A fender bender is what happens when the two cars unsuccessfully fight the laws of physics and try to occupy the same space. Here’s how it happened to me and how I fixed it without the use of a body shop.
I’ve been the “victim” of a hit and run before - when I was in my early 20s, a Ford Focus with likely no insurance and a driver that was likely a posterchild for fetal alcohol syndrome ran into me in my mother’s 2000 Kia Sportage and then took off into the night, the Kia’s dual overhead cams not being able to keep up with his souped up Zetec. Even though my passengers and I were a bit shaken, the Kia was arguably fine and I kept driving to Applebees. Things were just easier back then.
This time was different - this time it happened to a car I actually liked and didn’t want to kill me through shoddy craftsmanship, wafer-thin suspension components and build quality that wouldn’t pass even the most lackadaisical dictator’s annual checks.
While I was driving my Mercedes S500 to get oil for my upcoming service interval, I came up to a street in which there was a car double parked on the road and a car that was parked on the sidewalk, blocking a driveway. As I slowed to thread this needle, a woman on her cell phone, not paying attention to her surroundings, opens the door of her GMC Acadia with the force of a Punkin’ Chunkin’ trebuchet and immediately collides with my front fender. I screeched to a halt.
“Oh shit, I’ll call you back!” I hear from her now worried looking face. I roll down the window and ask, “Are you OK?” She says she’s fine, but looks at my car and says “It looks like you’re not.”
After we exchanged info and this person - that parked on the sidewalk, on the side of the street where there is no parking anytime, blocking no less than two active driveways, not paying attention to opening her door into oncoming traffic - tells me that “It’s really nobody’s fault,” I insisted that she pay for the damages and she agreed, up until the point where she asked me to give her “a few days to come up with the cash,” at which point I agreed, knowing what it’s like to have unexpected bills show up, and she actively avoided me after that with my car damaged to the point where I couldn’t open my passenger’s front door.
Lesson learned - no good deed goes unpunished. But that’s not what’s important right now.
Here’s what I did to remedy the situation.
Whenever you have a panel that isn’t a rear quarter panel on most cars, it can be replaced because it’s a bolt-on part. When you have a mass-produced car like mine, it’s fairly simple to procure a used part, and I would always consider used over new due t the cost and downtime. I didn’t opt to go through insurance because of the fact that the damage was purely superficial and the part cost much less than my deductible was. I also didn’t want an accident listed on the car’s spotless history report because reports don’t often paint an accurate picture of the severity of said crash. I’d rather just explain what happened when and if I sell this car on to the next lucky owner.
I scoured eBay for a panel from a donor car that matched my color - Midnight Blue. Although it was a relatively rare color, the fact that the car was made for more than half a decade all over the world in many trim levels meant that parts prices have been driven down quite severely to a reasonable level. In my case, I got a paint-matched front fender in good shape for around $200, including shipping. Not bad considering that this car was close to $100,000 brand new and I’m paying what amounts to used Honda Accord prices for parts.
When the fender came in, I got to work removing everything that needed takin’ off, starting with the headlights, which came off by removing two 10mm bolts an 8mm retaining bolt, and disconnecting the two wiring harnesses. I then unscrewed the various 10mm bolts in the engine bay, connecting the top of the fender onto the car.
The fender isn’t bolted to the bumper, there’s simply a sliding bracket that’s held on by a single 8mm bolt. When I took that off, I could literally peel away the fender to see what bolts I’d have to deal with on the inside.
Two 10mm bolts on the inner fender held the panel on, as well as two 10mm nuts on the bottom, accessible by removing the side skirt, which was held on my four easily accessible 8mm bolts and a ton of plastic clips that surprisingly didn’t break. Mercedes quality, you have no rival.
Here’s the Mad Max S-Class.
After offering up the new part, it’s crucial that you thread in all the bolts and have it line up but don’t yet tighten anything down because you need to verify that panel gaps aren’t way off. The S-Class has pretty wide panel gaps as a standard feature, so it wasn’t hard to match them. I just used the driver’s side fender as an eyeballed template.
When you’re happy with the part lining up with the door, hood,and bumper, tighten all bolts down and reassemble all the parts you’ve taken off.
All in, the process took about two hours - the last half hour was used to clean the panel and polish it so it matched the rest of the car. Although the damage could have been much worse, the process is identical when you’re replacing a hood, door, or bumper. Be methodical and double and triple check fitment and panel gaps. The last thing you’d want is for your bolts to be as tight as possible then you find out that you’re off by an inch on one side and have to do the whole thing all over again.
If any of you have a good panel fixing before and after, show me in the comments!
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapestMercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.