In previous posts, I’ve been sharing the process of reconditioning my cheap Craigslist truck. But despite my intention to keep it a beater truck, I can’t resist addressing certain body-related items.

When I originally visited the seller to look at the truck, the very first thing I noticed was its lack of a tailgate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t install one if I had it. One of the bed’s hinge-pegs was not only missing, there was a rusty hole where one is supposed to bolt to. Attaching a tailgate was going to be a lot more difficult than just bolting on a new peg, but something had to be done. Not having a tailgate on a pickup SUCKS.

So I followed a lead from the counter guys at my local parts store and found a bed of proper length that had been pulled from a ‘95 Chevy. Wrong color, some scratches and a few patches of rust, but who cares? It’s in way better shape than mine and it’ll bolt right up. While it doesn’t come with a tailgate, at least it will accept one. So I got to work removing the old bed.

(I don’t know why I bothered to measure and cut such a tidy access door. The old bed is scrap metal anyway.)

With some persuasion, all 8 attaching bolts finally came out. Two were hiding up above the spring mounts, keeping me from using my electric impact gun. It was also too much of an angle for my swivel adapters. So I cut holes in the top of the bed, brushed the now-accessible bolt-threads clean of rust, and doused them in home brew penetrating oil. After soaking overnight, I removed both bolts with a ratchet; no need for an impact or even a breaker bar!

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After disconnecting the lights and fuel fill neck, I drove next to the garage and pushed the bed off. I found myself staring at the naked frame. You know, replacing that fuel tank a month ago would have gone a lot easier if I had planned ahead... couldawouldashoulda. Before getting on the road, I fastened a broomstick to the fuel neck to keep it from sagging, and reconnected the tail-lamps, zip-tying them to the frame.

This was almost the worst-case scenario for driving in a Michigan winter. V8, RWD, open diff, and less than nothing in the back to hold it down. But at least I had fresh tires to get me through.

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I picked up the bed at the seller’s house 5 miles away, installing the lights and fuel neck. As for the bed itself, I only put in the two front bolts, holding the back down with a ratchet-strap. I did this at the request of the body shop who was to tackle the next problem: the frame itself.

Yes, the frame on this $700 truck was bent. Only at the rear, though. And the alignment (not adjustable in the rear anyway) was still within spec. From the rear mount of the rear springs back to the rear bumper, both channels of the frame were bent downward at an angle of about 10-15°. I found a local shop with a frame rack who could straighten it at a reasonable price.

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To save money, and to improve the technician’s chances of getting the frame back into position, I did what I could to make it easy for him. Besides supplying a straight bed to serve as a reference point, and removing most of the bolts for him, I decided to add one more thing: a trailer hitch!

Whatever collision caused the frame to bend must have damaged the (long-since-gone) hitch, as there were two “random” pieces of metal bolted to the frame: the cut-off remnants of a receiver hitch. To make the frame tech’s job easier, I removed those pieces and sought out a good hitch that he could connect to the frame. (I would finish installing the hitch myself later.) I was wanting to put one on it anyway, even though I don’t have a trailer. There are a lot of things you can attach to a 2" receiver.

(The donor: note the tailgate handle frozen in the open position)

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I took a trip to the local salvage yard, and found a ‘97 Chevy with a serviceable tailgate and a receiver hitch. The hitch was one of the good square-tube ones, and in pretty decent shape as well. A yard worker pulled the parts for me the next day before I arrived, and had them ready to go. At home, I disassembled the tailgate linkage, then cleaned and lubricated it so that it worked like new, and installed new cables. As for the hitch, I was going to leave it alone. But during one of those Michigan winter heatwaves, I couldn’t resist cleaning up the surface rust and re-painting it anyway.

Before the time came for my body-shop appointment, I decided to tackle the door hinges. The doors were sagging to the point where they wouldn’t close without slamming them, and I didn’t want the pins to wear out the bushings entirely and start wallowing out the hinges themselves. I also didn’t want to get accustomed to using that kind of force. So, I got new pins & bushings for it, and installed them with a generous helping of lubricant.

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I took it to the body shop, where they straightened the frame right back where it belonged in just two “pulls”. There’s still some wrinkles in the channels, but I didn’t expect those to disappear anyway, and it’s important to keep the number of pulls down to a minimum.

I got some hardware to finish installing the hitch, and now I finally have a truck that’s ready to get some real work done! I’m not done wrenching on it, but at least it’s ready to haul stuff around. I just wish that Michigan winter heatwave would have stuck around...