By on July 27, 2009‘s motor legend David Holzman forwards an e-mail:

My six year old 2003 Mazda Protoge5 is rusting out pretty bad [see: attached]. I had the left rear panel repaired two years ago (I didn’t realize then that the body was still under warranty). But the panel has continued to rust, to the point where the bracket that holds the bumper failed. From my online research, rust seems to be a problem with some vehicles of this model. I have seen some on the road with similar rust and others with none at all. I called the dealer and they told me to go away. Mazda has washed their hands of this problem and left those of us unfortunate enough to have bought the vehicle from this particular batch up the creek. We obviously can’t sell the car for anything near what others are selling for and I doubt it can be on the road for more than couple years before the rust renders it useless. Do we have any recourse?





Sajeev answers:

OMG, those pictures are scary!  Et tu, strut tower?

Legally speaking, Mazda’s rust proofing warranty is for five years with no mileage restrictions. Unless the car sat on a dealer lot for a year, that warranty expired. So your friend is totally screwed.

Mazda could rectify the situation, going after the vendor of toothless chemicals that caused this problem. But body rot isn’t a quick fix for anyone involved, nobody wants to touch that problem. It’s tragic, actually.

Getting lawyered up might work but don’t expect a quick resolution. Talk to a lawyer that specializes in class-action lawsuits and ask (on various car forums) if anyone else is interested. If your query gets downplayed/deleted on a Mazda forum, there’s a strong manufacturer-sponsored undercurrent behind the scenes. And that’s gonna make things tough.

But you can do it: if street racers can sue and (ultimately) bitch-slap Ford for something as trivial as underpowering the 1999 Cobra, nothing is impossible.  But it is worth the trouble to get book value for the car and your legal fees back?  As someone who believes cars can live forever, I hate saying this: just deal with it. Drive this Mazda until it falls apart.

In your driveway. Literally.

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37 Comments on “Piston Slap: Mazda Protege5: In God We Rust?...”

  • avatar

    Zoom, Rust, Zoom

  • avatar

    Wow, my parents’ recycled-steel 1990 Toyota Camry had less rust than that after 17 years.

    Did you buy it used? I’m thinking salt + water + salvage.

  • avatar

    Yeah..That 6 year old Mazda is terminal.You can buy some more time with a little oil spray. Keep your eye on those shock towers. Maybe get a piece welded in there.

    The Mazda’s have got rust issues so does Mercedes. Toyota and Honda and the domestics have made great strides in the control of rust. Some of us here remember only too well the late sixties and early seventies. Five year old cars with quarter panel rotted out were not that rare.

    If you live in the rust belt check out the five year old Huyandai’s or Kia’s. With people keeping cars longer we are going to learn what the words “perceived quality” really mean.

  • avatar

    Oh wow! I haven’t seen rust like that since the 80s. My 2003 Protege LX has effectively no rust, and has seen its fair share of road salt.

    Someone in Hiroshima screwed up big time.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I’d say she’s toast. That sucks, as I’ve always thought the Protege5 is a pretty sweet little wagon. Just drive ‘er ’til it’s no longer safe, which appears to be sooner than later. That strut tower rust is mighty unsettling for me. Maybe the engine, wheels, and interior bits will be worth something to someone, but overall I’d say the poor thing’s probably not worth much more than scrap at this point. There’s a reason they call rust on cars “cancer”. This appears to be terminal. Sorry, man, that sucks.

  • avatar

    I positively LOVE the Mazda 3 advert that pops up when I mouse over “MAZDA”. BRILLIANT!

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The Internet makes it harder for unscrupulous corporations to get away with maltreating customers. My son is shopping for a new car. I forwarded this item and suggested he forgeddabout a Mazda6.

  • avatar

    Coincidentally, when washing my 2003 Protege5 a couple weeks ago I noticed rust beginning inside the wheel openings, on the strut towers, and even on one of the blacked-out side window frames.

    I’m hoping to nip it in the bud, but sounds like the odds aren’t in my favor.

  • avatar

    I’d been musing about going to a Mazda after my BMW dies…. now I’m not so sure. I understand about parts wearing out, but potential rust problems…. no thanks.

  • avatar

    Wow, that sucks man. Rust anywhere outside would be an issue, but right by the strut towers where stuff is bolted on, that’s worse. Maybe you can fix an extra panel around there to help with rigidity issues but after that, just drive it till it dies I guess. I always loved the Protege5 for it’s looks and spunky performance.

    Best believe I’ll be eagle-eyed with my 6.

  • avatar

    There have been reports of early model year 2004 Mazda3s have some rust issues. I haven’t noticed any on my 2006 model, but this is quite surprising in this day and age.

    The 6 is made in the US, and by Ford (realistically), I doubt it would have any issues of rust down the road. I would think that the newer models wouldn’t either…but I could be wrong.

  • avatar

    I was thinking about getting a new Miata MX-5 for my son. Mazda’s response to you has convinced me to look elsewhere.

  • avatar

    It looks like a lot of that Strut Tower rust is caused by galvanic corrosion due to incompatible materials on the brackets.

    Brackets that don’t have to support major weight should be plastic for precisely this reason.

  • avatar

    has the car been in an accident? Are you the original owner? Where has the vehicle lived it’s life?

    Rust like this is not THAT uncommon in salt states… and if the vehicle is not washed regularly, etc then I can totally see this happening. I live in IL… usually when you see a newer car with rust on it like this it has usually been in an accident and repaired.

    To the posters that state that domestics/ Toyota / Honda have the rust thing under control now should look around in Chicago.

    Pontiac Grand Prix – almost every one I see has door sills that are totally gone.

    Honda Accord- almost everyone that is more than 5 or 6 years old has some rust on the wheel-wells…

    Ford Taurus – the 96-05 body rusts like crazy

    Toyota Corolla – seems as if these rust a lot as well..

    All of this is just observation of course… but clearly if there is a concern that it was a problem specific to the model Mazda should do something about it. But, if the owner has repaired rust already outside of the warranty then I don’t blame Mazda for not wanting to touch it now.

  • avatar

    I live in the salty Northeast and have a Protege of the same vintage. There are a few areas of rust starting and I keep it scrupulously clean. Haven’t had the body seams or strut tower start yet though, that is scary. It’s a good car otherwise.

  • avatar

    Wow – now I don’t feel quite so bad about selling my ’03 P5. That was one cool little car, but cancer like that is terminal. The strut tower is especially scary.

  • avatar

    Car belongs to a friend. Bought new. I don’t think it’s ever been in a bad accident. Lived its life in Newton Mass. But it’s very rare that I see rust like this anymore around here.

  • avatar

    Are you guys seeing something I’m not? Yes, if it was my car I would be pissed that rust was so apparent after 6 years, but that car has years of life left to it. The shock tower is all surface rust. Take a wire brush to it and paint it if your concerned. Or don’t, my guess is that you have at least 5 years before it become a structural strength concern.

  • avatar

    OT, I never knew that the strut tower brace was always red. I have a red P5, and assumed that it was painted the color of the body…

    My strut tower rust isn’t this extensive, and is cosmetic. It’s in the small ditch that encircles the strut mount. I’m more concerned about the fenders.

  • avatar

    That’s the reason they call it the rust belt and why I’ll avoid living there if at all possible.

  • avatar

    My apologizes if I made a mountain out of the “strut tower’s seam rust” molehill. Chalk it up to another reason why I’m proud to be a native Houstonian.

  • avatar

    Heh, I have a red P5 as well, and I’m with you Michael, I just always assumed it was painted to match the car.

    So far no rust on mine (knock on wood).

  • avatar

    The 6 is made in the US, and by Ford (realistically), I doubt it would have any issues of rust down the road. I would think that the newer models wouldn’t either…but I could be wrong.

    Really? I thought the R in Ford stood for rust.


  • avatar

    I thought that these kinds of problems were banished by the mid 1990s. It looks like Mazda might have forgotten some of the lessons learned. A quick google search reveals that this is not a one off fluke.

    Maybe those chose not to use galvanized steel, or skimped on the zinc heavy primers ?????

    Even in the salt laden areas of the US, this shouldn’t happen to a modern car.

  • avatar

    The problem with rust is that you never know whether it is going to be a problem until it is too late to do anything about it. Model to model, year to year, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

    Ford has gyrated wildly in rust-resistance for decades. 1960-64 Fords rusted pretty badly in the rear quarters. The 65-68s seemed much better until they got about 10-12 years old and the frames started breaking in two. Then who can forget the 69-72 models that would practically disintegrate into ore within 5 years. They seemed to be doing better as time went on and while the 92 and up Panther bodies have been excellent and the 92 and up E-Series was much better than its predecessor, the early Explorers of the same vintage were terrible – I almost never see an old Explorer with any rocker panels left.

    Honda Accords were terrible through the 80s, but then the mid 90s Odyssey came out and I have yet to see one with a rust hole. And GM had been pretty good for years, but then Buick Park Avenues have rust galore in the rocker areas.

    My point is that for the person who buys new and keeps the car for a long time, there is no way to win on this. The only ways to avoid rust problems is to either keep your cars for less than 5 years or to buy 10-12 years old cars when you know what has rust problems and what does not.

  • avatar

    I’m shocked to see rust like that on a 6 year old car. I’ve lived in the Northeast most of my life and haven’t seen rust like that since the 80s. However, I wouldn’t characterize it as a Mazda brand problem, more of a specific model problem. I’ve see plenty of older Mazdas with less rust that are street parked and daily driven. It’s a good idea to take your car to a wash with an underbody wash after a snowstorm’s come and gone (after the salt is off the street) to get the salt off. But even without washing that’s way too much rust in just 6 years. I would look for a class action myself, or just trade it in and be done with it.

  • avatar

    Hello all!
    As a Mazda Master Tech/Dealer Shop Foreman I think I see more Mazdas of every type and year than most of you. And for the most part, rust is a non issue with these cars.
    The only examples where Ive seen a pattern is in the 1st generation RX-7(’79–’85) with rust going through the rear wheel wells and rear axle control rod mounting points in the rear frame rails, and NA Miatas(’90–’97) with rocker panel drains clogging and rusting out the rocker panels. For the Miata there was a TSB outlining the issue, and the RX-7s were 10+ years old when I started seeing the rust.
    Other than that, I see no more rust in these cars than I do with Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas.
    I live in the Midwest, winter road salting and all, and of the 12+ Mazdas in my family, the older cars–’88 323, ’92 MPV, and ’93 Ford Probe GT have little or no body rust. And these cars are not garaged.

  • avatar

    That’s some pretty bad rust for that age of car. You really have no way of stopping it at this point without stripping it down completely and refinishing it. Something that doesn’t make economic sense. To slow it down, you could clean off all the areas that are rusting with a wire brush attached to a die grinder, and then repainting the area. If this problem only happens to certain cars, you can keep an eye out for one with a good body, and swap the drive-train over if you are mechanically handy.

    Terry, It sounds like this is a fluke in production. Probably an improper chemical mixture or something.

  • avatar


    Wash it, then get a wire brush and a small can of POR-15 (I usually buy it from them directly, google it). It’s an epoxy paint that dries rock-hard and adheres to rusty surfaces. Just remove the rust flakes and rusty paint, then brush on a few layers of POR15 and top-coat with regular auto paint of matching color. The rust bubbles are probably made of solid rust, so just puncture through those, brush the rust out, then coat everything within reach with POR-15 and patch with a good epoxy-based body filler. Then lift the car up on 4 jacks, look underneath, find rust and repeat the painting. Works great.

    But WASH it first. REALLY well. Underneath and under the hood, too.

  • avatar

    The strut brace is always red. Everywhere. Mine is an Asian-Australian Ford rebadge and my brace is red.

    Rust sucks… I wouldn’t consider Honda as an example of ultimate corrosion resistance… roof-panel rust is a huge problem on local EG and EK Civics (mid-to-late-90’s) in my area… and the GC platform car that predates the GD platform Honda Fit is so rust-prone that I’ve seen a few with rusting rear fenders at under three years of age… though, to be fair, mid-90’s BG Platform 323s are also quite prone to rear wheel well rust.

    So far, I’e got some minor rust on the door frame where there’s a screw missing, and some on the spare tire housing where I had accident damage, but no structural rust yet, thank goodness.

  • avatar

    I used to own a 2002 MP5. Owned it for just over 5 years and 120K miles. Fantastic car IMO, no rust at all even from the wintery salt soaked roads of Detroit. At the end, it was a terminally clogged radiator that cost a few hundred to replace and pushed me into a new car. Other than that, I replaced brake pads, tires and oil changes, no other maintenance on the MP5. I have a 2006 Mazdaspeed6 that also has no rust at all. This car has not been without issue, but never any rust.

    There are always exceptions, like the Toyota Tacoma with its terminal rust problems. Some people are just unlucky, unfortunately. I dont think it is typical of Mazdas to have rust problems.

  • avatar

    Didn’t your Mazda come with a 12 year corrosion warranty?

  • avatar

    That is just like our 02 MPV. Unbelievable for a car manufactured this decade. All the rust began on the lower inside of the panels just like your door and has spread beyond this Protege’s current affliction. After this last winter the entire length of each door was covered in rust and creeping up the outside edges. We had to have the driver’s door disassembled to replace the lock assembly since a component had rusted away.

    I see numerous MPV’s of similar age without this problem and feel seriously screwed that I got one of the bad ones.

  • avatar

    The funny part is back in the 70s I had a Vega that looked like that after 2 winters in Cleveland. THey were made with .028 inch sheet metal, at the GM Tech Center it was called Oh Two Thin.

  • avatar

    Fixing the visible rust on the top of the tower isn’t going to do much good. The rust is coming through from the wheel well underneath. Probably not fixable unfortunately.

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    One or two major problems, both very bad. The entire strut tower is rusting from underneath the paint and/or from the wheel well into the engine compartment. Looks downright dangerous, like the entire strut assembly could let go one of these days and pop up through the hood if it hits a big pothole. Are the fender liners installed? Regardless, I would get rid of the car ASAP and buy something different. It’s not worth risking your life driving it. The rust damage and structural compromise underneath the paint is probably far worse than what’s visible.

  • avatar

    This isn’t as bad as it looks, but it’s still inexcusable. My ’98 Prelude doesn’t have any rust at this level… just on the aftermarket front fender. I would recommend that you raise a stink, as that’s the only way any sort of recall will be issued. I mean, this is a structural component of the car– pretty important. Do they want to pay now or when they get sued when cars are collapsing?

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