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Fix rust or ride it out?

My husband and I have a 1988 Subaru with a great engine. It goes on long drives without problems and has only about 120,000 miles on it. We got the car for free three years ago and have put about 35,000 miles on it and spent no more than $2,000 on it in repairs and upkeep. It’s main problem is rust-- there is a hole in the side panel and other spots rusting on the body, and the undercarriage might also be rusting out. It’s a super-useful car, but we aren’t sure if the rust is worth fixing (for a couple hundred dollars) or if we should just enjoy it until the rust takes over. We wouldn’t be able to replace it but we don’t use it every day-- just on weekends for out-of-town trips. Blue book value is about $500 and it only has collision insurance. What should we do?

I would not worry much unless it prevents you from passing inspection. Drive on and enjoy it while it lasts. This Subaru has lived past its design life in age.

I’d get the opnion of a good bodyshop. Your car is a unibody design, the body is also the frame, and serious rot in the wrong places can make the car unsafe. If there’s too much rot in the wrong places and someone bangs into you the body could crumble like a broken eggshell, crushing you and the ones yuo love.

I’d get it looked at just for safety’s sake.

The amount of rust you describe is going to take a whole lot more than a couple hundred bucks to fix right. You would be in the thousands unless you did it yourself, in which case, you will need to know how to weld.

In addition to folding up in a crash, the suspension mounts, if rusted, could give way at the most inconvenient time! Have that checked carefully.

The rust hole is near the back windshield frame and is about the size of a fist. The one body shop that looked at it didn’t say anything about safety but did say that the whole side panel would need to be replaced to fix the rust (probably because it is unibody, as you say).

Thanks for your help!

We get the car inspected twice a year, and none of the mechanics have ever mentioned rusting suspension mounts, though I’m not sure if they would look at that in a standard inspection.

Why would you even think of having collision insurance on a car worth $500? The deductible is probably that much.
Don’t know what State your in, but in MA that rust would keep the car from passing inspection. You could do a cheap patch job, which would be mainly cosmetic but would allow it to pass. I’d keep my eyes opened for a replacement vehicle.

We are in NY state and insurance is required. The collision insurance covers other cars if we run into them so we don’t have to pay out of pocket-- we didn’t get it to protect our car. I just double checked the car, and the two rust spots are near the back windshield/window. The main one is the size of a fist, and the smaller one is about two inches big. The rest of the body is in great shape. This is by no means a clunker, which is why we are having a hard time figuring out what to do. The engine could easily go for another 50k miles.

The deductible, by the way, is $50.

also, there has never been a problem passing inspection.

If it’s where I think you’re saying it is, the body shop should have. That’s going to compromise the ability of the roof/pillars to protect you in a rollover.