Whether you’re a new driver or an experienced auto enthusiast, you’ve likely noticed the curved panels covering the wheels of every car on the road. But what exactly are these panels called and what purpose do they serve? Fenders are an important but often overlooked part of any vehicle’s exterior design.
In short, fenders are the body panels that sit above a car’s tires. They are designed to shield the engine, suspension, and body from water, mud, gravel, and other road debris kicked up by the tires.
This article will provide a comprehensive overview explaining everything you need to know about fenders. We’ll cover the function of fenders, what they’re made of, types of fenders, fender components, how they can become damaged, specifications, and the pros and cons of fenders. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is the Purpose of Fenders on Cars?
The primary function of fenders is to protect the inner workings of your car from the elements. As the tires spin on the road, they kick up all sorts of dirt, water, rocks, and gravel. Without fenders, all this debris would fly up into the delicate machinery of the suspension and engine bay.
Fenders form a covered barrier around the upper half of the tires in order to deflect mud, water, and small rocks away from the engine and mechanical components. This shielding prevents corrosion, premature wear, and even damage to essential systems.
In addition to protection, fenders play an aerodynamic role. The curved shape streams airflow around the wheel wells rather than allowing air to become turbulent. Smoothly guiding airflow makes cars more aerodynamic and improves fuel efficiency.
Fenders are also part of a car’s exterior visual design. The stylistic flares and curves help define the overall look of the vehicle. Whether made of steel, carbon fiber, or plastic, they must seamlessly integrate into the aesthetic of the body.
What are Fenders Made Of?
The materials used to construct fenders have evolved over the decades. Early fenders were steel, which is strong but heavy. Manufacturers moved to aluminum panels which were lighter. Plastic and fiberglass became popular as they allow more styling flexibility.
Today fenders can be found made from:
- Steel – Heavy but very strong and inexpensive. Prone to rust.
- Aluminum – Lightweight but durable. More corrosion resistant than steel.
- Fiberglass – Allows for flowing curves. Resilient but can crack.
- Carbon fiber – Very lightweight and strong but expensive. Limited flexibility in shaping.
- Plastic/composite – Affordable lightweight option common on economy cars. Less durable.
Performance vehicles may utilize lighter weight materials like carbon fiber to save weight and enhance handling. Luxury cars often use steel for its strength and sound dampening. Pickup trucks and off-road SUVs tend to employ tougher steel fenders that resist dents and damage.
Types of Fenders
There are two main types of fenders – standard separate fenders covering each wheel and extended continuous fenders that span both wheels.
The most common setup features individual fenders over each wheel – one in front of the front wheel and another behind the rear wheel. This style harkens back to the early days of auto manufacturing.
Standard fenders keep the wheels isolated and don’t connect to one another or the body of the car. This allows more airflow and movement which can generate wind noise. But it’s simple and inexpensive to produce.
[Image of a car with standard front and rear fenders]
Many modern vehicles employ a continuous fender design that flows across both wheels. At the front, one streamlined fender starts at the front bumper and spans the width of the car over both front wheels before meeting the door.
At the rear, a fender extends over both rear wheels from behind the rear door to the taillights. This provides a sleek, aerodynamic appearance. Extended fenders also offer better protection compared to smaller individual ones.
[Image of a car with continuous front and rear fenders]
Performance vehicles often utilize air vents in the fender to release airflow from the wheel wells. The long continuous fenders channel air more smoothly than standard ones.
Some vehicles, especially SUVs and trucks, are equipped with pronounced fender flares that extend out beyond the normal fender. Fender flares allow for the installation of larger wheels and increase clearance for off-roading.
These extended flares give trucks and SUVs a rugged, domineering look. They prevent the tires from protruding past the fenders when equipped with wheels larger than stock size. Fender flares are typically made of fiberglass or tough plastic.
[Image of truck with large plastic fender flares]
On performance sports cars like the Lamborghini Aventador, large angular fender flares give the car an aggressive race-ready look. Extended flares accommodate the super wide tires needed to grip the road at high speeds.
Do All Cars Have Fenders?
Fenders are necessary safety equipment on all modern production passenger vehicles. No car rolls off the assembly line without front and rear fenders installed. They are required by law in all jurisdictions that certify vehicles for public road use.
Driving without fenders is extremely hazardous and not recommended. The fired-up debris will cause damage over time and strikes to the undercarriage are dangerous at speed. Fenders are a fundamental component protecting the costly mechanical components of your vehicle.
Can You Remove Fenders?
While it may be technically possible to saw off your fenders, this is not advisable, safe, or legal for street use. Intentionally removing or altering fenders will likely violate local vehicle codes and result in hefty fines. More importantly, it jeopardizes the proper operation of your car.
Without fenders, dirt, gravel, water, and salt will rapidly accrue on critical components like the engine, radiator, suspension, and brakes. This causes corrosion and clogs up pivots, pulleys, and gears. Fenders are protection features that should never be removed, even on dedicated off-road rigs.
While fenders may seem like simple body panels, they consist of several pieces that work together:
Inside the fender is a flexible plastic liner. This inner fender liner safeguards all the mechanical components under the hood from moisture and debris. The liner seals the gap between the fender and the engine bay.
As discussed above, a fender flare is an extension that protrudes out from the main fender over the top of the tires. Common on trucks and performance cars.
This aesthetic trim piece hides the seam between the fender and adjacent body panels. Body-colored, chrome, or black trim molding snaps onto the fender edge.
Fender Damage and Repair
Fenders are vulnerable protruding body panels that commonly incur damage. Here are some typical causes of fender damage:
- Debris kicked up while driving down dirt roads
- Backing into obstacles like poles and walls
- Collisions with other vehicles, especially sideswipes
- Scuffing curbs while parking
The most common fender damage includes:
- Paint scratches and scuffs
- Dents and creases from impact
- Rust and corrosion near the bottom edge
- Cracks or holes from severe collisions
Repairing fender damage depends on the severity. Light scratches can be buffed out, while dents require panel beating. Heavier damage may need filler, putty, or replacement. Keep your fenders protected with touch up paint on any scratches and wash them regularly.
Fender Specifications Comparison Table
Here is a helpful comparison of the major fender types and their distinguishing specs:
|Inexpensive, Easy to Replace
|More Wind Noise, Less Aerodynamic
|Fiberglass, Carbon Fiber
|Sleek Style, Improved Aerodynamics
|More Expensive, Harder to Replace
|Aggressive Look, Fits Bigger Wheels
|Affects Aerodynamics, Added Cost
Pros and Cons of Fenders
Like any automotive component, fenders come with both advantages and disadvantages:
- Protect tires, suspension, engine from road debris
- Smooth airflow for better fuel economy
- Part of distinctive exterior styling
- Added weight impacts acceleration and handling
- Vulnerable to damage from curbs and minor collisions
- Exotic materials like carbon fiber are very expensive
Whether made of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, fenders are an integral functional and styling component of any automobile. They shield the inner workings from mud, rocks, and water. Fenders streamline airflow for improved efficiency. And they contribute to the overall visual design.
Fenders are the curved body panels above the wheels that keep debris off critical components and streamline airflow. They are required safety elements on all passenger vehicles.
I hope this detailed overview gives you a comprehensive understanding of what fenders are, how they work, and why they are necessary equipment. Next time you see those elegant arcs above the wheels, you’ll know they aren’t just decorative but actually provide vital protection. With your new fender knowledge, you’ll keep yours looking great.