Doors on older cars and trucks often being to sag due to wear on the door hinges. Worn and sagging hinges often result in extra effort being required to close the door. This may also cause the door to not close properly and to have gaps that allow air and water to enter the vehicle. Unfortunately, this situation may eventually damage the door latch assembly and, in some cases, may also damage the door itself.
I recently purchased a 1986 Nissan 720 pickup truck with a driver-side door that did not close. The hinges were worn and the door latch was actually torn away from the door due to repeatedly colliding with the striker when a former owner attempted to close the door. Nissan used three screws to attach the door latch to the sheet metal of the door; two of the three screws were pulled through the sheet metal. The latch was positioned at an angle that no longer allowed it to connect with the striker. The door was held closed with a padlock hasp and a pink carabiner when I purchased the truck.
My local mechanic advised me that the entire door would need to be replaced because the sheet metal was torn around the latch. A replacement door from a salvage yard, along with the labor to replace the door, would cost more than $200 USD. I can understand the mechanic’s position of not wanting to warranty a patch job that may not hold up to normal wear and tear. However, my budget did not allow for a $200 door repair, and I refused to drive around with a door held closed by a carabiner. Necessity, as the adage states, is the mother of invention.
My opinion, formed from 25 years of keeping old vehicles running long past when other would still consider them useful, was that the sheet metal could be straightened and reinforced. This may result in a weaker latch assembly than a new door would provide, but I have no intention of beating on the truck or the door.
I had a similar repair performed several years ago on a 1995 Dodge Dakota with sagging door hinges. Dodge had decided to weld the hinges on the Dakota rather than bolting the hinges like many other manufacturers. Consequently, I had the Dakota repaired at a body shop. The weld repair lasted for the two years that I owned the truck. I thought that welding a sheet metal patch around the door latch on the Nissan would work just fine as well. Unfortunately, I do not own a welder so I needed to devise an alternate plan.
Several hours of Internet research led me to an account by an auto body mechanic that described a similar repair using fender washers. The vehicle in this account was a Jeep with sagging door hinges that had resulted in the sheet metal around the door latch being torn due to repeated impact with the striker. The door would no longer close at all.
Two of the three screws securing the door latch on my Nissan truck had pulled through the sheet metal. The third screw was still in good shape. I purchased two fender washers of the proper size from my local hardware store. The washers cost 11 cents USD each. I also ended up purchasing two longer screws as the factory screws were barely long enough to start with and would not reach the latch through the washer. The new screws cost 40 cents USD each.
Removal of the old screws was the only part of this repair that was challenging. The original screws were set with lock washers and have presumably not been removed since they were installed 24 years earlier. I used an impact driver with an appropriate Phillips bit to remove the screws. The two screws that had pulled through the sheet metal were still difficult to loosen due to the damage to the door. These screws were sprayed with a penetrating lubricant to assist in loosening the screws.
The damaged sheet metal was straightened using pliers and a punch as necessary. The metal on the interior of this door was quite malleable and easy to reshape. I could probably have done more on the metal with a small rotary grinder, but I did not have one available. Once I was reasonably satisfied that the sheet metal would hold the door latch assembly properly I reattached the latch.
The screw that had not pulled through previously was reinstalled first. Finally, the remaining two latch screws that had pulled through the sheet metal of the door were reinstalled using new screws that were five millimeters longer and fender washers. The fender washers worked perfectly for this repair. The washers are made of a heavier metal than the door and allow the force from the screws to be spread over a larger area. The latch assembly drew up to the door panel nicely as I tightened the screws.
The truck door now closes completely with the latch assembly straightened and back in the proper position. The padlock hasp and carabiner are removed and no longer needed. The next project will be to replace the hinges to avoid redamaging the door latch assembly.