is done, but considerably less expensive. There’s an aesthetics part, and a safety part. You can compromise on the aesthetics part a lot. For example a dime size rust hole in a non-structural part of the car can be patched up with some duct tape and look pretty good if the tape is the same color as the paint. Ask me how I know this :wink:

My first car was the one father gave me, and it was 24 years old :slight_smile:
Rust was indeed the issue and I had to patch few places where it was really ugly.
I did not know your “duct tape” thing at the moment, so I was doing it a little bit more aesthetic way:

  • work the hole to where metal is not completely rusted, but not necessarily solid
  • use rust converting chemical to get rust “passive”
  • use epoxy and fiberglass fabric to cover for missing metal (try to keep it to inside as much as possible to avoid shape changes)
  • bondo it, sand, prime, paint

if done more or less carefully, rust would not return to the area for years

I sold that car at age around 28 years of age, in almost perfect shape on outside… dunno how much longer my repairs held

Rust never sleeps.

I lived in New England. My 64 Chevy pickup ran great, until the entire cab shifted and basically tore loose from the frame when I hit a bump while going around a corner. Completely rusted out.

My 65 Tempest LeMans convertible looked good, but the gas tank fell off when the straps rusted through. Fixed that, but a few years later the doors would jam shut if I parked on uneven ground, and a look underneath showed it was rotted completely through the frame. I junked it, and the yard started using it to pick up and deliver parts because it ran well, but about a month later, there it was, stuck in a street, basically broken in half with the area under the front seat down to the ground.

We called rust “body rot” and “cancer” and cancer was the right term. Maybe a little surgery could stop it, but often it spread all over and killed many good cars.

I fully agree with the above that rust/cancer/body-rot never sleeps.

This is probably the main reason I no longer change my oil every 5000 miles.

I keep my cars for 10-15 years, and every time the engine is healthy, but rust makes it no longer worth my time or money to keep the vehicle. I’ve learned to go with the longer oil changes per the vehicle maintenance schedule.