If you're an automotive enthusiast who has visited our performance sections, it's likely that you know that reducing overall vehicle weight is an effective way to enhance your vehicle's performance, handling, and fuel economy. Naturally, there are different schools of thought on the subject of vehicle weight reduction.
Some people say "start with the easy stuff" when removing weight from your vehicle. What they mean is, start by removing heavy vehicle options you may not need, such as air conditioning, rear seats, and interior insulation. Hard core enthusiasts may take things to the next level, replacing glass windows with Plexiglas, and stripping other mechanical systems such as power steering. Those who might convert their vehicle into a track performer go even further, removing headliners, airbags, stereo equipment, door panels, windshield wipers, and wiper motor - rendering the vehicle illegal for street use.
But what if that level of paring down is not practical for you? It's more than likely that you use your car as your daily driver, and you need things like A/C, heat, and a sound system. If you're still serious about saving weight, then your next option is to replace exterior body panels with lighter ones made of fiberglass or carbon fiber.
In this article, we'll look at these lightweight replacement body panels which weigh a fraction of what OEM panels typically do. Because we're taking a "less is more" approach, we won't be covering any add-on parts for aerodynamics or looks. We're focusing on the owner who wants to remain discreet, still enjoy the car's creature comforts, and maintain (or enhance) resale value.
It's true that, because of their "exotic" nature, carbon fiber parts are not cheap (and fiberglass is a good cost-effective alternative). But ask yourself if your vehicle's panels already have dents, corrosion, and paint damage. The cost of bodywork and paint can exceed the cost of new carbon fiber parts, which don't require any paintwork because they come with a durable outer clear coat layer. And when you also consider that carbon fiber and fiberglass parts will never corrode the way metal panels can, they become even more of an investment. Odds are, you'll get most (if not all) of your costs back when you sell the car. After all, you'd pay you more for a vehicle so equipped, right? That said, fiberglass and carbon fiber parts also make a great upgrade for those who do plan to strip down their vehicle for serious racing.
Serious performance enthusiasts across the internet have validated our product claims by comparing the weight of an OEM part with its lightweight replacement. For example, on a subcompact car such as a Honda Civic, an 8-pound carbon fiber hood is approximately 22 pounds lighter than the OEM panel. On a Mitsubishi Eclipse, a 9-pound carbon fiber hood is 31 pounds lighter than the original one. On an intermediate or full-size car with a large hood, the weight savings can be up to 50 pounds!
In our Custom Hoods section, you'll find carbon fiber replacement hoods from Seibon, Carbon Creations, and VIS Racing for a wide selection of makes and models. All of the hoods offer a choice of OEM-matching looks or custom hood designs with more aggressive-looking air scoops, power domes, and vent slats that reduce "heat soak". We'll note that the VIS Racing hoods are available for several high-end performance cars such as Lamborghinis, Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, and Porsche 911s.
If you're looking for more aggressive hood styling for select BMW, Porsche, Mercedes, or older Audi models, Aero Function's Custom Hood is available in your choice of carbon fiber or less-expensive fiberglass. For best value, the Amerihood fiberglass Custom Hood focuses on custom hood designs with ram air scoops for cars as well as some truck and SUV models. ARK Performance also offers the Performance Hood with more restrained vents and scoops in your choice of fiberglass or carbon fiber construction.
For those who prefer original OEM looks and the lower cost of fiberglass, the Duraflex Custom Hood is available for a number of makes and models, and comes with black primer already applied. And if you've got a late-model Jeep Wrangler, American Fastbacks offers the stylized Airborne Fiberglass Hood. In the custom hoods section, you'll also find an interesting selection of individual air scoops, hood release pins, hood springs, and other related items.
In our Trunk Lids & Hatches section, we've got a wide variety of OEM style replacement trunk lids, hatch doors, and even metal inlay sections for some fastback model tailgates. Performance enthusiasts who have weighed their OEM and replacement carbon fiber trunk lids claim to have saved from 15 pounds on subcompact cars up to 25 pounds on larger pony cars. For starters, there's the Carbon Creations Carbon Fiber Trunk. Seibon's Carbon Trunk Lid also offers a good selection of trunk panels, including hatch doors for import compact vehicles. If you've got a late-model BMW 5-series, Agency Power's CSL Style Carbon Fiber Trunk sticks to the OEM look with the exception of a slight increase of the integrated rear spoiler.
The VIS Racing Hatch specializes in OEM style carbon fiber replacement hatches for import performance compacts dating back to the 1990s. They've even got hatches for popular 1980s models such as the Nissan 300ZX, Toyota Corolla liftback, Toyota Supra, and the Honda Civic & CRX. And for best value, Aero Function offers trunk lids (no hatches) in your choice of fiberglass or carbon fiber construction.
When it comes to custom replacement fenders, we've got carbon fiber and fiberglass choices that can cut between 5 and 16 pounds of weight per panel, according to various vehicle owners. For carbon fiber construction, Seibon Carbon Fenders and Carbon Creations Custom Fenders both offer a choice of OEM looks or sportier-looking custom designs for newer vehicles. Both also offer OE-style replacement fenders for select vehicles dating back to the 1980s.
Should you prefer less-expensive fiberglass, Duraflex Custom Fenders offer a range of custom designs for vehicles dating back to the 1980s. For example, they've got AMG-style fenders for 1980-91 Mercedes S-class coupes as well as 944 Turbo-style fenders for 1977-88 Porsche 924s, just to name a few. VIS Racing offers fiberglass fenders with OEM or custom styling, depending on make and model.
While we found owners claiming to have saved from 17 to 35 pounds per door panel after going to carbon fiber, we feel it's important to caution that carbon fiber door panels will not provide the same level of protection that metal ones do should your vehicle take a direct hit from the side. Because their location on the vehicle uniquely puts occupants at greater risk of injury, carbon fiber doors might be best suited for track use where protective roll cages are installed.
Seibon offers replacement carbon fiber doors for a select range of coupes, but they also offer both front and rear doors for popular 4-door performance models such as the Subaru Impreza/WRX and Volkswagen Golf/GTI. On some vehicles, you may see the option of purchasing "dry" carbon fiber doors at a higher cost. Unlike traditional carbon fiber (also known as "wet" carbon fiber), dry carbon fiber is produced by coating each specific weave with epoxy during production - before the curing process instead of after. Because the epoxy is baked into the weave instead of applied as a coating, less of it is needed. As a result, dry carbon fiber panels can weigh up to 70% less than wet ones do. They also tend to have a flat look to their finish. AIT Racing also offers carbon fiber Racing Doors for 2003-08 Infiniti G35 coupes and Nissan 350Z models as well as older 1989-93 Nissan 240SX models.
Browsing through what's available in any of the sections referenced on our website, you'll notice each product features one main lead picture. These pictures are not fully indicative of all the variations you'll find from that manufacturer, because designs and materials offered vary from vehicle to vehicle. For example, a product with a lead picture showing a carbon fiber hood with custom air scoops may also be available in a look that matches the OEM part, and it may be available in fiberglass as well. In the Product Options drop down box, you'll see all the choices available to you after entering your vehicle's year, make, and model.
In closing, lightweight body panels are a smart money investment for a number of reasons. Whether you want to keep the rest of your car comfortably stock or gut every other ounce of weight from the vehicle for racing, the weight loss that fiberglass or carbon fiber panels provide is valuable no matter what. Looking back at our hypothetical savings, a hood, trunk lid, front fenders, plus 2 doors could save you close to 175 pounds! That benefits you in speed, handling, and fuel economy.
Considering they're resistant to door dings and immune to corrosion, lightweight body panels make a long-lasting alternative to the cost of bodywork and paint repair should your vehicle need it. Plus, you'll find buyers willing to pay a higher price for your vehicle when you do decide to sell it. We feel you'll be satisfied for the long-term after your purchase, but we encourage you to call us seven days a week with any questions you have.