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Is a car with a rusted undercarriage worth keeping?

My husband’s parents recently gave us their 2002 Lexus SUV. They had their mechanic (near a Northern city which is one of the snowiest in the US) check out the SUV and he said it was in good shape. We’ve driven it for 3 months and loved it. My mechanic here in the Mid-Atlantic checked it out and said the undercarriage, fuel lines, and brakes were quite rusty. He suggested we look at the SUV as a nice trade-in gift. With 2 young children in daycare, we’d prefer not to have the additional burden of a car payment at this time. Is there a way we can incrementally replace the rusted parts/areas? What are the signs to look for which could indicate this car is not safe to drive?

…we just want a second (or third) opinion…Thanks!

I have a 2002 Toyota Tundra that has a recall notice relating to the a problem with many of them having a rusty undercarriage. You might want to check with Toyota/Lexus and see if the problem also affected the Lexus model that you have.

If vehicles in Minnestoa were traded in because the undercarriage, brakes, and fuel lines had surface rust on them, you would be buying a new vehicle every three years.

It’s normal for a vehicle in the rust belt to develope rust on these components.


Some rust is normal.  I doubt if your 2002 has enough rust to be a material safety problem.  I would get a second opinion from a mechanic you trust.  Check with friends, family, co-workers etc.

Yeah, I think this is normal for the area too and the mid-atlantic mechanic is just not used to seeing normal cars with rust on them.

In my experience the body goes long before the structural components, jmho (just my humble opinion)

Find a shop who will put the vehicle up on a lift and let YOU take a look at the undercarriage…Even if you are not an automotive expert, you will be able to judge MUCH BETTER than we can just how extensive the rust is…If there is a mechanic there with you, ask him if he sees anything “Critical”…Pay close attention to the brake lines. Have the mechanic point them out… If the brake lines are badly rusted, they can be replaced at moderate expense. This is a “safety critical” job and you want a top-notch mechanic doing this work…Again, eye-ball it yourself. There is NOTHING like first-hand knowledge.

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Brake lines can be replaced. People living in my area (near Buffalo NY) develop an eye for what is critical rust and what is not but its hard to describe. For example brake lines can be rusty and it is ok but if they are so rusty that layers of the Metal are flaking off -that’s bad. If you can easily poke a hole with a screwdriver through structural sections of the unibody or frame, then it’s junkyard time.

Yep, and it’s also normal for people who don’t live in the salt belt to see the rusty undercarriage and assume it’s a lot worse than it is - - if for no other reason than that a car in the mid Atlantic states that has that kind of undercarriage rust has probably been in a flood or something equally damaging.

There is rust, and there is rust. Surface rust is common on the underside of a vehicle. Most often it isn’t a problem. Rust that penetrates into the metal can weaken the affected area. So, how can you tell the difference? The only real way is to physically inspect the areas and “poke” and scrape the areas to see if the rust is simply on the surface, or goes deaper into the metal. Seams and welds near joints are worth a good look.

Most likely your vehicle is fine, but if you aren’t sure get a good body shop and/or a mechanic that works on front ends to look over the vehicle. Many of the critical parts subject to rust are front suspension and steering components and if all is OK there then the vehicle is likely still solid and good to go.

Your mid-atlantic mechanic is likely not used to seeing Northeast vehicles. He is inexperienced with what is superficial vs structural. Don’t worry drive on.

Once rust becomes pervasive, it has a way of increasing the number of repairs needed and the cost of those repairs. If you’re paying someone do do these repairs, don’t be surprised if you reach a point where you’re asking yourself if it’s worth keeping the vehicle.