Rocker Panel Buyer's Guide
- A rocker panel provides extra support to older vehicles to keep their middle section from sagging or dropping low. In modern vehicles, it adds rigidity and improves handling.
- It also prevents the cabin from crumpling in the event of an accident.
- Although rocker panels and side skirts seem interchangeable, rocker panels differ from side skirts in terms of functionality. Rocker panels are meant to give the frame added protection and sturdiness, while side skirts either boost the aerodynamics or improve the vehicle’s visual stance.
- Replace your rocker panels if there are collision damage or chemical reactions, such as rusting.
- The two types of rocker panel replacements are full and slip-on.
- A professional rocker panel replacement may cost you somewhere between $1,000 and $4,000 on parts and labor.
Your car’s exterior profile is made up of multiple body panels that are stylishly molded to give your car that sleek, distinct look. Depending on the vehicle make and model, these body panels are often a combination of aluminum, plastic, and steel. Exterior body panels run from the front fascia of your vehicle all the way to the rear, including the bumper covers. The sides consist of the door panels, front and rear quarter panels, and rocker panels or simply “rockers.”
What Is a Rocker Panel?
The rocker panel was originally created for providing extra support to keep the middle section of old vehicle models from sagging or dropping low. That’s because cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s are constructed with a unibody structure. Nowadays, rocker panels are meant to connect the front and rear of the vehicle, especially those with ladder-on-frame chassis. It gives the vehicle more rigidity, which therefore improves its handling.
Rocker panels also prevent the cabin from getting badly disfigured at the time of an accident. Since the front and rear ends of a vehicle are designed to crumple and absorb the force of an impact, the cabin needs to be rigid enough to protect the occupants. With the rocker panels, the frame has extra strength to withstand the impact.
Where Is the Rocker Panel on a Car?
If you think you know your car a hundred percent inside out, then look at the panel below the doors. Some people would refer to it as “side skirts”, but this judgment is often incorrect. Located on the bottom part of the exterior’s side profile, the rocker panel can easily be mistaken as side skirts mainly because the latter is more colloquial in nature compared to the former. As a result, some people interchangeably use the two.
Although they seem to be interchangeable, rocker panels differ from side skirts in terms of functionality. Rocker panels are meant to give the frame added protection and sturdiness. Side skirts, on the other hand, vary in function depending on the design—though most side skirts are attached to the rocker panels. Some are designed to improve a car’s aerodynamics, while others visually make the overall stance of the vehicle lower and wider.
Why Is It Called a Rocker Panel?
There are no historical records regarding why people call it the rocker panel. However, there are varying opinions and theories as to how it got its name. Some people believe that the term “rocker” was derived from the rocker culture in the ‘60s, where vehicles featured chrome-plated rocker panels. Meanwhile, a more realistic and logical theory states that these panels are used to rock the vehicle sideways by using a foot and applying force to make the side dip and bounce.
When Should You Replace Your Rocker Panel?
If there is physical damage (crack, hole, dents...)
Your rocker panels are most likely to receive the same beating as the front and rear bumpers. Like bumpers, rocker panels protect the underside of your vehicle from road debris, rocks, and gutters that are tall enough to scale its ground clearance. So it is important to inspect any scrapes, dents, cracks, or holes as any damage can degrade the structural integrity of the panel—worse, the overall structural integrity of the frame.
If it is rusted
Aside from damage caused by impact, you also need to inspect for any signs of paint chipping. Remember that your rocker panel is exposed to water and mud puddles. A break in the paint job would lead to rusting as water can easily come in contact with the rocker panel’s surface. Prevent rocker panel rust from happening by bringing it to a professional painter for a paint repair. However, if there’s already rust and it appears to be eating the metal, the only choice you can make is to replace the panel with a fresh one.
Things You Need to Know Before Replacing Your Rocker Panels
There are two rocker panel installations depending on the damage on your rocker panel. Grave damage would most likely require you to replace the panel with a full welded rocker panel. However, if you don’t have welding experience but wish to replace the panel on your own, you may opt for a slip-on rocker panel, which is built slightly larger to fit on top of the existing rocker panel.
Full Rocker Panels
This type of rocker panel replacement is meant to replace the entire existing panel. It is welded on the area where the damaged panel was cut out from. This means it is important that you have at least a mid-level experience when it comes to welding. To achieve the best repair result, you may let a professional welder install the part for you.
This type of rocker panel is relatively easier to install as you won’t need a welding experience. Slip-on rockers are fastened with screws, clips, or adhesive. Before you can install this panel, you must first remove the damaged part of the existing panel by cutting it away, especially if you’re replacing it due to rust. This is the tedious side of installing a slip-on panel as you may need to sand down the affected area after cutting the rusted portion away.
Selecting the Right Rocker Panel
Whether replacement or restoration, a rocker panel rounds out your ride in a really reliably simple kind of way. Sometimes, finding the right one can be downright rough and rumble. This little guide makes the selection process so much simpler and gives you just the facts.
A lot of people, excited with a restoration job or just raring to get their old, worn one replaced tend to forget the simplest of all rules to follow: get one that is specific to your car's year, make, and model. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all rocker panel.
If you're looking to fix up an older car, and you don't have a rocker panel to reference-or even a manual-your best bet is to shop online. This option has become far more convenient with the ability to match parts based on the specifics of your vehicle.
The key here is simple: be very exacting when it comes to matching. True, you could cut an over-sized one down, but it really is smarter and more affordable—in terms of money and time—to get one that is correct from the get-go.
There are two general categories of materials that rocker panels come in, either one has its own perks and downers. The first group is comprised of the classy metallic panels-these look gorgeous and glimmer when the sunlight catches on them as you open the door. The downside is that they get slippery after a good downpour!
Rubberized rocker panels make up the second group. They are not as pretty to look at, they're far less durable, but they do pull amazing double duty. Apart from providing the requisite support for your door, they also give your shoes a firm surface to grip when you enter or exit your ride. Ultimately, it pretty much comes down to preference.
What's the point, after all, of having a safety feature whose look doesn't match or complement your style? So long as the fit is right—you cannot compromise on that-how it looks and feels is all up to you.
How Much Does a Rocker Panel Replacement Cost?
A professional rocker panel replacement may cost you somewhere between $1,000 and $4,000 on parts and labor. This cost includes other necessary work, such as the removal of your truck doors and installation cleanup.
A replacement rocker panel may cost you $10 to $350. Prices vary based on the panel’s design (full or slip-on) and the material used. You may purchase rockers individually or save more by buying them in sets.
For an easier transaction, you may narrow down your search by indicating your vehicle’s year, make, and model on the search bar. You may further filter the results by ticking your preferred brand and budget.
Replacing Your Rocker Panels
With this guide and a couple of tools, you should be able to change your rocker panel out yourself within one to two hours. That will certainly save on time and labor costs for any restoration or refurbishing project you might want to undertake!
Difficulty level: Moderate
Stuff you'll need:
- New rocker panel
- Owner's manual or the appropriate repair manual
- Torch cutter or cutting disc
- Metal inert gas welder
- Drill with metal-cutting bits
- Wrench set
- Metal grinder
- Locking pliers or clamps
Step 1: Before everything else, disengage your battery and commence work at least 30 minutes after.
Step 2: Detach the fender-referring to your vehicle's owner's manual to determine the number and positions of the attached bolts.
Step 3: Cut off the rocker panel that you want to replace by attacking the old weld point one at a time.
Step 4: Grind off as much as the old rocker panel as you can-constantly try to fit the new panel to cross-reference.
Note: Take as much time as you need on that last step and avoid leaving even the tiniest bumps that can contribute to making your new rocker panel skewed!
Step 5: Position the new rocker panel in place, and temporarily secure it with clamps or locking pliers.
Step 6: Weld the new rocker panel into place, referring to the guide holes in the panel itself and the older welds as well.
Step 7: Carefully grind off the excess metal from the welding-do this very slow to avoid damaging the rocker panel.
- Keep safe all the time: wear the requisite goggles, gloves, and closed shoes.
- Always park on a flat and level surface-this way, there's no danger of being run over by your own ride while you work!