Wheelhouse Buyer's Guide
- Also called a “wheel well” or “inner fender panel,” the wheelhouse is the body panel found below the fender.
- The wheelhouse protects the engine bay and important body panels from corrosion, dirt, and minor impacts. It saves you time and money otherwise spent on repairing those pricier parts.
- Accumulated wear and tear, extensive corrosion, and severe collision damage can force you to replace your car's wheelhouses.
- Fiberglass wheelhouses can match or even exceed the strength of sheet metal wheel wells. They also weigh lighter and enjoy immunity to rust.
- Most wheel wells use sheet metal. They cost less and can get welded onto the vehicle's frame for easy installation.
- At CarParts.com, a front wheelhouse for the vehicle's driver side costs $12 while a Key Parts rear wheelhouse suitable for either the driver or passenger sides goes for $168.
- Make sure the new wheelhouse matches the old part and fits your car snugly. If you replace your car's wheelhouses, consider replacing its wheel well moldings as well.
What is a wheelhouse?
Also called a “wheel well” or “inner fender panel,” the wheelhouse is the body panel found below the fender. The curving panel surrounds the wheel, leaving enough space between its surface and the tire to permit unobstructed spinning.
The role of the wheelhouse
The wheelhouse protects the engine bay and important body panels from corrosion, dirt, and minor impacts. By shielding the fender, quarter panel, hood, and engine bay, it saves you time and money otherwise spent on repairing those pricier parts.
As you drive your car over dirty or rough roads, the spinning wheels can kick up mud, small debris, and water upwards. Hard objects like gravel and pebbles can scratch or dent body panels upon impact, while splashes can cause rusting in unprotected metal.
Fortunately, the wheel well intercepts these potentially damaging foreign objects. It fills the same role as a bumper, sacrificing itself to protect more valuable components.
Reasons for replacing your car’s wheel well
Wheelhouses don’t immediately grab your attention in the same way as the bumper, fenders, quarter panels, or hood. But they deserve the same level of care you give to more prominent body panels.
Inspect your vehicle’s wheelhouses regularly. If you notice the following issues, consider replacing the body panel as soon as possible.
Wear and tear
Like any body panel, wheelhouses can only take so much punishment before they give. You want to replace old and battered wheel wells before they give out and leave more important parts, like the engine bay, vulnerable to road debris and the elements.
Constant exposure to air and water will lead to rust forming on anything made out of metal. A layer of corrosion-resistant coating can delay the inevitable, but too much rust will compromise the effectiveness.
Damage from collisions
Hitting or getting hit by another vehicle or a large object can wreck much of your car. If the damage reaches the wheels, the wheelhouse likely got damaged as well.
Fiberglass versus metal wheelhouses
When you’re looking for a replacement wheelhouse, you may notice that many parts use sheet metal while some use fiberglass. Both materials come with advantages and disadvantages.
Fiberglass wheel well
These wheelhouses use fiberglass. Technically a plastic, fiberglass weaves together threads of molten glass produced from molds. Once the glass fibers cool and harden, they form a light and sturdy material. Fiberglass sees wide use in the automobile industry.
Fiberglass wheelhouses enjoy several advantages over sheet metal counterparts. First, they can match or even exceed the strength of metal wheel wells.
Next, fiberglass wheelhouses don’t weigh as much as sheet metal panels of the same size. Glass weighs less than many metals, including the steel commonly used to make sheet metal.
Finally, fiberglass shrugs off corrosion with no need for a protective layer. A fiberglass wheelhouse won’t rust after getting wet or exposed to air.
While fiberglass wheelhouses enjoy a blend of durability and weight savings, they also come with drawbacks.
First is cost. To melt glass, you need intense heat, which consumes a lot of energy. This makes fiberglass expensive to manufacture.
Second, it’s not possible to weld fiberglass wheel wells to vehicles. These panels rely on other methods to attach themselves to the vehicle’s frame, such as bolts or clamps. You may need to alter your vehicle to accept its new wheelhouses, such as drilling holes into its frame.
Sheet metal wheelhouses
Many wheelhouses use sheet metal as their material of choice. Usually made from galvanized or stainless steel, these body panels get shaped through “cold working” techniques like folding, forming, and shearing that don’t require energy-intensive high temperatures.
Sheet metal wheelhouses enjoy widespread availability. If your auto repair shop or car parts store carries these panels, they likely keep a stock of sheet metal wheelhouses.
These wheelhouses set the bar for the part’s performance. Sheet metal can withstand plenty of punishment for years before you need to replace the body panel.
Unless your car uses fiberglass body panels, you can usually weld sheet metal wheelhouses onto the vehicle’s frame.
The drawbacks of sheet metal wheelhouses include greater weight and vulnerability to corrosion.
Cost of a replacement wheelhouse
At CarParts.com, the price tag of a new wheelhouse can vary depending on the brand and number of units. A front wheelhouse for the vehicle's driver side costs $12 while a Key Parts rear wheelhouse suitable for either the driver or passenger sides goes for $168.
Wheelhouses come by themselves, in sets of 2 wheel wells, and as a part of a replacement kit that includes fenders and other related car parts.
Selecting a new wheelhouse for your car
Have you decided it’s time to replace your car’s wheelhouses? You can make the process easier by keeping the following in mind.
Make sure the new wheelhouse you intend to get for your car will fit your vehicle snugly. It should match the height, width, and thickness of its predecessor.
The replacement wheel well must also take into consideration the dimensions of the fender, quarter panel, and especially the wheels. Small wheelhouses will constrict the tires and prevent them from spinning, while excessively large wheel wells won’t fit your car.
If possible and convenient, bring the old wheelhouse with you to serve as a measuring stick for its replacement. Otherwise, take accurate measurements of the busted or worn-out panel.
The filter tab can help you find a guaranteed fit within the extensive listing of wheelhouses and other replacement parts at CarParts.com. Enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle in the tab to find the most suitable part for your car and wallet.
Get wheel well moldings
Wheel well moldings fill up the space between the wheel well and the side fender. Made from either chrome or rubber, they serve as a flexible cushion for the body panels.
If your car’s wheelhouses show signs of damage or degradation, its wheel well moldings likely need replacement as well. Even if the moldings look fine, it’s better to get new parts as preemptive maintenance. New wheel well moldings perform much better than old ones.
A Handy Guide to Buying a Replacement Wheelhouse
Changing the wheelhouse panels of your car is an unenviable task, but it's a necessary one. Also known as the wheel well, the wheelhouse serves as a protective barrier for the fenders, quarter panel, hood, and engine bay against anything the wheels might kick up while driving. And when the wheelhouse deteriorates or gets damaged, these components of the vehicle are put under risk as well.
Thankfully, buying a replacement wheelhouse is easier than it was before. In this guide, we will share with you some tips on how to buy these parts:
Getting the right size
A key factor that should always be included in your purchasing decision is the dimensions of the wheelhouse panel. The wheelhouse should be an exact match in width, height, and even thickness in relation to the wheel, fender, and quarter panel. If the wheelhouse is too big or too small, it may not fit properly or even prevent the wheel from spinning. You can use the old wheelhouse detached as reference, but if the panel is severely deteriorated or you are switching to custom wheels and fenders you will need to make a lot of additional measurements as well.
Wheel well moldings
If you are going to buy a new wheelhouse, you might as well also buy a set of wheel well moldings too. Usually made of chrome or hard rubber, wheel well moldings seal the gap between the wheelhouse and the side fender. If the wheelhouse needs replacing due to wear, chances are that your car's existing wheel well molding is worn out. What's more, even if the existing molding in your car appears to be in good condition, a new set is more pliable and provides a better fit to your replacement wheelhouse.
Most aftermarket wheel wells sold in the market today are made of cheap sheet metal, but for those with extra money in the wallet a fiberglass wheelhouse could also be an option. As its name suggests, fiberglass wheelhouses are made of molded strips of fiberglass. These panels offer almost the same or even better structural integrity of sheet metal, but with added benefits of lighter weight and immunity to corrosion. However, fiberglass wheelhouses are also expensive and cannot be welded directly onto the frame compared to their sheet metal counterparts.
10 Steps to Installing a New Wheelhouse
Did you know that automobiles also have a wheelhouse? But far from the idyllic image of a hut in the middle of a fishing boat, a car's wheelhouse - which is better known as the wheel well - serves as a protective barrier in between the wheels and the fender, hood, and engine bay. The wheelhouse panels are typically made of steel for strength and durability, although there are also panels that are coated with polyurethane lining for added protection against rust.
Replacing a wheelhouse in any automobile can be quite exhausting to do, but it is essential in protecting the surrounding areas against mud, dirt, and moisture that's kicked up by the wheels when driving. In this guide, we will share with you step-by-step instructions on how to replace the wheelhouse panels in your car.
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
- Replacement wheelhouse
- Gas torch
- Angle grinder
- Pry bar
- Power drill
- MIG welder
Step 1: Secure your vehicle. Park your car on a level surface, switch off the ignition, and place chocks on the rear wheels.
Step 2: Remove the outer quarter panel to expose the wheelhouse.
Step 3: Use a gas torch to melt away the wheelhouse's undercoating. The heat will also make the wheelhouse easier to separate from the car's inner frame.
Step 4: Remove the spot welds connecting the wheelhouse to the inner quarter panel. You will need a combination of a gas torch, angle grinder, and a drill with a weld drill bit to get this done.
Step 5: Carefully pry out the wheelhouse from the quarter panel.
Step 6: Remove any odd bits of metal sticking from the quarter panel. This may prevent the new wheelhouse from sticking properly.
Step 7: Clean off any rust in and around the area where the new wheelhouse is to be attached. Once the rust has been removed, paint the area with rust-proofing paint or a rust encapsulator solution.
Step 8: Line up the new wheelhouse on the inner quarter panel. Use clamps to hold the panel in place.
Step 9: Weld the wheelhouse to the inner quarter panel. We recommend using a combination of stitch and spot welding with a MIG welder as it closely matches factory spot welds.
Step 10: Apply a gasket seal and weld the outside quarter panel back into place.