Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Rusty - Is the underside of every east coast car just as rusty as mine?

I have a 2002 Subaru Outback Wagon that I bought used. It spent the 1st 2 years of its life on the New Jersey Shore. When I bought it, it spent an additional year on the East Coast – Boston area. Since then I’ve moved West to the Rocky Mountains. This week marks the 2nd time that a mechanic has looked at the underside and said, “Woah, that’s a rusty car, does it really only have 80,000 miles on it? It looks older. Did you spend time back East?”

What I want to know is if it really is extraordinarily rusty and bound to be problematic in the coming years – or – does it look just the same as every other car that’s spent a few years on the East Coast where the roads are salted in the winter and the air is thick with sea salt in the summer? I have a feeling that if I drove the car back East a mechanic there wouldn’t even bat an eye at the underside. But with gas prices these days, that’s a pricey road trip just to find out if my car really is rustier than most.

Has anyone else shocked mechanics in the western inland states with their rusty East Coast car?

speaking as a tech, i can say that i’ve been amused, not shocked, by some of the nothern road salt rust buckets and at times repairs could not even be attempted on the item in question.

VW with 3/4" plywood in the floor to keep the seats from falling onto the pavement…
a 4 year old subaru in which one could easily check the tire pressure by fully inserting the arm through the large rotted holes in the tops of both front fenders…
a northern chevy truck that made a loud bang when a rotted coil spring gave way; while it was parked and stationary in the lot…

How do you turn a $30-$40K vehicle into a pile of rusted junk? Cover the roads with salt all winter and get those same vehicle owners to pay for it!

Years ago, they simply plowed the snow off the roads…Now they just burn it off with highly corrosive chemicals. Motorists demand to be able to drive 70mph regardless of weather conditions.

Tonight in Vail Colorado, the westbound lanes of I-70 are closed after a 70 car pile-up during a snow shower quickly degraded driving conditions and killed at least one motorist…They will demand MORE salt be spread on the roads, if such a thing is possible…

Boston is one of the bad places. New Jersey must be almost as bad. Hartford is one of the worst because of the curved highways through there. The red sand is really bad too. Lots of sandstone there.

The more modern cars, like yours, should not have as much of a problem as the older cars did. They will still show some rust and it may look bad, but it is seldom structural. I have to question the mechanic who asked if it really only had 80,000 miles. Rust is not a factor of miles.

ok4450 . . . you kill me! You need to write a book. Rocketman

I live in the East and have not had major rust problems with any of my vehicles since my '79 Accord and '78 Jeep Cherokee.

I think your biggest contributor is the salt air at the Jersey shore, not the road salt. Gravel and other road debris pockmarks the underside, the moist, salt air gets to it and you have rust that goes undetected until the car is on a hoist for service. You’re likely to repair a rust spot on the upper body of the car (where you can see it every day), but the underside rust goes on its merry way, unchallenged.

There have been a number pf studies done and the NE states and the Great Lakes snow belt are 26 times as corrosive as the dry Western states.

Having said that, the corrosion protection is much better now than in the past. However, here in the West we can easily spot an “Eastern Car” in a parking lot simply by the rust spots in areas where there should not be any. Eastern cars here have very low resale value. Having lived in the East and replaced the floor of several cars, I don’t disagree.

About 25-30 years ago Fisher body commissioned Syracuse University to study the rust problem. They chose Syracuse because that area is considered the Rust capital of the US…Far more snow then any other place in the US that has a population over 1000 people…Lots of cars and lots of salt.

Right through the mid 80’s there wasn’t a car on the road from that area that was over 5 years old and didn’t have MAJOR rust.

SU’s findings and solutions were adopted pretty much by the industry as a whole. A couple of their recommendations.

. All exposed metal should be protected…Rust proofed or Zinc-Oxide coating.
. No area’s that can pool water. Any water that can get under the car should have a place to drain away.

Cars today still rust in that area…but no where near the rate they use to. It was very common to see 2yo cars like the Dodge Scamp/Duster series with rotted out fenders. Or Vega’s that were showing signs of rust it’s very first year. Caddy’s with doors that were completely rusted out in less then 3 years.

Salt is used mostly in New England since its very easy to transport via ship and inexpensive to purchase since its only the byproduct of evaporated sea water from warm countries. Also the truck transport is very short. The other reason is that we just don’t get as much sunny days to melt off ice off roads. Colorado is one of the sunniest states so simply appyling a bit of locally available sand will leave a dark surface to quickly melt it away.

I second that!

It has been a few years back, but I remember being in a steel mill on business. We were driven around in pickup trucks. They explained that they used the trucks because under the conditions at the plant, they lasted longer, some even made it almost a full year before they were scrapped. The environment makes a big difference.

None of these things even surprise me. Have I been too long in the Northeast?

You’d have loved my '79 Toyota pickup. The frame rotted completely through on both sides, just aft of the forward bed mounts. Every time I went over a bump, the top edge of the bed would bang against the back of the cab…the only thing holding the front half and the back half together was the bed!

My parents 1989 Toyota 4x4 would not pass inspection due to overwhelming rust in 2000 and sold off since body repairs were exorbitant. And now Toyota has extended their rust perforation warranty(15yrs) on 1995-2000 Tacoma’s.

Hopefully the new millennium brought new insight to Toyota in producing a pickup that does not turn into dust.

My family grew up in the snow and salt conditions of the upper midwest. I now live on the east coast and this looks normal to me. One of my brothers moved to the Denver area some 20+ years ago. I was visiting once and suggested some work on his 10+ year old van. His tool collection leaves something to be desired so I had no choice but to remove the front bumper using a crescent wrench. The fasteners were pristine! I can honestly say that to remove a bumper on any one of my cars of that age, it would have taken either a blowtorch or a swift kick.

I recall clearly the decision to never again do any exhaust patch work. Only one arm under the car, my head stretched as far away as humanly possible, and shake the pipes to remove the “surface rust” and I still got rust in my eyes. That’s it! I took all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!

Is there any sort of relatively quick/cheap inspection that I can do to determine if the rust is just cosmetic or if it is structural? thanks!

No, but I was shocked at how fast a car from South Dakota could rust if you brought it to New England. If it wasn’t waxed for twenty years out West, it might look great until it goes through one snow and salt season or even one Northern Maine Summer. Swamper? Golf courses up there don’t need sprinklers! Only the greens need water.

They ship the salt in by ship? The area west of the Appalachians has huge salt deposits. Go about 300 ft down in the Cleveland/ Lake Erie region and you hit the Salina Formation; about 80-100ft thick actually. I was pretty sure most of the road salt in the Mid-west and New England came from this formation.

To answer your question that got avoided by April 1st:

You can inspect it yourself by taking a hammer (or a welders pick/hammer) and examine all the frame and underside by tapping firmly. Ensure you wear eye and head protection.

Listen for dull banging sounds when coming upon weak spots. I think you’ll find the rust is mostly if not all surface rust.

I have a 2000 Olds Silhouette that has been driven here all it’s road life and much to mine and my techs amazement only has surface rust on the underside and frame.

I’ve never added any rust protection to it either, just what came from the factory.

Cars today don’t rot out like those of yesteryear.

I live in south central Ontario, Canada where they insist on burying the road surfaces in salt too.

Besides the rust it causes on vehicle it is killing the environment, but as long as there are politicians around that refuse to learn how to drive in adverse conditions, it’s never going away.

Rant over. Thank you.