Auto Manifesto

October 27, 2009

Saturn Door Replacement

Last week I had a mishap involving an electric vehicle and a friend's car, resulting in me punching a hole in the rear door of said car ('93 Saturn sedan). Luckily no one was hurt.

To fix the damage we went to a junkyard and pulled an identical door from a salvage car to replace it. Since early Saturns had mostly plastic body panels (doors, fenders, trunk lid, bumpers etc) bolted to steel frames the whole panel swap should've taken about 20 minutes.

However, once we removed the panel we found the door beams had been bent, and the window could not retract fully. Since the interior color of the salvage door was different and the wiring harness was cut at the junkyard, we had to change the frame and interior panel, while keeping the original wiring.

Because of the steeper learning curve it took us a good 4 or 5 hours (and we weren't in any particular hurry). The design of the door was very interesting and quite clever in its simplicity. This was all before side airbags so it was just a matter of removing the exterior panel, then the interior panel to get to the wiring. Once that was removed five bolts was all it took to remove the door. If it didn't have power windows or locks the entire door change would probably take half the time.

Both the original and replacement doors had no corrosion and all the fasteners worked as expected, even the plastic wiring clips. The door hinges had some play which allowed for adjustment and fitting. We also made two paper shims and bolted them under the bottom hinge to help angle the top edge of the door closer to the car.

The only surprise was that we found the interior switch assemblies were slightly different (the salvage door was from a '92 model). See picture below. "A" fit both doors while "B" did not due to a difference in tab spacing. That was a head-scratcher.

I've been a firm believer in non-metallic body panels for a long time (fiberglass, carbon fiber, various plastics) and this really confirmed the benefits. Simple to replace, impervious to minor door dings and stone chips, easy to match the paint, and easy repair access. Steel doors can only be accessed from inside, not both sides because they're welded assemblies.

Of course there could be a number of disadvantages as well such as cost, crashworthiness and weight. While the panel itself didn't seem heavier than steel, it's unclear how the overall weight of the door assembly compares to similar vehicles from that era. Still, composites are definitely worthy of consideration.

Once the new door was installed, everything worked as expected: Power window, power lock and of course opening/closing/latching.

This repair required nothing more than basic hand tools. If it was just the body panel all that would be needed is a screwdriver with a Torx bit. Total cost was under $140 for the replacement door and the color matched just fine. Youtube was helpful too (see The last thing is now to do the pinstriping.

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  • Hi David - This looks like a good summary how-to. I'm about to do the same on a 97 SL2.

    Unfortunately, the links to your pics in this blog are all dead!! So I can't see any of your images. Could you re-post the pics with good links so they show again? Thanks!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 15, 2010 at 7:37 PM  

  • Thanks for pointing that out. Should be fixed. Now I just have a few dozen other posts to fix the pictures on... this all happened during a transition within Blogger's hosting system and I made some sort of error.

    By Blogger David Nguyen, At September 15, 2010 at 10:40 PM  

  • And good luck with your car.

    By Blogger David Nguyen, At September 15, 2010 at 10:42 PM  

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