By on November 23, 2015

panel_gap

These photos are of a vehicle that recently visited my driveway for a week. I’m not going to tell you what that vehicle is — yet — but it does raise a very interesting question.

Are bad panel gaps an indicator of a poor quality product? And what “quality” are we talking about anyway?

I ask this question genuinely because there are all kinds of reasons why panels wouldn’t line up quite like they should.

Gaps could still be within tolerance

While a panel gap may look visually unappealing, the measurements themselves could still be within tolerances specified by the automaker. If so, the people on the assembly line are simply doing their job to spec. However, it could also mean those tolerances account for far too wide of a variance.

panel_gap2

It could be a one-off issue

The panels on one particular vehicle may be poorly matched, but one vehicle does not a trend make.

Panels aren’t mechanical systems

Exterior panels are not subject to the same tolerances as mechanical parts because they don’t need to be. Outside of vast misalignments of panels that may make a door pinch a front quarter panel when opened, a large or awkward gap between misaligned panels is going to have very little effect on the performance of your vehicle.

However, this is me playing devil’s advocate. All of these reasons seem fairly ludicrous in today’s high-tech world of manufacturing. We have lasers — freakin’ lasers! — in factories now. And robots. And robots with lasers for eyes.

But, are these gaps indicative of other problems? If an automaker doesn’t care to button up visual issues on vehicles rolling off the factory line — even after what we can presume are quality checks at the end for such issues — are those same people overlooking other issues as well?

Lexus is notoriously known for minding the gap. Lesser-known gapminder Hyundai inspired General Motors to do a better job of fitting panels.

However, it seems the automaker that buttoned together the vehicle pictured didn’t learn the same lesson.

What do you think, B&B?

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141 Comments on “Ask the B&B: Do Bad Panel Gaps Mean Poor Vehicle Quality?...”


  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    I’m guessing some type of FCA product.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Looks like a Chrysler 200 to me

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      You shoul see my 2015 Grand Cherokee. Way worse than those pics….and the doors don’t even close flush. The chrome trim around the side windows is off by a 1/4″ in some places. The rear bumper cover doesn’t line up right where it meets the lip of the wheel wells. It’s so bad that I started to suspect that my Jeep was damaged and repaired before I purchased it (new), but then I looked closely at other Grand Cherokees on the lot and they all had similarly poor panel gaps, misaligned trim, and generally piss poor build quality. There’s no excuse in this day and age to build a car so poorly.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        What’s your excuse for buying it?

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          No excuse. I honestly didn’t notice the poor build quality until after I purchased it. No big deal though because I’m dumping it before the factory warranty expires. Too many problems with the 8-speed trans and the always-hot-or-always-cold climate control system. Crappy panel gaps are the least of my concerns.

          • 0 avatar
            nrd515

            I have two friends with 5.7/8 speed Grand Cherokees and I ride or drive in them a lot, and never noticed any of those problems with them. I never looked closely at the bodywork before, so I will try to remember to look them over next time I see one of them. The blue one is loved by my one friend and his wife. I don’t know if the white one is loved like it is though.

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    @Mark Stevenson
    You have guessed it. Probably find many vehicles coming from India, would have better panel fit.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I kind of see Acura in the first shot – but the wide aperture exposure has done a great job of narrow depth of field. Also that indent in the foreground is weird, like someone tried to jimmy the trunk open almost.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      I kind of see Acura in the 2nd shot. Regardless, I view panel gaps as a 2nd tier measure of quality — in the same category as paint thickness and strength, windshield resistance to chips, the feel of the switch gear on the dash. In other words, it has no bearing if your engine lasts 200k miles or the transmission is trouble-free or the vehicle starts up reliably in extreme cold.

      I would certainly prefer that the panels line up. It would show a commitment to quality and a passion for excellence. Car enthusiasts care how a car looks as much as how it performs, and so should auto makers.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      That’s a hood, not a trunk.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Knowing TTAC, the vehicle in question may be a Cadillac!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    MKZ… too soon?

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    My Boss 302 had some iffy panel gaps, and some spots that weren’t fully painted around the rear window. The car was flawless mechanically and it took a beating so Im not sure there is a huge correlation, although attention to detail is important. I’d rather bad panel gaps and quality mechanics over tight gaps and crappy running gear. You have to save money somewhere.

    I was also looking at some late model Dodge Challengers and a lot of them had really terrible fit where the passenger front fender meets the front fascia at the crease from the hood area down to the side of the car. Didn’t match up at all and looked horrible. I was surprised because I usually don’t get hung up on stuff like that but I would never be able to live with that on my car.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      My MY95 Cobra Hardtop Convertible had panel gaps so wide I could stick my thumb through where the hood met the front wings. The rear bumper seemed hung by drunken elves intent on terrifying cars behind me as it was so poorly fitted to the tub. However, the last of the ancient 302 5.0L, Tremec 5 spd, and 9″ posi-locked (realize this is a GM term, can’t think of the Ford version) rear diff were bulletproof. Electronics and motors for the soft top and windows were flawless as was the driving position and reinforced super structure to handle the extra weight of the hardtop.

      Can’t say that every car is like this but from my experience, bad panel gaps are not an indicator of quality.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Until you state what you mean by “quality” the discussion has no meaning. Here are some things that are used to mean “automobile quality”:

    1) Reliability – how many failures per unit time or unit mileage
    2) Durability – how long till it’s worn out (and of course you have to define “worn out”)
    3) General feeling of robustness (tinny clangs vs. thunks, etc.)
    4) High priced/high quality materials used in construction
    5) High performance per unit of price or size or fuel consumption
    6) Fit and finish

    Obviously, good fit and finish correlates well with good fit and finish. However, I would say there is no particular reason why it would correlate with any of the others. Obviously there are correlations, but this would have more to do with design and production philosophy than with technical cause and effect.

    Gaps between panels will be a function primarily of the individual tolerances applied to individual parts (this depends on how much you want them to cost), the tolerance stacks of the assemblies they make up (depends on design and on allocated cost), and assembly tolerances (depends on part and process design and allocated cost). When you start a design project, if it’s well run, you will decide how much cost and design time are allocated to panel fit vs. other design priorities. Tight fitting panels on a vehicle indicate only that the design team allocated more parts cost and design to that item than to some of its competitor items.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not going to state what I mean by “quality” because that’s the whole point of this exercise. The word is overused. “Perceived quality” can mean almost anything.

      However, I completely agree with your analysis.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        That’s why the JD Power ad tagline ” Highest in Initial Quality” is irritating. Nearly anything built today can survive 90 days without a major failing or quality issue. But JD Power has been so derided here that I’m preaching to the choir.

        I say this as the owner of a 2014 Honda Odyssey that was delivered with the drivers side fender/door misaligned so badly that the drivers door grazed fender when opened. Nothing like dropping your brand new (albeit leased) vehicle at the body shop with 25 miles on it. The passenger side wasn’t as bad, but they fixed it as well.

        • 0 avatar
          thattruthguy

          I have some problems with JD Power surveys, but initial quality/failures is a useful measurement. “Birth defect” rates in products vary, and they’re good predictors of lifetime results.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Mark, I’m in my 70’s and maybe terminology has change but…..the front fenders are fenders, the rear (fenders) are quarter panels. I see this terminology faux pas a lot these days, but from an esteemed writer on an enthusiast site……com’on man.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave W

        Currently rereading “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”.
        “Quality” cannot be defined as perception of quality is what creates our perception of the world.

        Good luck chewing on that.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @turf3 – Excellent summary.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      turf3 – – –

      Outstanding analysis. My own approach was going to be this:

      Mark – – –

      “Do Bad Panel Gaps Mean Poor Vehicle Quality?”
      ANS: It’s an ambiguous question. If by “quality”, without further specification, you mean upscale choice of materials (the usual interpretation), then NO, decidedly not.

      But there is also “quality of construction”, which means that things are put together to not fall apart and to be durable. Even here, panel gaps in the body sheet metal are irrelevant, so the answer is still NO.

      Now what you are targeting (I think) is “quality of fit&finish”, which means the precision with which things are assembled. So, here, the answer for the body is obviously YES. But note that poor body-panel precision of alignment may have nothing to do with how well the mechanicals are assembled. So using panel gaps as an indicator may be misleading if applied to the rest of the vehicle, without knowing more about the operational hardware as checked out by a mechanic.
      Example: Had a 1974 Dodge D100 pickup with terrible fit&finish, but it lasted happily for 25 years and 220,00 miles. If I had used the precision of gap alignment on where the hood meeting the fenders, I would have forgone a good vehicle.

      ============================

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    This is an Edge, isn’t it?

    That’s the B-Pillar in the second photo.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I was thinking the same thing. Oakville is notorious for hood and door fit. Both are pictured above.

      Final Assembly is hardly a testament to the vehicle’s total quality. But it is something that should be minded. Customer Acceptance Line should have caught this.

      Edit: bust out a set of calipers. This may be within specification. Both scenarios are a joint effort between the body shop and Final fitment.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yep. I was initially thinking Altima, but there are no Nissan or Infiniti products where the fender line cuts down straight like that.

      I think you be right.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      That first photo does look like the trailing edge of an Edge hood, which is clamshell-style.

    • 0 avatar
      Rnaboz

      We have a 2015 Edge and I think our right B pillar looks worse (I see it sitting in the passenger seat, looking in the mirror). However, my hood is perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Going to have to agree with the Edge guess. The finder cut line in the first photo looks very similar, and the hood looks fancy enough to create those interesting reflections (definitely not a simple flat hood).

      Also no surprising, I like Ford but their panel gaps are very hit or miss. It is (or was) particularly bad with the new Fusion trunk when it first came out, although trunks are an area a lot of automakers struggle most with.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Anything Ford that is an early build is hit or miss. As the platform goes on, things tend to get better. The Fusion/MKZ is a good example of that. Same thing with the Explorer. I think it took Ford too long to fix the A-Pillar issue and rear gate misalignment on the Explorer. Those two things p!ssed me off.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    Bad panel gaps are there because it costs more money to make them tight and uniform than it’s worth in customer perception. A related anecdote: Do you remember when Hyundai Sonatas had strut-assisted scissor hinges on their trunks? Well, they don’t anymore. Now go check any current Mercedes sedan. Nope, they don’t have them, either. Why? Because approximately zero customers cared what kind of trunk hinge their car had, and so even though they’re easier to fully load and operate more smoothly, trunks equipped with scissor hinges have gone the way of the DoDo. Goosenecks are cheaper. The same is true of tight panel gaps. It’s fine if they’re there, but most people would rather have heated seats or smartphone integration for the same price.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      That was Roger Smith’s theory back at GM in the 80s. Customers won’t pay for what they can’t see. We all know how that worked out.

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      It’s an interesting discussion. A 2015 Rolls-Royce Phantom has those scissor hinges with a strut on each side of the trunk. But the newest 2016 BMW 7 series has goose neck hinges. So are Rolls-Royce buyers more demanding when it comes to hinges? I doubt any consumer cares… It’s probably down to costs and engineering obsession (see Phaeton) more than anything else.

      There should still be enough margin on a 7 series to include proper hinges though… but who knows really.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Seems Audi and BMW, and Lexus have phased out strut hinges within the past 5 years or so, and gone back to goose neck hinges as you noticed. Very disappointing. Mercedes has used hinges for a while.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          My 2008 LS 460 has gooseneck hinges, although their travel area is hidden behind the trunk wall and the hinges themselves are covered in plastic.

          http://www.torquenews.com/sites/default/files/image-%5Buid%5D/%5Btitle-raw%5D/dsc_7548.jpg

          (not my car, but identical model and colors)

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          Goose neck hinges have their advantages for cars that last longer than five years, although this doesn’t explain why BMW and Audi dropped them. They must figure the money is better spent elsewhere. Our A7 combines gooseneck hinges with automatic opening and closing, which is simpler to achieve with goosenecks and impresses fake-luxury buyers more than complex hinge mechanisms do.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        An owner of a 2015 Rolls-Royce Phantom doesn’t care what kind of hinges his car’s trunk has – he’ll never use it – that’s his driver’s job!

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I remember thinking how down market it made the Ford Five Hundred feel the first time I opened the hood and realized it lacked support struts and used an ordinary prop. It felt cheap, and that’s because it was. I wouldve expected it on a Focus or Civic, but on what was supposed to be a step above its contemporaries from GM et al., it felt out of place on the Five Hundred. The Taurus it replaced had hood lift support struts since it was introduced in 1986.

      My parent’s 2012 Taurus has struts on both the hood and the decklid.

      Upon poping the trunk on an older Taurus, it would swing open fully without anyone touching it (no struts). Not with enough force that it could hurt someone, mind you. Not so with the new one. It unlatches when its release is triggered, but requires you to lift it up yourself. In that instance, Im honestly not sure which is better. The current car seems more inline with other modern cars (neighbor’s Altima is similar, though Im not sure if it has struts although I highly doubt it), but it does require effort whereas the older cars didnt. The newer one has a more premium feel to it, but its also damned annoying when you have your arms full of items and youre trying to get the thing open so you can set them down.

      @Cj What modern car wont last 5 years? What is the point of such a statement, that the struts must be replaced eventually? So? Ive had plenty of cars with struts like that and they all lasted far beyond 5 years. Dad had to replace the original hood struts on his ’99 F-250 last year. They lasted 10 years longer than you give them credit for.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Hood struts don’t get used as often as trunk struts, as least on the cars I’ve owned. Most such struts I’ve had have been on German cars, and they have worn out in as little as five years. I didn’t always replace them that soon, but they stopped functioning without help ranging form holding the decklid up manually to using a Vice-clamp to keep a hood open.

      • 0 avatar
        99GT4.6

        The much maligned Cadillac ELR also has a prop rod instead of struts to hold the hood open. Inexcusable on a $75000 wanna be luxury car.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          My nowhere near luxury car Grand Prix has struts for the hood… I’d prefer the prop rod actually.

        • 0 avatar
          NMGOM

          99GT4.6 – – –

          Actually, there are some advantages in simple prop rods over the spring-loaded hinges:
          1) They are less expensive (for you and the car maker);
          2) They are lighter in weight;
          3) They provide a positive “lock” or “hold” to prevent the hood from slamming down in brisk winds (happened to me);
          4) They don’t require lubrication;
          5) They last longer (for those of us who keep cars forever);
          6) They are easier to replace;
          7) They don’t allow the hood to snap upward inadvertently and hit something overhead in low-ceiling garages.

          I have two vehicles with spring-hinges and two vehicles with prop rods. I prefer the prop-rod mechanism.

          =========================

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    If you start talking about the feel of the plastic surfaces – like how soft touch the panel at the top of your dashboard is – I’ll start to think I have slipped into Jalopnik 8 years ago.

    That was all they cared about – the feel of the plastics and the panel gaps – because, I guess, when you’re 14 and not allowed to drive, that’s all you’ve got sitting in the back of mom’s Camry.

    I questioned why people were rubbing themselves all over the surfaces of their car, and why they were trying to cram thin appendages between panels.

    • 0 avatar
      manny_c44

      Materials quality really makes a difference to how an interior feels– it even makes it sound different inside, as softer,thicker materials absorb sound instead of reflecting it.

      Panel gaps are maybe less in-your-face but still, you can feel quality when you are using the car. When I last went car shopping sloppy fit and finish really turned me off of certain cars.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Hard plastics, in addition to looking chintzy, tend to create interior squeaks.

      Too wide panel gaps (as in this picture) make me think the car has had poor-quality body repair.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      In addition to touch and sound deadening, softer materials also tend to reflect less light.

      Hard plastics glare and shine in an unpleasant way, accentuating the texture which at this price point is also likely to be visually unpleasant.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    It’s definitely not a good sign if they can’t produce quality on the parts you actually can see. Sort of an offshoot of the broken window theory, if they let that slide through my guess is a lot worse is happening at the factory.

    But the flip side is not necessarily true, I could easily see a European flagship car having nearly perfect bodywork with consistent gaps and perfect fit and finish, yet being an absolute lemon mechanically.

    • 0 avatar
      cwallace

      +1. Panel gaps are directly correlated to the amount of give-a-$#!+ the assemblers are expected to put into their work.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        The assembler fits fender to door, fender to hood, hood to rad support, to company specs/ tolerances. Read the whole article before, before you shoot off about something you no f.a about.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          This is true. Also, most OEM’s utilize automated vision systems that sample gaps, fits, etc. post final assembly. Usually these inspection systems are post body at various build phases of the vehicle.

          This enables the body shop to set trend fits that accommodate the amount of sh1t that is bolted onto an enclosure that makes it ‘sag’ down. It also identifies when a spec threshold is about to cross (or has crossed) and systemic corrective action is needed.

          Edit: most press units are pre-production units. The body shop is still fine tuning to achieve customer level quality. The assembler is also learning the new process. If this is the new Edge, you are seeing a lot of new variables. Most press vehicles are made prior to sale-able retail units are manufactured. I would bet my paycheck that these issues have already been identified internally. I used to be the person who tracked and ensured resolution.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          mikey, your insight has been missed. I hope all is well as I don’t see you around these parts as often as I’d like.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Seems Mikey’s avatar has changed… I’m not sure we can allow this.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          New truck?

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          @mikey – You got it.

          Slotted holes usually exist to make up for my laziness as a product designer, but they condemn the technician to building a misaligned assembly almost every time.

          Many variables go into providing uniform gap widths on a car, and today the assembler is only a very small part of the final result.

        • 0 avatar
          Crosley

          So it’s the company’s sloppy tolerances to blame?

          That’s almost worse that it’s “in spec” like that , I’d rather have assembly error to be the culprit than all of them are “supposed” to be that way by design because they have such loose tolerances for body panels and are just doing their job.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        cwallace, read below and be educated.

        • 0 avatar
          cwallace

          Okay, so I read all that stuff, tresmonos… and I guess the takeaway is that manufacturers go to a lot of trouble to mis-align things. Got it.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            Recap: This isn’t a production intent vehicle. Most press don’t fine tooth comb units that are delivered prior to production release to the general public. I am either incapable of providing value added content to this site or your cognitive abilities are lacking.

  • avatar
    86er

    A farrago of obsessive idiosyncrasies.

  • avatar
    Paddan

    My 2011 Range Rover L322 has horrible panel gaps. This is the 9th year of production, yet earlier models fit together better. Like many other ’11s I’ve seen, the hood fit is off as well as the front fenders. It has never been in an accident yet looks like it was put back together by a bad body shop. Yet mechanically, it works great. So I overlook the panel gaps and motor merrily along.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I think panel gaps are a sign of overall and general lack of care in car building. There’s no excuse for tolerances like Tresmonos mentions above, for poor panel gaps with the technology available in today’s car production. There are zero Lexus vehicles with poor panel gaps.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I disagree mainly because this is definitely a preproduction vehicle. Read my reply to mikey above. There are issues that are body shop related (note bball’s mention of the Explorer). The A pillar issue on that platform was a stack up tolerance issue that was gone over many, many times. You can spend hours in CAD, but when the rubber hits the floor in a body shop, every shop is enormously different.

      Oakville produced Edges that had hoods that were askew to my eye, but met specification back in 2012. I’m not making excuses, but you can’t expect steak when you order McDonald’s. There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to assembly quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Joss

      Tool & die when they stamp the steel from the roll. The plates are off or worn. It’s not the robotic soldering job. Or could be unaccounted stresses in the assembled body causing movement.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Lexus may be specifically targeting low tolerance panel gaps for marketing reasons, since it is a luxury brand.

      But one of the big things the Japanese have been big on in the past decade, is “tolerance tolerant” engineering. Subassemblies that work well even with parts built to higher tolerances; and wholes that ditto wrt subassemblies.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        They also utilize about twice as many fasteners as Korean, US, German and Indian OEMS. At least that is what I’ve seen at u-pull it yards when I’m fixing body damage on ex gf’s Lexi or Hundai.

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    If a vehicle is coming out of factory with these kinds of gaps between panels, it’s usually a cr@p, throwaway vehicle. Regardless how much it costs. That means that engineers, the most obsessive type of humans, don’t care, or shouldn’t be in that field to begin with. If the QA is so lax that they are ok with these kinds of gaps, then there are most certainly other issues as well that will pop up with time. I can sort of understand these gaps coming from autobody repair shop, but not from factory

  • avatar
    JMII

    My ’02 Dakota’s fitment is so bad that the wiper arms actually HIT the hood in one place due to misaligned parts. And yes this was from the factory and not the result of the part being swapped. In addition along the doors you can see a gap running uphill compared the frame of the vehicle, at the very end it is big enough that a #2 pencil can slide in there! The good news is the truck itself runs great, so all the mechanical bits are aligned properly I guess. Of all the cars I’ve owned our ’00 VW Passat 1.8T (B5) had the tightest seems, the trunk was especially close, like maybe two credit cards could slide in there… too bad everything else on the car broke. Thus while having small panel gaps is nice it apparently has little to do with how well the vehicle as a whole is built.

    One thing I’ve noticed looking at “classics” at various car shows is just how bad their gaps are. I’ve seen hoods on muscle cars that look like they were made from cardboard cut with scissors, the gaps varied in both height and width and this was on a “show” car too. The paint on these cars were flawless so it really stood out when the alignment is so bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      That’s what happens when you detail 1960s bodywork to 2015-levels of perfection.

      I can imagine someone with, say, a Ferrari 250 GTO, and actually disassembling and re-assembling the entire car to a modern alignment jig, just so all the panels line up to modern-day expectations.

      Oh, and +1 on the VW build quality. Everything LOOKS great, until things start to break where you can’t see. Good build quality, poor engineering.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        VW and GM are opposite in that sense: GM cars are well engineered, but cost-cut to the bone, and the resulting build quality (and more particularly, reliability and longevity) have been notoriously poor.

        Either way, most examples of either with 130,000 miles make a particularly chancy used car purchase.

      • 0 avatar
        thattruthguy

        A 250GTO is a hand hammered skin, not a repeatable pressed panel. It isn’t a matter of adjustment–the bastard won’t line up.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick Engineer

      The fit and finish on a ’00 Passat was far and above some of the best I had seen on a mass produced vehicle. True, the gaps and fit around the trunk lid were amazing. I have not seen bad gaps on a VW or Audi, and from what I have seen on forums, it almost never comes up as an issue. And all the seams and gaps stayed that way for over a decade of use and tons of miles.

      That car was incredibly reliable, durable, and it allowed me to do all maintenance and repair on it. It never let me down, and proved solid and impressively reliable especially on very long trips.

      The 1.8T was not very forgiving to neglect but for me it was an incredibly positive experience. I know it is rare to read such a rave review of a B5, but there it is.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Panel gaps and general fitment issues are often incorrectly associated with “build quality” and the fingers point to assembly process. This is often untrue.

    Panel gaps are primarily a function of engineering tolerances and fabrication process control, both of which are affected by budget. Maybe, just maybe, a negligent worker slamming stuff together could distort a part into a cosmetically visible mis-alignment, but with today’s automated assembly I just don’t see this being a major factor. Robotised steel stamping is not going to have any visible variation from unit to unit.

    Back when panels were hand-beaten (or at least hand-trimmed), fit and finish were indeed an indicator of “build quality” and were directly affected by the factory workers.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I would say that very few exterior panels are automated in the fit. The parts are very much automatically stamped, rolled, welded, etc, but when they are actually set to the vehicle, a person is typically doing that with some sort of lift assist jig. I’m speaking specifically of doors, hood, trunklid, and bumpers.

      • 0 avatar
        Chan

        You’re right, all of the opening panels likely need some human assistance to mount. But how much room does a bolt-and-nut-through-hole leave for human error?

        I know my 1990s Italian car has doors and bumpers that are difficult to align properly (and the fit is hardly perfect even when aligned), but that was not exactly a CAD-designed car.

        • 0 avatar
          olddavid

          I don’t know about today, but as late as 1995, Ford allowed 2.7 hours for PDI or pre-delivery inspection. One of my first jobs at the family store was this task. I aligned the doors, hood, trunk, lubed seat tracks, adjusted wipers for sweep and lie, etc. I was 13. If they still get paid for this, then it is lazy sloppiness to allow that example out of your store. I don’t care if its a stripper or the top of the line. But if your margins have been slashed to the nth degree, this is the result.

          • 0 avatar
            claytori

            The last time I was foolish enough to get a new car (1987), I found out that the “pre-delivery inspection” consisted of washing it and taking the plastic off the seats. When I purchased the FSM, there was a full page check list of what was SUPPOSED to have been done. Nada. The $ you pay goes straight into the dealer’s pocket. If your family did that stuff, then you have my compliments. Now, do we want to discuss the VW “Warranty” (always with quotation marks)?

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Look …someone that does know what their talking about

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “Panel gaps are primarily a function of engineering tolerances and fabrication process control, both of which are affected by budget.”

      +1

      Design for Manufacture can have a big effect on a final products quality. I like to define quality as reduction in variation, although it has many definitions. If the manufacturing process can’t hold the tolerances of the engineering design, you’ve got problems.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    While good panel fit isn’t a guarantee that a new car is high quality, poor panel fit of a new car is a guarantee that it isn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      Took the keystrokes right out of my fingertips. I completely agree.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      We have a winner here!

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @CJ: That’s not true.

      I’d rather own a reliable car than one that isn’t, and panel fit has little to do with my sense of quality.

      Two of the worst cars I’ve ever owned were a VW and a Honda, each with perfect body panels. I’ve also had cars with misfit body panels that had no reliability problems.

      • 0 avatar
        Chan

        The correlation is, the companies that make tight-fitting cars tend to have better reliability reputations than the ones that don’t. It’s rare to find a car that’s super reliable but had ill-fitting parts.

        Take Honda and Toyota. They are not cars known for reliability issues, and they tend to have above-average fit & finish.

        Take any of the 1980s Big 3 cars. They were known to be far less reliable than Japanese cars of the same era, and all were blasted for cheap design and construction.

        • 0 avatar
          Aquineas

          I generally agree with what you say, though I must say I’ve seen many a Honda Accord that has uneven or ill-fitting hoods. I believe some of that is supposed to be fixed during dealer prep?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        There are reliable VWs, just like there are unreliable Hondas. For me, they both exist in the abstract. Two of the most memorable internet freak-outs I’ve witnessed involved a guy that claimed he’d had nothing but great luck with Corvairs and a guy that claimed Renault Alliances and Encores were the best cars that he or anyone else had ever owned. There are outliers, and there are people that defend their bad decisions to their deaths. In my experience, the best badly assembled cars don’t work as well as the best meticulously assembled cars. I’m not sure meticulously assembled is the best way to describe this distinction though. There are beautifully crafted cars with amateur engineering. The best cars are the ones designed to be assembled accurately and repeatably without the need for experienced craftsmen. The same cleverness that goes into components that fit together properly also tends to apply engineering.

  • avatar
    wmba

    I’m convinced that sometimes bad panel gaps/alignment are a function of how the production people decided to interpret the stylists drawings. Seen many awkward solutions around the bottom of the A pillar, hood, front door where the lines all meet. In fact on the website Driven to Write, they discuss this particular notorious fitment area.

    Doesn’t seem to matter who the car company is, once a bad decision is taken, whether that be to try to meet the stylists wishes on a low budget with consequent difficulty to make parts due to compound curves, or the other extreme of modifying the style slightly so as to stamp out cheaper parts which have big gaps and hope that nobody notices, it’s all a question of money.

    Every single 2006 to 9 Civic churned out in Alliston Ontario had obvious misalignment where the front door meets that silly little front window. Every one and it’s obvious. Worse than what we’re looking at here. So Honda is consistent at making the same thing over and over and over again. The mirror might hide it for some folks if they’re slightly blind, and the passenger side is fine. The new TLX on the driver’s side – all the drivers’ side doors didn’t meet properly at the top of the roof on 7 cars lined up side by side at the dealer. Mention it to the salesmen and after a lot of poking around as if in disbelief, you may get an acknowledgement, but they’ll think you’re twittish for pointing it out. Not that I give a ratsass what they think.

    Are Hondas/Acuras bad cars? Obviously not, but a combination of one thing or another can lead to bad panel fitment, and they are bull-headed in not admitting mistakes and calling an error normal operation. Just read the forums where the fawning fanbois descend like Attaturk on some poor nerd member who points out errors in “perfect machines”. It’s as bad as a 10 million Twitter nits on the attack to call out some poor dope or other. Guilty as a disloyal owner, or guilty as being a non-PC Neanderthal.

    When it comes to panel fit, it’s up to the prospective purchaser to decide what’s acceptable. But in our “you did me wrong” blaming society, most people hop in the new purchase hearts aflutter and only start squawking a week later when they actually examine their new machine more closely. So I say, who really cares? Mostly not a soul.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I have a 2007 Ontario Civic sedan, so I went to look for the panel misalignment that I might have missed when inspecting the car before purchase, and when washing it over the past eight years. The only thing I can identify has to do with the trim strip along the base of the side windows. The portion connected to the door has a flexible rubber seal where it meets the glass while the part attached to the fender does not. This is because the door opens, while the fender does not. Midway along the base of the A-pillar window, the two types of trim meet at the forward edge of the door panel. Since they are not the same trim, this transition isn’t as uniform as the rest of the car. As you noted, this transition is hidden by the side mirrors from most viewing angles. By no stretch of the imagination is it as bad as what is shown in the photos above. The gaps on the Civic are large, but they’re uniform and the panels are level with one another.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    I think panel gap is important. If I’m the guy on the line doing the final inspection and let this go, I’m either:

    1) In a union and don’t care, as long as I get my regular raises.

    2) Someone who doesn’t really care about the product I’m representing.

    3) Incompetent. Because if my job is to assure quality in a product then I have failed miserably by letting this out of the factory.

    4) All of the above.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Here’s what probably happens when a car rolls off the production line in 2015 with panel gap issues:

      Inspector flags it.

      Supervisor says they’re all like that.

      Cars continue rolling out.

      Someone else flags it.

      Supervisor gets angry and tells everyone to stop reporting a non-issue.

      Ideally panel fit should be fixed during pre-production, so that the assembly process is finalised with all of the needed improvements.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      5] Your boss has told you , what is acceptable, and what is not. Your boss has also made you aware, that you are not in charge of final build quality.

      • 0 avatar
        wolfinator

        SHHH! Don’t ruin the right-wing bubble, where some poor working schlub is most definitely at fault for management decisions!

        Whether it’s some random engineer at VW who’s totally responsible for violating dozens of country’s laws, or a working stiff on an assembly line, product problems are always the result of Bad Workers.

        That’s why CEOs get to make tens of millions annually, but it’s a crime if an assembly worker has decent healthcare. Management isn’t at fault for the Bad Things! It’s the workers who must be punished!

        Preferably by cutting their wages. That’s what will motivate them to improve quality!

        • 0 avatar
          Nick Engineer

          I don’t necessary disagree with what you are saying, but I am mighty impressed that an article on body gaps can be linked to differences in political ideology :)

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    It is a 2011+ Honda Odyssey. I know because I just got a 2016 Odyssey exl and the pannel gaps are huge and uneven in many places. Hood, doors, etc.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My former 12 Leaf had an odd body feature: the panel fits were good, but at their interface it was obvious the radii of the plastic panels were ‘softer’ than the radii of the metal panels. My car was early in the Leaf run, so maybe this improved over time.

    As a product designer, I know how to propagate the curves of one part to another in CAD, but someone at Nissan or its suppliers didn’t implement this detail correctly. I suspect they let the plastic parts slide in order to meet a production schedule. In my case, maybe the plastic panels weren’t sufficiently cooled before ejection from the mold.

    However, the vehicle’s build quality was very good – after 3 years nothing failed or squeaked.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    When the Chevy Cobalt was first displayed at the Pittsburgh Auto Show, I pointed out to the booth babe that their yellow Cobalt’s rear bumper was a different color shade than the rest of the car.

    She brought it to the attention of a mfr rep, who declared that it ‘was just a display car’. This made me wonder about the care of the mfr in preparing its display cars, but I figured the problem would go away.

    However, I began to notice that many production Cobalts exhibited this trait:
    http://www.columbiamagazine.com/photos/30650.jpg
    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/2/3446/3161/21114080001_large.jpg
    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/3140/4801/32849900003_original.jpg
    http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2012/01/30/10/26/2005_chevrolet_cobalt_ls_coupe-pic-3956084513666020073.jpeg

    I’ve concluded it’s just sloppy engineering that allowed this to happen. Some of these cars look so bad you’d think they’ve had a bumper repair using fresh paint mated against a faded car, but really, they’re like that from the factory.

    BTW, I’m not picking on GM or the Cobalt; it’s just an example that came to mind.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      GM Engineering has nothing to do with paint.

      Every supplier goes through a buy off process from the manufacturer on “colored” parts. This includes: fascias, fuel doors, antenna covers, rockers, headliners, carpet, A pillars….ect.

      These reviews typically have an individual from design that has masters to those specific colors; the person that reviews the component makes a call to its color position. (Slightly Light? Slightly Blue? Slightly light and green? Slightly dark? Too much orange peel? Not enough flake? Washed out?) Everyone gets parts signed off as a master in that position and using data from X-rite or BYK-mac spectrophotometer they should be able to maintain. All of these activities are part of the design and quality process.

      Some paint does not travel well…without seeing the Cobalts in person the only thing I can see is that the face looks dark, but the flop may look better.

      I’ve seen my fair share of off colored exterior components. A guy at work has a LaCrosse in tri coat white—the fuel door and fascia match, but the body does not; it’s too light and blue while the fascia and fuel door is yellow/red. Every single batch of paint is never the same, you order it to where you want it to be but sometimes you end up doing “hits” to get it where it should be.

      This Lexus’ front fascia is on the green side; I can see the mis match, yet it may meet “spec”.

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lexus-RX-AWD-/151893487447?forcerrptr=true&hash=item235d8eaf57:g:bPQAAOSwf-VWU2f6&item=151893487447

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My Lexus has a gap that is slightly too large between the front fascia and the hood, only on one side.

        When I bought it, I thought it must have had a poorly executed bumper repair or a slightly bent mounting bracket. But since then I’ve examined the bumper mounting and everything looks like it was never touched. The bumper, hood, and fenders all have their original VIN stickers. I think I just got a car with a couple of parts that didn’t quite get along.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          “I think I just got a car with a couple of parts that didn’t quite get along.”

          This is virtually unheard of on an LS. I really can’t believe they’d let it leave the factory like that. Now maybe as you said, the parts didn’t get along and shortly after purchase they separated and gapped?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Here’s a recent example:

    http://www.edmunds.com/ford/mustang/2015/long-term-road-test/2015-ford-mustang-gt-self-clearancing-trunk-deck-lid.html

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      The latest Subaru WRX STI has a similar issue where the rear spoiler rubs against the edge of the trunk opening, chipping paint away. That kind of stuff boggles the mind. Really guys, you didn’t catch this before?

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    There are about a dozen different reasons a panel won’t align perfectly and most of them have nothing to do with build quality. Some are in part to avoid expansion, flex, or bumps that can misalign or scratch (really common on doors). You’re better off with a .3 inch gap (about the width of a pencil) that clears every time than go to .2 and have ice break a hinge.

    Interior wise the plastics face even more problematic expansion issues as heat will cause them to get loose or swell depending on the sheer amount of heat applied. But again, it’s all appearances and has very little impact on the practical life of a car. My 1997 Crown Vic had gaps you could drive other Crown Vics through, it was bullet-proof except for a brake line corrosion issue (well known amongst owners in the North) & a blown manifold (who makes manifolds out of plastic?).

    Gapping is just another spec on the sheet that means little to everyday wear-and-tear on the car.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    I won’t take delivery of a car that has misaligned panels.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I love the apologists explaining that it’s simply supposed to be that way.

    Dollars to Donuts this is a Big 3 product.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Welll… my spidey sense tells me Mark has a minor shocker in store to make this guess-what tease worthwhile.

      Otherwise it’s as illuminating as revealing Michael Moore can’t see his feet unless he snaps a selfie.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    Design studio makes the outer surface of the car to be pretty. Manufacturing says the bend radii are too tight. Design pitches a hissy fit and everyone gives them what they want.

    Manufacturing sends their best case tolerances to engineering, who have tried to tolerance the thing to actually work. The gap between what manufacturing can hold, and what’s needed to meet the studio surface, is about a mile. Digital prebuilds show problems, tooling strategies change, prototype cars look like crap, tooling strategies change, and finally a somewhat controllable car design emerges and goes to get tools cut.

    Stamping plant cares about throughput and sends hideously out of print parts to body shop. Also, toolmakers designed the tools for wear (all punches to maximum size!), not accuracy, digital prebuild models called into question. Tool maintenance continues to be thrifted.

    End of the day, a man with a deadblow hammer makes it look as good as he can before it rolls off line.

    Customer complains they can’t make their phone connect to the infotainment and that gas mileage is below advertised.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Reliability = It doesn’t break much

    Durability = It can have longevity (although it may require a lot of maintenance and repairs)

    Quality = It looks and feels solid

    The first two points are fairly objective, i.e. they can be quantified and measured. The last point is subjective, and varies depending upon what we have decided is important (which is a matter of taste and somewhat arbitrary.)

    We’ve decided that large panel gaps suck, so they do. They aren’t inherently bad, as it is possible to have reliable, durable cars with large panel gaps. But any manufacturer that can’t figure out how to minimize them when other OEMs have figured it out is either not trying very hard or else isn’t capable of it.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      It’s hard to take panel gaps too seriously when you remember missile gaps, let alone mineshaft gaps.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Pch101 – – –

      Ferrari got around the panel-gaps problem by making them larger (~1/2 inch), darker, and turning them into a design element on many of its earlier cars. The gaps also symbolized the racing heritage of Ferrari by allowing the panels to come off easily with simple click-screws on the inside. Neat, huh?

      One can hardly accuse Ferrari of being a “cheap” manufacturer……….

      =======================

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s such an arbitrary thing. Most here would call my base XL F-150’s panel gaps (or more likely the panels being on an uneven plane) quite “atrocious” or tragic.

    All I know or really care about is the truck is ridiculously reliable and virtually unbreakable. If ignoring ‘fit and finish’ to focus on the bulletproof dependability, I’m fine with it.

    I assume the high end pickups receive better “gaps”, but I have noticed the gaps on base commercial F-250s and up, work trucks, are completely laughable. On white trucks especially. But I don’t even notice how bad they are for years into ownership.

    But I’m certain the panels get some sort of ratings for flaws, with the best panels or beds/cabs going on black XLTs to Platinums.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      It’s 2015 (almost 2016), and Ford can’t match, let alone exceed, the precision of its body panel gaps on vehicles it was slapping together in the 1970s.

      Pathetic.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        How often to you get out the ‘feeler gauge’ to reaffirm you made the best car buying decision? Tell me you don’t heavily base a car purchase on the best panel gaps. Aren’t you more likely to end up with a car you hate this way?

        Still there’s no excuse for the panel gaps on base work truck F-series, although I haven’t compared them to other brand work trucks. Except it’s safe to say the gaps on Ford cars are more than acceptable, especially on Lincolns.

        But it’s a fairly anal thing to obsess about. Not much different than the affinity for “soft touch” plastics.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “I assume the high end pickups receive better “gaps”, but I have noticed the gaps on base commercial F-250s and up, work trucks, are completely laughable.”

      Well ya because with a Ford the 3/4 ton and up PU’s use a completely different body than what you find on the 1/2 tons. The panel gaps on my UAW assembled Flint, MI built ’04 HD Sierra are as good(read identical) to what you’ll find on any ’04 1/2 ton PU or SUV because it’s all the same stuff.

      And a 2015 1/2 ton Denali won’t have any better panel fit than your base LS Sierra. That’s equivalent to some Caddy guy trying to tell me his Escalade has better panel fit than my GMT-900 Chevy ‘Hoe.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I don’t exactly believe $70,000 SUVs have the same panel gaps/alignment as $25K work pickups, just because they share a platform, assembly line and some panels.

        I believe all panels on all vehicles have some adjustability, so a Lincoln and Cadillac SUV can and does leave the factory with better gaps than their basic ‘work pickup’ cousins.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          The current generation GM FS BOF SUV’s don’t(for the first time ever) share any body panels with the PU’s so you may have a point there with with the SUVs having better panel fit than a PU. But again I doubt there is any difference in gaps or fitment between the Chevy and the higher end Denali or Escalade.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    I propose that TTAC start each work week with Male Manicure Monday!

    Featured would be topics like more panel gap outrage, rude plastics, sexiest shifters and our pent-up demand for more paint and upholstery colors with French names.

  • avatar
    Boff

    A lot of people on a 2015+ Mustang forum I frequent complained about misaligned body panels, so I went over my car carefully, and found quite a few variances from perfection. The only one that was really significant was that the trailing edges of the doors stuck out a tad relative to the rear quarter panels.I pointed this out to a friend and he said that might have been engineered that way to cut down on wind noise. Such a consideration might explain both of the above photos.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    It’s not the gaps, it’s how things line up in the other dimensions.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    That really seems to depend on what you consider a bad panel gap. The first one, which appears to be a gap between the hood and the door or A-pillar section of the front fender, looks more like a design or stamping error as the alignment seems off by about a 1/16th inch. The second one also looks like a design error as the lower gap appears neat and regular but the upper one is wider than necessary but yet part of the same sheet metal. This to me indicates more a design issue than any quality of build issue.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      That’s a hood meeting the door. The shapes are exactly matching, but the door is a 16th too far in, or the hood too far to the right. I’d blame the hood, as there seems to be an overbite meeting the fender.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    My 2007 Toyota 4Runner has tighter and even gaps than my 2010 Porsche 997! Quite amazing to see the close to perfect lines that are maintained on every single panel inside and outside.

  • avatar
    daro31

    Many, many years ago, when I was a supervisor building Pintos, we were shut down due to low vehicle sales. The company brought in a Honda, a Toyota and a VW Golf. We had to go over them and cut out little paper arrows on every car pointing out the areas that were considered important to customers as perceived quality. Door margins, hood alignment, alignment of windshield to dashboard top windshield etc. There where red arrow items. When the plant got back to work after the layoff we had to walk all of our assemblers over to these 4 cars and point out all of the issues highlighted that Ford said we needed to match our competitors or we would be out of business. In 1979 Ford considered fits and margins to be a big part of perceived quality. As a supervisdor I maintained that if you gave me parts to put together a Pinto and we had 3 x’s the hours to pit it together it would still be a Pinto at the end of the line.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      daro31 – – –

      Thanks for a great comment from a knowledgable person!

      I guess I’ll have to revise my thinking: Just because panel gaps are not all that important to me does not mean that the general car-buying public does not see them as indicators (“perceptions”) of quality in other things in the vehicle. Panel gaps are, after all, what anyone can see easily.

      (In reality, the mechanicals underneath could be “junk”, but the JD Powers people might score it well because the panel gaps were good! (^_^))

      =================

  • avatar
    66 West

    How long do we have to wait to find out what car it is? :)

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I’m not sure if the panel gaps reflect poor overall quality, but that’s certainly what it’d lead me to believe. How can the mechanical bits be trustworthy (or even the electrical) if they can’t get the doors to fit together well? The issue is, however, most Americans would NEVER notice that nor would they particularly care if they did.


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