Rust is the main destroyer of steel-bodied cars, have a look at your local breaker’s yard and you’ll find that most of the cars there haven’t been crashed or suffered mechanical problems; instead they have simply fallen victim to terminal corrosion.
The tricky part of dealing with rust is to spot it before it becomes too serious. A few small bubbles on the surface could be the first signs of a whole forest of rot underneath. The worst rust will often be in hidden areas. Most cars have particular areas that rust first and these have been well documented over the years so let’s have a look at some of the common rot spots.
The Front End
Front wings and the area around the headlights are one of the main areas that suffer from rust on older cars; they’re also a key place to check for budged repairs. On many classic cars the area around the headlamps forms a damp trap with moisture getting behind the lamp bezel and even mud and salt thrown up from beneath getting trapped between the lamp and the inner wing. You may not even be aware of this until rust starts to bubble through from beneath.
Road dirt thrown up by the wheels can start rust in the rear part of the front wings too and over time this can accelerate corrosion in the sills. Newer cars protect this area with plastic liners but in older models it’s often exposed. The frame around the windscreen can suffer as well, particularly if the rubber seals leak and allow water into the box sections. Also air vents below the screen can fill up with dead leaves and other debris that trap moisture. The A-post – which carries the hinges for the front doors – is a key structural part of the car and rust here can be terminal. It can also spread to the sills and the foot wells.
Down and Back Sills and floor pans take a pounding from underneath and are vital to the structure of most cars. Good under seal is essential but even so damage can build up in hidden areas. If you’re inspecting a car with a view to buy it’s crucial to check from both above and below in case new metal has been tack welded over a problem to temporarily disguise it. The proper technique of course is to cut out rotten areas and weld in new steel.
Rear wheel arches are just as vulnerable as the fronts and often have hidden moisture traps. Underneath at the back suspension mounting points and spring hangers are vulnerable to rust. Check inside the boot, if the carpets are damp then water is leaking in and that’s likely to lead to rot in the floor. Mud and salt can also get trapped behind the valance – the panel below the rear bumper – so check for rust there too.
Lesser Problems Doors, bonnets and boot lids needn’t concern you too much. Of course they can rust particularly from stone chips or around the fixing points for trim, but because they’re bolt-on panels they’re relatively easy to replace. Rust in doors is usually confined to the lower edges of the skin, often because of blocked drain holes. Bonnets can suffer along the front edge but are usually kept dry underneath by the heat of the engine so don’t tend to suffer serious rusting. Rust protection products can help to protect these areas once any existing corrosion is dealt with.
The roof is seldom a problem on most saloons although some vehicles, like the Morris Minor van and the Mini, can suffer from rusting roof gutters. Calvin Ford is a freelance writer and classic car enthusiast. He recommends that you treat your cars with rust protection products to keep them looking pristine and sparkling.