Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

How much rust, is TOO much?

I have been car shopping, car researching, and test driving cars for over two weeks. I recently came across a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder with 178,xxx miles. QUESTION: I noticed some rust damage under the truck, and before I buy, is there any tricks to finding out how bad the rust REALLY is? I think I read you can scrap off the surface rust and as long as no metal flakes chip off as well, it is to be considered normal wear.

Any idea? All help is much appreciated. I’m a student, and being female, I think the salesman takes advantage of this. THX!

The only way to be sure is to get the car up on a lift and have a knowledgable tech look at it.

Rust under the floor is most problematic as it allows exhaust entry. Rust starts from the inside, not the out side. You need to inspect with that in mind. One rust bubble, indicating rust on inner panel is just a small indicator of what is on the other side. Surprisingly, some surface rust that doesn’t break when probed with an ice pick, on heavy metal mechanical components like the frame and susoention members is normal. Depending upon where you or the Pathfinder live, it can be on it’s last legs. I would not buy this SUV that old and not expect problems of any type. They are too expensive to fix. I would Buy a compact car. This Pathinder will be one really expensive vehicle to run and maintain and rust exacerbates the problem.

Eh, thank you for the fast reponses, I live in NC on the beach so the salt from four wheeling is probably where the rust originated. I kinda fell in love with this little beasty suv! I could test drive it up the street to be looked at by a mechanic but upon looking myself, you said rust started on the inside?? Where would I look? I’ve read 250+ reviews off Kelly Blue Book for the 88’-95’ pathfinders and everyone says they run to and beyone 250,000 miles. I graduate this december and just need a solid and SAFE vehicle to last 6 months untill a trade in and down payment can be saved :slight_smile:
My last car completely crushed up to nothing, I had a short trip to ER and heard I was lucky to walk off from such a “tin can” cheap car wreck. An Old Chevy blazer VS my 01’ Hyundai Tiburon.

You have to know where to look because some cars have problem areas but I use an awl and poke around under the car. If you can go through anywhere, walk away.

Thank you. I bet the salesman sweats a bullet as I try and act knowlegable about these matters! HaHa!

If you need a safe vehicle, a 95 Pathfinder would not be oneof my first choices. A used Accord or Camry would be my first choice. They are very safe and economical cars. You are buying from a salesman and not a private sale, you would be hard press to get your money back from an SUV this old.

Rust or no, I would walk away. It won’t love you back. Yes, Pathfinders have a very good history mechanically, but that is maintenance dependent. If you have your heart set and know little about cars, take it to a mechanic you can trust and have him put on a lift and inspect it for you, body and mechanically. It will be well worth the $100 or so if you decide to buy it or not.

I wouldn’t turn it down just 'cause it had a little rust. I mean if you don’t care about the rusty appearance. Even if there’s a bad rust spot on the floor pan, if the problem is localized, it can be fixed without too much difficulty by welding in new sheet metal. Or it may just be surface rust, and the car will die of something else long before rust eats it away. You need someone knowledgeable to take a look-see is all. Most inde mechanics would be happy to do this. And their fee I expect would be reasonable – provided you just want them to look and give an opinon, and not fix it.

You are looking at a car that is about 17 years old. Some rust is expected in a car this age. If the car lived its life in FL:, TX, AR, or southern CA perhaps there would be no rust at all. But, in most other areas of the US you will get some rust. In the northern areas where winter roads are salted the rust can get so bad the frame is compromised.

Take the car to a body shop and find out the extent of the rust and location of the rust. Then, make your decision.

What the comments above are saying is that you need to determine if the structural part of the car, the frame underneath, is weakened by rust. If it is, then it is not safe and should be avoided. This should be especially relevant to you after the crash you mentioned and what happened to the Blazer.

Making the determination about the structural integrity of the frame takes probing around underneath, preferably by someone who knows what they are doing, ideally a body shop as someone mentioned… Even then, it may be impossible to really judge it adequately. But what you’ve said so far about the Pathfinder in question raises caution flags, especially proximity to the ocean and beach driving, which I presume means running the thing into salt water. That means rust damage is more likely.

Since you are looking for something for just a short time, I think you’d be wise to look first for how well a vehicle has been maintained, and then by the resale value. You’ll lose a ton of money buying a rusty Pathfinder from a dealer. In contrast, you’ll do much much better financially by buying a dull little sedan that’s been carefully maintained by someone who is selling privately and can give you all the maintenance records. You may not lose much at all if you only own it for a few months.

In all cases, take the car to a trustworthy mechanic for evaluation as several people have said, and budget $100 for that. And pay particular attention to what maintenance the transmission has had. Those should have been serviced roughly every 30 thousand miles. If you find a car with something like that kind of maintenance, it may be your best choice.

I’m a Nissan fan, and recently was intrigued by the idea of getting an older Pathfinder to replace my worn out Nissan pickup. Never did get one though…

If the floors and structural parts are gone, other stuff is gone too. Rockers are usually compromised, quarters rotted through.
It will likely be a money pit with lots of work to fix.

Unless you really want to learn body work, I’d walk away.
I bought a running VW bug south of Boston, near the coast, to learn how to do body work. I ended up replacing every panel one foot up from the ground. I wanted to learn how to weld and do body work so knew I was getting into - know what you’re getting into.

As a student, I’d not buy anything with obvious rust, no need to take that risk. Just find a clean vehicle, you may have to shop inland.

The pathfinder is body-on frame. So it depends on where the rust is that I’d be concerned about…and how bad. Unibody that’s rusted may be a nightmare to repair correctly.

Texas is correct…if there’s too much rust…why take the risk.

I had to come back and comment on my older thread. I ended up having a friend look at the frame rust, and the frame itself has not been compromised. I bought the old pathfinder (I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS BEAST OF A CAR) ! It is a complete TANK, and I feel bad*** in it! Thank you for all the advice.

Glad to hear it.

To make sure the remaining surface rust doesn’t turn into something else (it will, if given a chance), perhaps protect the underside by putting some rust converter on it. If you have loose undercoating, scrape that off first because the will only hold moisture.
Raise the truck by putting it onto some ramps and/or blocking so you can get under it conveniently and paint all the spots have show surface rust. Do it after your truck hasn’t seen rain for a couple of days

For converting the rust on a rusty underside, I like Rustbullet. You can brush it on thick, it converts and seals in the rust and it is quite hard. POR15 is good too but a bit thinner and won’t hold up to hits as well.

Then, when it is all painted with this stuff, get some "stonechip’ or truck bedliner paint and paint that over the area and your newly welded in pan.

Oh, and park on a large tarp while painting and wear a paint suit, gloves and glasses.
This may seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me when I did it the first time. The tiny specs of paint stuck to me for at least a week. My garage floor had so much rust bullet on it, that I ended up painting my floor with it. (It actually looks good).
Rust converter sticks to stuff like drive way and skin really well. Who knew.

I’m getting a friend to look into doing that for me. I had to laugh at your comment about painting the entire garage floor with it, hahaha. At least we know it’s damn near weather proofed and will never rust LOL. I love these tid bits of info I’m getting. I know minor things about vehicles, but probably way more than the average joe. I’m certain every woman should marry a mechanic after the hell I’ve been through with my last few vehicles. Thank agian @RemcoW !!

No problem. You’ll like the result.
I actually found out later from the Rustbullet site that people paint their garage floors with it. Someone probably had the very same experience as me and a lightbulb turned on.

Oh, one more tip on using RustBullet:
Once you open the can and get any of it on the rim of the can, you’ll find that it will never open up again once you put the top back on the can. The bond between can and top is ridiculously strong and you’ll never get that top off unless you’re willing to make an unholy mess. Even if you wipe the edge of the can, it will get stuck beyond all belief. That stuff’s bond is really strong.
Instead, buy a couple of new fresh empty cans from HomeDepot or Lowes and carefully pour whatever is left them using a funnel, being careful not to get any on the edge. If you’ve used, say, a quart out of a gallon and have three quarts left, buy three new empty quart cans so you’re minimizing the air content in the can.

That way you can actually save it for quite a long time, in case you need it to repaint your garage floor some more. :wink: