Rust on your car is sort of like termites in your home: once it shows up it’ll only get worse, and it’s hard to get rid of permanently. If you own a vehicle that’s more than a few years old, either you or your mechanic should make sure you keep an eye out for rust, which can harm the frame, the mechanical parts, and the resale value.
Image via Flickr by bjornmeansbear
Between all the dirt, rain, and road salt your wheels kick up, when a vehicle starts to rust it’ll start in and around the wheel wells. While there’s nothing immediately dangerous about a rusty wheel well, it’s a good first indication that should lead you into inspecting the rest of the vehicle.
Another part of a car that tends to rust early is the exhaust system, as the heat and the harsh chemicals of your exhaust tend to attract more rust than the rest of your undercarriage components. You may think that it’s easy to detect a leak in your exhaust, since your engine will become a lot louder if one of the pipes develops a big enough hole, but your exhaust may be leaking carbon monoxide into your cabin even before it grows loud. If you’re unsure if your car has a problem, try using a portable CO detector.
Brake lines are metal tubes that connect the hydraulics of your brake pedal to the brakes themselves, and while some setups use stainless steel and others use rubber hoses to avoid this issue of rust, there are plenty of cars out there whose brake lines are vulnerable. Road salt, one of the biggest sources of rust, will often cake onto your undercarriage during winter, and that includes the brake lines that run to your rear tires. Since so much as a pinhole in the line can drop the hydraulic pressure and make the attached brake useless, you should make sure you replace them when you start seeing rust.
Your car’s suspension is right down there with everything else, and for obvious reasons you wouldn’t want one of the springs or axles to suddenly shatter as you’re driving down the highway. The good news is that such incidents are very unlikely, since springs and axles are solid metal and built to be tough, but the bad news is that the frame they’re attached to may be less solid and more prone to rusting through. Rusty bolts in particular may eventually have their heads snap off, and even if you get to them in time they can be a real pain to remove.
A rusty vehicle can be hazardous to drive, at least if you don’t watch out for rust. And if you don’t want to deal with rust for as long as possible, make sure you regularly wash and wax your car, especially after the winter melt, and always wash off the undercarriage and the wheel wells while you’re at it.