Is Your Car's Rust Terminal?

Posted on: 28 June 2021

Plenty of people pride themselves on keeping cars running for long as they can. Maintaining an old car might seem like an uphill battle, but it's often a practical way to get the most value from a vehicle. Nothing lasts forever, however, and some conditions are terminal. The big three car killers are typically internal engine damage, internal transmission damage, and rust.

Although modern vehicles include more significant protection against corrosion, rust is often a certainty in damp areas or anywhere that uses road salt. In some regions, rust may be the primary factor in permanently removing old vehicles from the road. If you've noticed some rust on your junker, this guide will help you decide if it's time to throw in the towel and scrap your rustbucket.

Understanding Rust on Your Car

You may have heard that rust spreads, but this isn't entirely accurate. While it's true that rust problems often progress from minor to fatal, there's more going on than meets the eye. Instead of creeping along your car like a skin infection, rust forms on areas of exposed metal. Once these areas rust, they can damage nearby paint, exposing more metal and allowing the process to continue.

In practice, this means that you can sometimes repair minor rust problems before they become more severe and salvage your car in the process. Unfortunately, rust on older vehicles can often be like an infestation of ants in your home. When you spot one area of rust, it's almost sure that there's more rust you can't see.

Knowing When Rust is Fatal

Rust problems broadly fall into two categories: surface and penetrating. Surface rust will eventually progress to penetrating rust, going through a middle ground state commonly referred to as "pitting" or "scale" rust. As you might suspect, surface rust is relatively shallow, while penetrating rust has already eaten through most of the metal.

As a general rule, surface rust isn't a problem if you deal with it quickly, but more severe pitting rust may be costly to repair. On an older vehicle, fixing this problem before it progresses can often be prohibitively expensive. Penetrating rust typically requires replacing whole panels or welding in new metal.

On trucks or older body-on-frame vehicles, structural rust can be an even more severe problem. Penetrating rust on the frame can lead to severe damage, ultimately making the car unsafe to drive without taking drastic action. Conducting these repairs is rarely worthwhile on anything other than beloved classics.

If you've noticed scale or penetrating rust on your old beater, then it's rarely worthwhile to repair, and the presence of rust may severely diminish the resale value. Fortunately, scrap buyers typically don't worry about the existence of rust. There are lots of buyers that pay cash for junk cars, and this is an excellent way to get into a safer vehicle while still recovering some of your vehicle's value.