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How 3D printing can save your old car.

A bit of backstory. Labor day weekend arrived, and once again, I went to load my trusty 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate with all of my camping gear I needed to head out to Prado Regional Park in Chino, CA for the largest foam fighting event west of the Mississippi river. Hatch came up, tailgate came down, and equipment flew into the cavernous depths that is a 1990s GM B body station wagon. As I go to close the rear glass, I notice that one hinge seems slack, and like the moron that I am, I grab a wrench and tighten the slack bolt to bring the window back flush with the hinge. Crank, crank, crank, a strange powdery substance coats my hand and ... slam! The window breaks free of its hinge and drops onto my wrists. *%&#, I am leaving in two hours, and now I can no longer secure the contents of my vehicle. I frantically grab some boxes and duct tape, and quickly “upgrade” my rear window with the poor boy special cardboard window delete option.

Now, these hinges, GM part numbers 10124262 and 10124263 are Unobtanium, the best ones you can get are 22+ years old off someone else’s car. They are plastic hinges with steel threaded inserts that are prone to rusting and tearing open the plastic, causing the insert, with bolt in tow, to fall out.

Illustration for article titled How 3D printing can save your old car.
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(Guess which one failed?)

I did an admittedly quick search and couldn’t find any, anywhere, for reasonable money. Without the ability to source a replacement, I decided to make my own (cue dramatic music). I drafted up a replacement set based off the one good hinge I had remaining, added some personal touches (Tri-Shield for the win!) and sent them off to be 3D printed in ASA plastic with 100% infill. I jumped one of the many 3D printing sites to get a quote for my parts. For both hinges, in ASA, which is a UV stable plastic that is good for use outdoors and in automotive applications, the cost, shipped to my door, was right about $10. Another $5 in steel inserts that will be epoxied in, and I have fully functioning hinges to replace the failed ones on my vehicle.

Illustration for article titled How 3D printing can save your old car.
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(I made bow tie ones too, for those poor kinds that drive Caprice wagons)

Now, this process has taught me a great deal. Everyone who gives you advice on a project car tells you to buy a “hard parts” car, because you can repair or refurbish essentially the entire vehicle. “Don’t buy a soft parts car, you wont be able to fix all the plastic that fails!” All those wonderful cars, first generation Toyota MR2's, Subaru BRAT’s, Pontiac Fiero’s, Buick Roadmasters, anything that Hoovie’s garage has bought, ever. Hell, even the Jeeps that our very own David Tracey can’t seem to separate himself from, now can all be saved! With the maturity of 3D printers these days, we can now save all the cars from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and replace all of the failed plastic components with brand new parts! Admittedly, this is a time consuming process, requires some CAD skills, and may not work for every single part (imagine printing a 6 foot dash!), But, but but but, there is the glimmer of hope that we can save these rides from the junkyard!

 

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