Ask the B&B: Do Bad Panel Gaps Mean Poor Vehicle Quality?

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
ask the b b do bad panel gaps mean poor vehicle quality

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.

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

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2 of 141 comments
  • 66 West 66 West on Nov 27, 2015

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

  • Zoomzoomfan Zoomzoomfan on Dec 22, 2015

    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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