Overpriced At Free
I bought an '01 Ford F-150 SuperCrew two-wheel-drive pickup at an insurance auction. The truck wasn't so much crashed as it was very badly wrinkled. There are dents of varying degrees all over the truck. The bed received the most damage, but I've already located another bed, and I'm going to swap beds.

The only way to make this project fly for me, financially, is to do my own bodywork. Since there doesn't seem to be any structural damage, I think I can handle it at least to the point of getting the truck ready for paint.

While I'm making the repairs, I figured I'd do a little customizing, such as shaving door handles, removing trim pieces, installing a roll pan, and maybe molding in some type of front fender vents. The truck will never be perfect, but as long as I keep costs down, it doesn't have to be.

Keeping my low-buck approach in mind, I've been doing some swap-meet shopping. That's where I found the bed. I also found and purchased a large supply of body filler, primer, and sandpaper at a screaming deal. The seller played dumb when I asked how old the stuff was (he was selling it for a "buddy"), but the price was too good to pass up.

When I opened the first can of filler, I noticed that the solids had separated from the resins. That made me wonder about the condition of the filler. Is there any reason for concern about using old filler? I haven't tried any of the primer, but I'm a little worried about that, too. My problem is that I've priced new materials and they're expensive. Can you suggest what I should do?
Bill Page
Kingman, Arizona

Our suggestion is to take the filler and primer to the nearest hazardous waste disposal site and get rid of it. This stuff could be hazardous to the future of your truck's paint. There's a reason the products were at a swap meet and at such an attractive price. The seller didn't want to risk using it on anything he owned.

The solids and resin typically separate during storage, but a little stirring should blend them together. The trouble with old products is that you don't know what their storage conditions were. They could have been subjected to extremes of cold or heat. The integrity of the can could have been compromised.

Your bargain products might be OK to use, but we wouldn't risk them on anything nicer than a demolition derby special. The risk of problems with the topcoats is simply too great. Buying fresh filler and primer is a minor expense compared to repainting a truck.

We recommend that you buy your materials from a busy autobody paint store. Don't buy them from a traditional auto parts store that occasionally sells a little body filler. You want a store that moves lots of product to professional body shops. That way you're sure to get fresh products.

Before you get too carried away with doing your own bodywork, find a painter that's willing to apply the color coats without having done the prep work. Many painters won't guarantee their work unless they've done the entire job.

The good news about your swap-meet swag is that the sandpaper is probably still useable.

Stevie Wonder's Flame Job
I had my '05 Chevy Avalanche flamed. The truck is low, black, and rolling on 22s. I'm happy with the flames (multicolored candy), except for the ridges along the edges of the flames. You can definitely feel them, and I can see the difference between the flames and the rest of the paint. When I complained to the painter, he said the only way to totally get rid of the ridges was to clear the whole truck. That seems excessive to me, since the truck is almost new and the paint is perfect. Do I have any other options?
D'Wayne Smith
Dallas, Texas

The flames are on top of the black paint. Candy flames can take many coats (over the basecoats) to attain the desired colors. Then, you have the clear topcoat. The paint can and will form an edge against the masking tape. That's a considerable materials buildup. The only way to really bury them is to carefully color-sand the flames and clear the whole vehicle. It's best to do this when the flames are applied.

You didn't mention if the flames were pinstriped, but we'd guess that since they're candy flames over black and that they weren't striped. Pinstriping can help hide the ridges, but they may still appear in the center of the stripes. We say stand back and enjoy your trick truck.