Age of cars

I’m a loyal Car Talk listener in Montreal. I can get the show on Vermont Public Radio, but I usually listen via podcast. Living here in the land of ice and road salt, one thing that staggers me is the average age of the cars people seem to call in about. It’s almost like, “Hi guys, I live in Phoenix and I’ve got a 1963 Studebaker Avanti with 5,857,000 miles on it. It’s starting to make a rattling noise from the glove compartment, do you think there might be a problem?”

Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much. In my part of Canada, where they salt the roads with the first snowflake and seemingly keep salting continuously through March, seeing a car older than 15 years is something of a miracle. In the bad old days before factory rustproofing, a 7 or 8 year old car on the streets of Montreal was almost inevitably a junker. My 1996/97 Ford Escort is hanging on heroically, but it’s mostly made of holes and is being held together by paint, rust and prayer.

In the 60s and 70s, I recall folks getting an undercoat sprayed on. Much of that anymore? Also remember people asking where a used car was from as an important question. When they get past the body shop point I use sheet metal from the hardware store, spray paint and PL construction adhesive that comes in a gun tube. Works great. Keeps stuff together and water from the roadway out of all the wrong places. I hit on using PL construction adhesive when a mason told me to use it for attaching decorative shingles to an old foundation on the house. His comment was “that stuff will stick a Volkswagon to a brick wall”.

We had another poster from Montreal asking about cars, and my response was that Montreal is the toughest place in North America to be a car. It’s no coincidence that the “Rusty Ford Campaign” was started by Phil Edmondston, a Montreal based consumer activist, and author of Lemon Aid, a guide to used cars.

This campaign became the basis for all manufacturers having to provide factory rust proofing treatment and provide “rust through” warranties.

In short, Montreal has 1) high humidity all year long, 2) very heavy snowfall, 3) probably the most road salt used of any city in the whole world, 4) very low winter temperatures 5)very “spirited” drivers, who believe they are in a Fomula 1 race everyday, 6) some of the most careless parkers I have ever seen, 7) many apartment dweller who do not have access to a garage or a block heater plug-in.

I’m sure you recongnize all these differences. A recent study on corrosion found that the Avanti owner in Nevada lives in a climate that was 1/26 as corrosive as Montreal. It’s probably the only environment where the Renault 5 (Le Car) without rust protection could survive for more than 4 years. Those cars were biodegradable in Montreal.

Compare this with someone in the Western States with low humidity, parking his car in a garage and using a plug-in when the weather gets cold.

However, Montreal has many other attractions you won’t find anywhere else. Vive la difference!

Oh yeah, you can certainly still get an undercoating, and you should. When I first got the Escort, I did it every year religiously, but I eventually slacked off and lost the war. The Escort model has some perennial weak spots, particularly over the back wheel wells, and it just got swiss-cheesed. You see rust in the same spot on most Escorts of the same vintage.

Your suggestion about using sheet metal and construction adhesive is very, very interesting, though. Thanks very much for the idea! This car is long past the point of any aesthetic concerns, but my wife cut herself a few weeks ago on the jagged metal and covering it up would be a good thing. Is PL Adhesive the brand name? Do you think I could buy it at a regular Home Depot-type outlet? I already have the spray paint, so it shouldn’t be a huge job.

Thanks for the extremely accurate overview. I always knew Montreal was hard on cars, but I didn’t realize it was the absolute worst place for cars on the continent. Always interesting to get a different viewpoint.

Yeah, Phil Edmonston won a lot of battles with the car companies, and founded the Automobile Protection Association, an advocacy group I used to belong to. It’s the only car “club” I’m aware of that focusses more on DRIVERS than cars or driving. Guess it makes sense that it would originate in a city like this.

And you’re not the first person I’ve heard associate the term “biodegradable” with Renaults in Montreal. Peugots too. French cars had a natural constituency in Quebec, moreso than anywhere else in North America, but they just couldn’t handle the climate.

Modern cars come with engineered rust resistance (nothing is rust proof). Adding after market rust proofing treatments may actually increase the rust problem by defeating the OEM stuff. One common problem is having the aftermarket rust proofing block the built in drains, trapping the water and salt.

As Joseph noted, my concern with aftermarket rustproofing is how to overcome the age-old problem where it traps the saltwater. That trapping often occurred from:

  • blocking built-in drains,
  • from the access spray holes drilled by the undercoaters,
  • or random cracks that developed in the undercoating material because it didn’t always flex with the car body.

I’m no longer an advocate for trying to improve on the rust resistance built into today’s vehicles.

You can get PL Construction Adhesive (brand name) at HD, Lowes and any builder supply outlet. It will be with all the other gun tubes The problem I had was finding a way to hold the metal pieces in place and pressed flat to the cars surface until it dried. Ended up using various pieces of lumber leaned against the car in the right places. Pop rivets might be easier. Sand off the rust. PL is amazing stuff. Wood, stone, concrete, metal, plastic, rubber, glass - just about anything to anything. It does not get brittle and pop off like many glues. Also used it to reattach door seals.

Hartford Connecticut is a very rusty place. The red sand must be corrosive too. When I moved to Maine in 1973, I wondered why the cars looked so good. Then Toyotas started sprouting up everywhere and I felt like I was home again, changing the muffler and pipe every spring.

I had a colleague who was posted to Montreal and decided to buy a Citroen DS19 with the hydraulic suspension, etc. A great car in France, but it lasted only one winter before the suspension froze up (seized up) and the entire hydraulic system packed it in!