A man-to-car relationship isn’t as simple as some people make out to be. Cars aren’t just a can on wheels transporting you from point A to point B. So, when auto body welding is on the menu, the caution bar is set very high.
When working on a car, one needs to have patient hands. However, even the skills of a maestro can’t save a drowning ship if the sail doesn’t hold up. Similarly, a random welding machine picked up from a hardware store is going to result in zilch.
Remember, working on auto body is sensitive. Even the toughest chassis would require a gentle touch. So, getting the best welder for auto body work isn’t just a luxury; it’s a without-any-questions necessity.
I’ve been in the thick of repairing autos. So, I’m going to share the experience I had with 5 welders that can tackle any car-repair issues. However, each welder is project-specific. If your priorities are lined up, I’m sure you’ll find the right match from the welders I have listed.
- Top-Rated Welders for Automotive Work
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
|Name & Brand||Max Amp||Volts||Weight||Price
|Hobart 500559 Handler||200 Amp||115V||57 pounds|
|Primeweld TIG225X||225 Amp||110/220V||90 pounds|
|2020 Weldpro||200 Amp||220V/110V||30.4 pounds|
|Lincoln #K3963-1||210 Amp||120V or 230V||61.8 pounds|
|Lotos MIG175 ||175 Amp||220V/240V||85.0 pounds|
Can a DIY Handle Auto-Body Welding?
The fear of working on your car is understandable. Working on a personal car can feel similar to performing surgery on a loved one. So, most people take the high-way and resort for professional help. If you’re new to the world of welding, I’d suggest taking baby steps.
You can try your hand with small auto-body repairs. For instance, small cracks and rust build-up can be easily dealt with even by an amateur. If you ask me, I think a DIY can handle auto-body welding.
Not that welding is an easy-to-master art. However, as most auto body work is MIG-based, the learning curve is manageable. It’ll still take a few weeks, but it’s easier to get the hang of MIG welding basics.
Top-Rated Welders for Automotive Work
I’ve tried my hand on many welders over the years. My workshop is somewhat littered with welders. Not all of them lived up to my expectations. So, I’ll highlight the 5 welders that I think deserve the spotlight but won’t break your bank at the same time. By the end, I’ll even tell which welders should decorate the workshop of a serious craftsman.
If you’re not familiar with the Hobart name, you’re either just walking into this or living in a cave. This manufacturer has been the industry leader for a long time, and for a good reason. The Hobart 500559 Handler 140 is a classic. With its dependable features and performance, it claws its way to this list amongst the flood of products.
When I was eying this welder, I was impressed with its two-way welding system. It’s not a one-trick gas-operated machine. The welder can work with flux cords to boot. So, I didn’t have to wait for a gas cylinder to get down to business.
The flux-cored setting allowed me to start welding immediately. All I had to do was set the cords up inside the machine, and voila. You’re probably wondering how I started immediately without a set of flux wires. Well, the first set of wires were free, so I was good to go.
I must say, the GMAW or gas-operated setting works better when tackling thicker materials. However, as most auto body welding is with metal sheets, I rarely needed the other setting. On a similar note, there is a gas hose attached to a regulator. Once I set this machine up in GMAW, the regulators helped me adjust the gas-pressure.
All the controls are user-friendly as they’re located in the front-end. I didn’t have to move around the machine to change any settings in a pinch. There’s a knob to control both the amperage and voltage settings.
Beginners often struggle with amperage-voltage settings. It becomes a scary prospect for them to decide which is the money-option. I’ve seen people walking around with a manual in their hands.
However, there’s a fully detailed chart just under the hood. So, whenever I was in doubt about the welder’s adjustment, all I had to do was pop open the hood.
The beads I got from this welder were crisp and smooth. The 140-amperage gives it enough juice to hold its ground until 1/4 steel. Arguably, one could get more done, but that’ll require moving very slowly through the material.
However, 1/4-inch is more than enough for auto body work. Metal sheets on car panels reside in the 22- to 24-gauge area.
I’d also like to mention the 10-ft spool gun. It’s not necessary to have a spool gun for most welding with cars being an exception. While working on a car panel or door, I needed all the flexibility I could get. The beads had to be precise, so the spool gun is a nifty benefit.
The Hobart Handler 140 is a powerful and dependable welder. However, it’s not free from some freckles. For starters, the manufacturer overstates the ground clamp’s ability to hold 1.5 inches of material. The clamp does a stellar job with 1-inch sheets, but it can’t hold 1.5 inches- period.
Still, the overall quality, coupled with a 5-year limited warranty makes it a worthy addition to any welder’s workshop.
Before I dive headfirst into this welder, I should warn you that TIG welding isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I got this machine after I got a hang of welding. Still, even the master was once a student. So, if you’re a DIY looking to take your first step in TIG welding, the PRIMEWELD TIG225X is your best bet.
This welder has surprised me more times than I can count. Firstly, TIG variants aren’t budget-friendly. Any worthwhile TIG welder costs over $1000. The usual price of a decent TIG welder resides in the $1500-$2000 range. The PRIMEWELD TIG225X turned my preconception upside down.
The out-of-the-roof feature of this welder is the CTK worldwide flex head. Once I unpacked the machine, I looked into the flex head and started questioning the authenticity of the flex head.
If you’re wondering why I’m making such a fuss around this, then you don’t know the CTK flex head. The CTKs are literally the studs in the flex-head world. I never thought a TIG welder under $1000 could pull this off.
Also, the manufacturers didn’t cut corners when it comes to the hose as well. It doesn’t come with the traditional clam-hose fittings. Instead, I was delighted to see the advanced crimp-hose fittings. Alright- all of these technical terms can seem a bit overwhelming, let me shed some light.
The latter hose fitting is a permanent attachment. So, the entire construction becomes leak-free.
This welder puts out some sweet beads on thin materials. The flexibility is all there as well. I worked with stainless steel and aluminum – the two dominant materials present on an automobile’s body.
I’ve tried the pulse system to see whether it could stand toe-to-toe with a premium welder’s quality. Also, I noticed there is little to no noise when the pulse setting is turned on. Typically, the unstoppable clicking noise from a TIG welder’s pulse setting drives me crazy.
With a price point of less than $1000, it’s hard to pick a bone against this welder. If I put the cost and performance side by side, I’d say this machine delivers beyond my expectations. Still, the only negative of this welder is the brake pedal. The pedal-control is lackluster, and it’s not really up to the mark.
However, I got around the problem by replacing it with a quality pedal. While it does add to the cost, the change is noticeable.
If you’re serious about auto body welding, I’d say put your money on the PRIMEWELD 225X. You can’t go wrong with this welder. I believe it can give the high-end TIG welders a run for their money. Also, TIG welders are considerably better at handling the sensitive body of an automobile.
Another noteworthy mention is the 3-year warranty, which is not limited. The manufacturers would replace the machine if it breaks down, so it’s a risk-free purchase. There’s 7-day customer support to boot. So, I’d say the manufacturers are the watchful guardians, looking over this welder.
I don’t usually say things like this out loud. However, the PRIMEWELD 225X has forced me to concede and say that it deserves to be called the best welder for auto body work.
The two welders I’ve mentioned till now are from manufacturers with a longstanding repute. I was always curious to see whether I could find a top-tier machine for budget hunters. Well, after a couple tryouts and a ton of research, I came across the 2020 Weldpro.
I was caught off-guard when I saw the manufacturer’s claim that the welder could handle all sorts of welding. I had to see whether this machine could live up to this claim.
I’d be candid and say – the answer’s yes. The welder is capable of handling all welding types, although there are a few setbacks (I’ll get to that).
Once I got the 2020 Weldpro, I started out with Stick welding. The spool gun and ground clamp seemed decent. I tried it out on 1/4 mild metal, and the beads were to my liking. However, it’s not the best Stick welder per se, but it could do the job if handled properly.
Amongst all the three welding functions, 2020 Weldpro excels at MIG. The gun control is amazing, and it has both the GMAW (gas-operated) and FCAW (flux-cored) settings. I tried it out on stainless steel, and from what I’ve seen, it can overshadow some claiming-to-be-premium MIG welders out there.
However, the TIG welding on this has a long way to go before it catches up to the dedicated TIG machines. When I put it side by side with my PRIMEWELD, the Weldpro looks like a scrawny kid next to a buffed jock.
I still won’t beat this welder down too hard because it’s impossible to include all the TIG features at such a price pool. So, I’d say you have to be satisfied with the Stick and MIG. Although the TIG welding here is lackluster, it could be treated as a practice machine for beginners.
Freshers who want to understand the nooks and crannies of TIG welding can easily start out with this welder. It’ll give you high-quality Stick and MIG welding, and the TIG for practice to boot.
Also, there’s a 30% duty cycle, which I think is amazing for a budget welder. It exceeds the tried-and-tested Hobart in the duty cycle department. The dual-voltage options gave me the flexibility to save some bills when I needed.
I also loved the VRD security system of this welder. Usually, if you forget to turn off the welder it gathers heat, and the chances of accidents are substantial. The built-in VRD system controls the temperature and reverts it to a harmless state.
I have no complaints about this machine. It gave me the best value one could get for the money. With all the welding types at my disposal, I got to experiment a lot. Although the TIG function is not up to standard, the 2-year warranty and solid customer support fill the void.
I’ve seen newbies walking to the world of wild-weld, and losing interest in a week’s notice. The reason behind giving up isn’t necessarily a lack of determination; rather it’s the steep learning curve.
I guess after designing a bunch of professional welders, Lincoln decided to throw a bone to the beginners by bringing out the Lincoln Electric Powermig 210.
This welder hits the ball out of the park by a mile when it comes to a user-friendly interface. I have no grudge against the traditional adjustment knobs. However, the digital control on this welder is a doozy. Making the adjustments are as easy as googling for the next Avengers movie (I’ll explain in a bit).
I don’t know if Lincoln was being modest or not, but the description they’ve got lacks some critical details. For starters, I didn’t know this welder was a multi-process machine as well. I had all the welding types at my fingertips- Stick, MIG, and TIG.
So, I was elated with the flexibility it brought to the table. Let’s revert back to the user-friendly interface now. There is a digital screen in the front, which presents all the welding types. All I had to do was turn the central knob to jump from one setting to another.
Once I was at my desired setting, let’s say flux-cored MIG, I needed to click the knob. It would ask what diameter of wire is going in the feed. Afterward, I had to decide the thickness of the metal and voila!
The Powermig 210 would give me a pre-set parameter. It’s not written in stone; I could change it anytime by turning the secondary knobs on each side if I wanted.
So, it supports both 70- and 60- series of Stick welding, the same goes for MIG welding too. I could either opt for GMAW or FCAW. The wire feed on a flux-cored setting was pretty consistent. I didn’t have my wires jammed anytime I was working with the welder.
The TIG setting is pretty neat, as well. Unlike the PRIMEWELD, the brake pedal was industrial-grade with this one. However, there’s no CTK worldwide flex head. The TIG gun has its moments but falls short when compared to the likes of CTK.
There’s a detailed chart under the hood. It has all the numbers down, so one could have a quick look before welding. However, there’s no difference between the chart’s numbers and the pre-set parameters. So, if you’re not willing to experiment, you don’t need the chart because the machine would auto-pilot you to the same setting.
I’d put the Lincoln Powermig at the top of the list for first-time welders. Getting this welder set up and running is as easy as button-mashing. All the settings are built into the machine; all it takes is a few clicks.
Still, it’s not all sunshine for beginners. This welder will hammer one’s wallet down to a pulp. It’s the most expensive welder on this list. Also, the TIG functions are somewhat average. It’s a decent welder, but one should think hard before going all-in.
I admit multi-process welders can hold their own. However, dedicated welders take the cake when it comes to serious welding. I got the LOTOS MIG175 because after hearing my colleagues and friends sing its praises. Initially, I thought they were going overboard, but a few tryouts and I was all aboard the LOTOS-train as well.
What caught my eye right off the bat was the vast assortment of accessories it had. The consumables are a standard inclusion, and most welders have it anyway. However, the LOTOS MIG175 gave me a welding mask to boot. It’s not a top-tier mask, but it’s a free add-on after all.
The accessory that truly matters is the spool gun. I wanted this welder for automotive work specifically, so I needed it to be compatible with aluminum. If you’re none the wiser by now, aluminum is a dominant material in car panels and doors.
It leaves a crisp lead on aluminum as thin as 3/16, so it was perfect for dealing with delicate metal sheets. While the spool gun is reliable, it’s not in the elite spoon gun league. However, I didn’t have to thin my wallet out by getting it separately. Besides, the gun gave me the flexibility I needed for panel work.
Similar to the other quality welders, the LOTOS MIG175 also had both FCAW and GMAW functions. The gas-operated setting has its merits, but the flux-cored welding is the machine’s strong suit.
When working with a low-tier MIG welder, the wire tends to get jammed in the wire feeder. However, the wire feeder on this machine features an aluminum-construction. So, the feed was jam-free and smooth as butter.
Also, it has more amperage than the Hobart 140, making it a better alternative for thicker materials as well. Despite the welder’s superior thick-material handling, I’d say the spool gun, and aluminum feed makes it perfect for relatively thin materials.
I had no difficulty setting up the welder, and the two adjustment knobs were in-front too. There’s a chart under the hood, which has all the settings for various material widths. So, I didn’t need an instruction manual by my side; I could simply flip the side cover.
All my excitement died out once I realized the consumable conundrum of LOTUS. When I tried switching the consumables from my other welders, they wouldn’t fit. So, it pains me to say this, but the consumables are exclusive, and they’re expensive as well.
Still, I’d say LOTOS MIG175 is a worthy snag. It has all the features needed for some pro-tier MIG welding. I believe it deserves a shot at being the best welder for auto body work.
How Did I Come Upon These Welders in the First Place?
I’ve kept ranting about it from the get-go, and I’ll say it again- working with a car is a sensitive business. It’s better to have a reliable at your beck and call, or you may ruin an automobile’s pristine exterior.
Getting the best welder for automotive work isn’t a simple bag-the-highest-rated-machine deal. So, I’m going to give you a glimpse of a pro-welder’s thought process (mine). That’ll show you what matters most when buying a welder.
Deciding Between the Three Welder Types
If you are familiar with the basics of welding, then you know there are three options on the menu. There’s Stick, MIG, and TIG welding. All of these have their merits and setbacks.
However, I’d put my money on TIG when it comes to auto body work. I can’t discard the other two options as well, for specific car-welding they do come in handy.
Let me outline the details a bit.
Stick welding won’t wage a war against your wallet. It’s comparatively cheaper and works better in an outdoor environment. However, the beads are of poor quality.
If you’ve gone through my list, you’d see I didn’t list any dedicated Stick welder. Still, a Stick welder will outshine if one’s working with old cars, namely, rusty or outdated materials.
MIG welding is the safest entry point for a beginner. The learning curve is easy to overcome, and you’ll get some sweet beads with a couple rounds of practice. However, the beads aren’t precise, and you can’t exhibit too much welding skills with this welder.
I’d still vouch for the MIG welder because of its ability to work with varying thickness. It’s the go-to option for automotive welding.
TIG welding is the guru of the weld-family. The beads are so beautiful at times you would wish to skip adding a body filler to keep the bead visible. All the maestros of the weld-world prefer TIG because it allows us to go crazy.
However, the monster under the bed is the learning curve. It takes years to master TIG welding, so it’s a concern of massive time-investment.
The Ignored Gold – Duty Cycle
The duty cycle seems like the runt nobody cares about. I think everyone should pay more attention to this feature because it makes a world’s difference. If you’re not up to speed by now, the duty cycle refers to a welder’s continuous operation before the heat becomes unbearable.
Once you start welding, you’ll realize there’s a ticking bomb over your shoulder. If you don’t turn the arc or flex head off after a few minutes, the heat becomes so intense it’ll chew through your protective gloves. A high-quality welder would give you around 3 – 4 minutes of non-stop service before lashing out.
So, keep an eye out for the standard 30-40% duty cycle ratio. Arguably, one can make do with a 20% cycle; it’s just annoying to pause every two minutes.
Understanding the Right Budget
People often get confused about setting a budget for a quality welder. It’s understandable. There is a flood of welders claiming the high-end title at a meager cost. Don’t fall for such shenanigans. It’s alright If you’re looking to cut costs, but the minimum budget should be around $1000.
Drop the wishful thinking of getting a top-tier welder for $200 or $300; it’s not coming true.
So, you should start exploring once you’re okay with this expense. I’d also like to point out that welder prices can jump into the 5-digit territory. Industrial-grade machines come at a bank-breaking expense. So, even if you’re setting an around-$1000 budget, don’t go overboard with the expectations.
The $1000 welders will give you a premium-feel, and they do hold enough juice for professional use too. I’ve used several welders of this price range, and the service was standard.
However, once you get the basics of welding down and invest in a premium welder, you’d notice the difference. The machines are simply in another league. What I’m trying to tell you is- keep your expectations to the ground.
Accessories are a Plus
As the title suggests, accessories aren’t a must; rather, they’re a plus. It’s not necessary for a welder to hand out an assortment of tools for free. If they do, consider it a bonus. For instance, the LOTOS MIG175 comes with a welding mask, a handy add-on if I say so myself.
Besides, getting a bunch of free consumables is now an industry standard. Most welders, even top-brands, hand out a set of consumables. It’s easier to dive into the action if the consumables are packed with the welder.
Although accessories are non-essential, having a spool gun or quality flex head is going to be a lifesaver for auto body work. For instance, The CTK Worldwide flex head on the PRIMEWELD TIG225X works wonders on thin materials.
Also, the beads are beautiful, and the control is impeccable. So, accessories can end up saving you a lot of time and effort if you pick and choose correctly.
Dedicated vs. Multi-process Welder
I’ve been in the thick of dedicated vs. multi-process welder war. Both welders have their strengths and weaknesses, and none in particular triumphs over the other.
For instance, the multi-process fanbase is in love with how a single machine can perform all three major welds. Take the 2020 Weldpro as an example. It is packed with Stick, MIG, and TIG set up, so one could get a taste of all the welding options available.
It’s not all sparkly in the multi-process department because the quality isn’t up to the mark. Even though the flexibility is crazy, the performance doesn’t hold up. The 2020 Weldpro has good MIG, average STICK, but pathetic TIG welds.
On the contrary, dedicated welders are better at their jobs. The manufacturers put all their attention on one weld-type, so there’s no compromise in performance.
The PRIMEWELD TIG225X is a dedicated TIG welder. If you put it side by side with a multi-process welder, you could tell the difference just by looking at the exterior design.
Before I Pull the Brakes
Working on an automobile can get to the nerves of even veterans. It takes skill and patience to get the perfect bead on a car panel or chassis. Still, all the wisdom would amount to zilch if the gear isn’t ready for the job.
It’s hard to put a finger on one machine and declare it the best welder for auto body work. The whole “best welder” concept is subjective to a person’s experience and preference. For instance, an amateur wouldn’t want a TIG welder because of the learning curve associated.
In contrast, a veteran would never bat an eye at a Stick welder, as the beads are inconsistent. So, the welder you choose to buy should adhere to your needs. Instead of hopping indecisively, calm down and think about the project at hand. The answers will come to you.
After all that lecture on personal preferences, I’d like to share mine. The two welders I would choose without thinking twice are the PRIMEWELD TIG225X and the LOTUS MIG175. Both offer different welding options, but they’re leaps and bounds ahead in auto body welding.
So, if you’re in a pickle, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the bad boys. To simplify the equation even further, LOTUS is for beginners, and PRIMEWELD is for experts. Just take it as a mantra, and you’re good to go, adios.
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