By on February 18, 2013

TTAC commentator greaseyknight writes:


I have a question that I would like to throw at you and the Best and Brightest. Time is of the essence! In about a month I will be moving from the PNW to Wisconsin. My car is a rust free ’92 Nissan Sentra, and I would like to keep it that way during my stay in that state, which is be at least a couple years.

I really have no idea what precautions I should take being from the PNW, where under car rust is a totally foreign concept. I have heard of various under body treatments like Fluid Film and others, but what should I use? I really enjoy the piston slap articles, keep up the good work!

Sajeev answers:

First, let’s be clear on one thing: rustproofing is pointless for folks who keep their car for 10-ish years. Second, the B13 Sentra is a sweet little machine, totally worth keeping around for the rest of your life. For special cases like you, consider a rust proofing, undercoating spray from a shop that does such things.

If done correctly (i.e. not blocking up drain holes in the body) these sprays are a great idea for an older car with cherry metal.  They probably will not save every nut and bolt from the Rust Devil, but major components will be far better off.  Let’s say that you move to Wisconsin for more than two years: don’t worry, if all else fails you can replace any bolt-on component using the magic power of the Internets and loyal followers of the Sentra (and its Mexican twin, Señor Tsuru) while the spray-on undercoating protects the rest.

Other things I recommend?

  • Mud Flaps installed using the factory holes in the wheel arches…if possible, as that makes future removal far cleaner. If not, drill the holes and PAINT the exposed metal before installing. The Mad Tite stance and golden wheels below are optional, naturally.
  • Slathering the underside with used motor oil, letting it get all thick and coagulated and nasty ‘n shit…stank enough to scare away road salt. Not exactly earth friendly, but it won’t go anywhere once it gets sticky and coated with road grime. So there’s that.
  • Don’t use local car washes with recycled water…as that water already has the salt of previous cars.
  • Pour water over every seam, gap, upstream drain hole (i.e. not the ones at the bottom of the doors) etc. and let Mother Nature freeze these access points shut.  Never park the car in a heated garage (or any place that goes above 32 degrees) and salty water can’t get in!
  • Stop listening to the H-town boy and listen to people who actually deal with road salt for better advice.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.



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55 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Sentra’s Salt Assault...”

  • avatar

    I have only survived a couple of Buffalo winters thus far so I am far from an expert. I too am from the PacNW and I was shocked by the rust I saw in cars when I first got here. I had never seen anything like it.

    The most common sense advice I have heard while I have been here is keep your car outside and keep the ice on it frozen – although I have not heard about purposely freeing the drains. The idea is that if the salt stays suspended in the ice, it has less chance to work on your car’s sheet metal.

    The other thing that people seem to do here is go to the car wash a lot. Most people pay the extra couple of bucks for the underspray. Again, I’m not sure how effective it is over the long term, but it makes sense in the way that eating healthy prevents bigger problems down the road.

    One other thing I have noticed is that even though we all focus on effects of rust on our cars’ bodies, the mechanical components on the under side of the car are also effected by rust. My little Pontiac Torrent, my daily driver, has all sorts of squeaks and rattles and I notice that the edges of the brake discs seem to accumulate a great deal of scale. To make matters worse,t he scale hits the brake calipers as the wheel spins and makes a ticking sound as I drive – bothers the hell out of me. I’m not sure what, if anything can be done about that though, just food for thought.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, as I understand it, the salt can only attack the iron when the water melts and joins the salt to form an electrolyte. Staying dry and frozen avoids trouble until you have a chance to wash it clean.

  • avatar

    Buy a beater, preferably a 4wd truck as you don’t know what snow really is yet. Garage the Sentra, only take it out in the summer after the roads have been cleaned, after the rains have washed away the salt. It will still eventually rust as everything in the midwest does.

    • 0 avatar

      As a resident of NE Illinois that moved from salt free climes, I agree with Pete. All that other good intended crap is a waste of time. Buy a beater and keep the nice car off the roads when it is snowing or wet in winter. It is the ONLY solution, assuming you want to keep the car. There are plenty of winter storage facilities around. Good Luck

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely, get a winter beater and park your classic Sentra SE-R in storage for the winter. That’s your only hope to keep the cancer at bay.

      The advice about rustproofing, etc, is just staving off the inevitable, particularly on a 21-year old car that likely didn’t have great corrosion protection to begin with.

      Not to mention, your Sentra won’t have to deal with the monster potholes, frost heaves, and ice chunks trashing the suspension.

      Signed, a Wisconsin resident.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This one’s easy: buy a beater to sacrifice to the rust demon. Save the Sentra for dry, sunny days outside of road salt season.

  • avatar

    I agree with petedmeat. All cars here on Canada’s east coast are the same shade of greyish brown from November until March. Just get a $500 winter beater. It’s probably cheaper in the long run than rustproofing every year.

    Those little Sentras are not too bad in light to moderate snow, but once the snow level gets close to the bumper, you’re basically screwed. I’ve had quite a few small FWD cars over the years and they get around OK in the snow. I now have a 4×4 truck and I don’t think I’ll ever consider being without one.

    • 0 avatar

      Over a decade ago we sent some Jeeps to Halifax for accelerated corrosion fleet testing, due to complaints (amongst others) of body hardware seizing up. I was skeptical that a new vehicle could show severe corrosion over just one winter. Boy was I wrong. In just that one winter they had achieved panel perforation on some spots. A lot of parts switched from “phos & oil” to e-coat or zinc-nickel plating after that.

      • 0 avatar

        Same with the Quebec region. Any one who buys the extra factory undercoating and corrosion protection warranty actually gets their money’s worth.

      • 0 avatar

        From my experience the unitbody jeeps. Like the Cherokee, and The first two Grand Cherokee generations have a amazing ability to resist rust. I don’t know what they put on the unitbody but it works good.

  • avatar

    I’ve dealt with this for nearly 45 years. Mikeys rules for dealing with rust.

    #1 Park inside for the winter,put fuel stabilizer into a full tank of gas. Make sure your anti freeze is up to snuff. Every couple of weeks put a trickle charger on the battery.

    #2 Soak and spray, every square inch, inside and out with an oil basesd product. Some comercial grades,are better than others. I prefer Krown,my buddy swears by Rust Check. You have to drill,and then plug holes for easy excess. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Brake and fuel lines are crucial. Shock towers are also very important.

    #3 Stay out of heated garages!

    #4 Your better off letting it stay dirty,then to use recycled water. Ask the car was guy. Never ever use an automatic,with brushes.

  • avatar

    Fifty years of driving in Chicago. One son lives in Madison WI. daughter in Chicago. Between us we have seven cars ranging in age from 18 years (TC) to six, a Lincoln TC, two Toyotas, one 15 year old Isuzu Trooper and a 9 year old Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford F150 and Ford Explorer; all are driven daily. We are the original owners of all seven. None of them have surface rust, no wheel well etching or serious frame rust. All are garaged (unheated).

    I gave up on Zeibart or any rustproofing 30 years ago. We try and do the following. Wax by hand twice a year making sure to put a good coat on the lower body. Seal and touch up any cracks or pits in the body paint as soon as you seen them. Wash frequently, especially a day or two after the roads have been cleared, this can be done cheaply by using a drive thru car wash preferably touchless that has an underbody spray.

    Try and avoid parking on the street, rock salt from trucks will chip the paint and your greatest enemy is the slurry of melted snow, salt and sand thrown over and under the car by passing vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      My experience is almost identical to Alan’s except I live a hundred miles South in Champaign, Il. Plenty of salt, also.

      I sold my last Town Car to my neighbor about three years ago. It was a 1998 with about 140,000 miles. It replaced his 1990 Town Car he had bought from me in 1998 with 100,000 miles. He had put an additional 130,000 miles on it. The 1990 Town Car was really ready for retirement, but I can still look across the street and see my old 1998 car with a perfect body.

      I kept it in an unheated garage. He keeps it on the street.

      I didn’t clean it much, but when I did, I went out of my way to find a brush carwash. Why clean the car if it isn’t going to get clean?

      At any rate, it still has no rust and the finish, including the clearcoat, looks great. I should add that I rarely, if ever, cleaned it in the winter.

      You don’t see much rust around these parts anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      Alan is right. Washing and waxing is the trick. Anything else besides storing it for the winter won’t help much without frequent washes. The more frequent the better.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know, most rust seems to start on the inside and work its way out. There’s often no way to wash those inner regions properly.

      With every seasonal tire change, I brush out the lip on the rear fender and apply oil (Rust-Check) to that lip as well as inside the doors of my ’04 Mazda3. The oiliness is still present, creeping out around the wheel openings and bottom edges of the door, in the spring or fall when it comes time to do it again. I also brush the crud off the rear spring mounts. Those are the only two spots I’ve noticed any accumulation.

      I was getting a bit of visible rust on the inside edge of the fender lips a few years ago before I first started using the oil, but haven’t seen any since. It does appear I may be getting a small rust spot by the center emblem on the rear hatch. I’ll have to look at it more closely in the spring. I’m in Saskatchewan, so we do get some salt but not nearly as much as out east.

      Having a liner in the back wheel well, like that used in the front, would probably go a long way to preserving the rear fender by keeping crud off the lip. I wish Mazda would have done that for the 3, but it doesn’t seem common for any manufacturer to utilize those.

      I don’t wash my car much in the winter. It’s too depressing to watch it get dirty again almost instantly, with all the salt, sand, and gravel they dump on the roads to accommodate those who don’t bother with winter tires. After twenty years, I don’t think a weekly wash for the bad six months of the year would make my car worth the extra $5000, plus all the time spent, that it would cost. I haven’t even found a car wash with a good undercarriage wash. Highway drives during spring downpours are my favorite undercarriage wash.

      I wouldn’t drill holes into any metal to install mud flaps or splash guards. I think it’s best left untouched, unless the design of your vehicle makes it prone to rock chips.

      I don’t think a heated garage with good ventilation is bad. My buddy had that setup at his apartment for a few years and it didn’t seem to be a problem. There was never any water on the ground and the air never felt/smelled humid down there.

  • avatar

    Wash it once a week in the winter. Oil spraying is the number one source of employment up here in Canada, it’s practically our religion.

    Make sure you go to a place well versed in this art. They should use thinnner penetrating oil in the fenders, doors, quarters and rockers, then the thicker waxy stuff on the underside. They may need to drill holes and body plug a few places, but it’ll be worth it if you value your older Japanese sheet metal.

  • avatar

    Fluid Film has a good reputation but my understanding is that you have to re-apply every so often depending on how long your winter is. I recently bought an older rust-free pickup and brought it to Indiana from Florida. I sprayed the salt-exposed areas with Fluid Film for it’s first winter here and will continue to do so in the future. Time will tell how well it works for me. Fluid Film is easy to put on.

  • avatar

    The only good advice is – dont drive it during the salt season. I have a big old body on frame vehicle that I have welded patches to the box frame section. The frame rust from the inside so, yes if you could plug every hole it would help. Also the brake lines have rusted through. The outside sheet metal shows very little rust,surprisingly.

  • avatar

    Having spent many a spring grinding down rust and repainting here in central NY (road salt central, we have a salt mine up the lake from us), I feel obligated to put in my 2 cents.

    A ‘winter beater’ is definitely the only sure way to avoid rust on your Sentra. I can say from personal experience that 1990s Audis are damn near invulnerable to corrosion, it’s crazy. Right down to small brackets, fuel lines, and control arms. Zero surface rust. Quattro AWD works very well in the snow.

    If a second car is not in the budget, then a thick coat of wax on the paint (I like cheap and durable NuFinish), and slather the underside with Fluid Film. $40 for a gallon, but a little goes a long way. I’ve done 4 cars now and I’m not even a quarter way through the gallon. I just brush it on, but ideally it can be thinned by heating and sprayed through an old paint gun. Take the wheels off to really get good access at the wheel wells and quarter panels. I think doing this every other year on a rust free car will preserve it very well.

    A cheap and smelly solution is to mix up used motor oil with some kerosene to thin things out, then using a hand-pumped pressurized weed sprayer, apply this mess to every nook and cranny, but making sure you don’t get it on your brakes or exhaust. It will stink for a few weeks, and it drips all over the place for a while too. Fluid Film is thicker and forms a film, and smells kind of pleasant (for just a few days).

    I did the door jambs of my Mazda with general use grease, it attracts dirt like no other, but hey atleast my doors aren’t rusted out.

  • avatar

    I oil sprayed my Suzuki and Pontiac annually. I drove the Suzuki 20 years, and the Pontiac 22 years. Both had very minor corrosion when the power-trains started to go. Both had specifically applied spray oil, not used motor oil. It is heavily salted and sanded here in my corner of the rust belt, and the results speak for themselves.

    Back when I was in high school, I worked at a gas station where a 10 year old Camaro came in for an oil change. When I raised the hood, the engine compartment was pristine – and I mean pristine. I’d never seen anything like it. I was convinced on the spot. It’s not just corrosion prevention, it also helps with maintenance as fasteners don’t seize solid.

    The drawbacks are the smell (~1 week), seepage from panel gaps and dust attraction over time. That seems a small price to pay to help maintain structural integrity. I would also suggest a set good fitting molded mud guards because they act as a reservoir for the oil, plus keep the rocker panels from being blasted by road sand.

    Others have suggested Perma-Shine for the paint, I would say it’s very good too, but I don’t see the need. Paints are pretty good these days, and you can apply a similar product yourself for a fraction of the cost.

  • avatar

    Rust has no friends. The mid 70’s Japanese cars rotted in 5 years. Honda, Nissan, and Toyata have improved greatly. Mazda’s are a joke.

    The late 60’s and early 70’s Ford products were terrible. The GM’s from that era stayed good looking longer. However the frames rotted out. Galvinized steel and body panels that drained themselves, made a huge improvement. Elpo dip started in the eighties,and certainly slowed the sheet metal rustys down.

    These days its more of the mechanical,and structual,issues that rust attacks. Brake, and fuel lines, are a pricey fix,and send a lot of vehicles to a premature trip to the crusher. The entire drive train on a FWD vehicle,sits on a cradle. The cradle rots,its junk. Rotten shock towers can be doctored. Personally I would scrap the car first.

  • avatar

    Some people suggest bar and chain oil because it is meant to stick, anybody ever try that?


    • 0 avatar

      @JK431233….Yes I have. I guy I worked with swore by it. He got 20 plus years out of a 81 Impala. 100 mile round trip commute. It was kinda of creepy though. The chain oil was red,it lokked like blood ooozing out of the panels.

      • 0 avatar

        “The chain oil was red,it lokked like blood ooozing out of the panels.”

        Automatic transmission fluid actually works really well as a body corrosion inhibitor. It’s really thin and gets in everywhere.

  • avatar

    Here in western PA (where they salt the roads like fries at McDonald’s), I’ve begun a practice over the last 5 years which seems helpful.

    Every day after salt exposure, I pull the car into my semi-heated garage and spray it off inside the garage. The most important areas to get are under the wheel wells and underneath the frame. I also spray under the hood (radiator core support, between the hood layers) and underneath the bumper covers.

    It only takes about 10 minutes, but the resale value of your car will be much higher when it’s old. But if your Sentra is already 20 years old, it won’t survive salt exposure. I’d let it be a garage queen for the winter.

  • avatar

    My beloved ’92 SE-R (218K and strong as ever) is on death watch due to the characteristic sill rust aft of the driver wheel well. Less so on passenger side but increasing around two wheel openings. It survived well until two winters in New Jersey and I haven’t been able to stop it since. Very good suggestions from so many in “how to fight”. I wish I had done more. Although I can’t bring myself to call it a beater, I have taken it off (body) life support and continue to drive it often even on long trips. Sic Transit Gloria.

  • avatar

    Hmm I’m a lazy snow belt sod who seldom washes his car in the winter. Come mid-April I blast under the wheel wells with a hose and spray the engine lightly in mist mode to rinse off excess salt. Then take the rest of it to the car wash. I’ve started my 3rd Sentra shitbox in 20 years with no visible rust or added treatment.

    Not the way for you to go but the spot welds on yours are already weakened with age.

    • 0 avatar

      Since rust never sleeps, it’s hard for me to believe your cars are lasting ~10 years each with few winter baths.

      Maybe they use more cinders than salt in your area? Or maybe your winter mileage is low?

  • avatar

    “Pour water over every seam, gap, upstream drain hole (i.e. not the ones at the bottom of the doors) etc. and let Mother Nature freeze these access points shut. Never park the car in a heated garage (or any place that goes above 32 degrees) and salty water can’t get in!”

    No offense to Sajeev, whose articles I normally love, but this is absolute nonsense. It will get above 32 in Wisconsin in winter from time to time (actually fairly frequently these last few winters), and even if it didn’t, the heat that your car absorbs from the sun will melt any water you put in the drain holes the first sunny day that comes along. This would only really work if you were talking about -0F temps, which Wisconsin sees infrequently in winter (though Eau Claire/Wausau/Green Bay can get much colder than the Madison/Milwaukee areas).

  • avatar

    I moved to Detroit in 1998 with my ’93 SE-R, which spent its first five years in Atlanta. After 10+ years in northern climates (it’s been mostly in the garage for the last 5 years), it really wasn’t that bad. The only rust on it is some light bubbling at the lower lip of the decklid from either a leaky spoiler gasket or leaky taillight gaskets (both characteristic of the car) and some surface rust on one door hinge post. So it is possible to keep the car in the north and not have it fall to pieces.

    Be sure to check the gap between the bottom of the front fender and the door hinge post, where leaves and crap can accumulate and facilitate rust.

    I would be wary about spraying the underside of a car that is already 20 years old unless you ruthlessly clean it first – otherwise you can just trap existing moisture and surface rust and make the problem worse.

    If the car is in good enough condition to not be considered a beater, it’d be worth getting a cheap winter beater to save this one.

    But assiduous washing (incl. undercarriage) can keep it in good shape. You might also consider spraying a protective coating over important fasteners underneath to make them easier to undo in the future. Not sure what to point you to – I’ve got a can of stuff from when I worked at GM years ago but I don’t know what similar commercial products are.

  • avatar

    Just keep the car clean, whenever you can give it a wash, a spray down at a local self wash make sure to spray underneath. You can’t stop fasteners and unprotected parts like cast iron hubs and calipers from getting some surface rust that is just the way it is does not affect the operation or life of those parts.

    The chassis and body panels should be galvanized so if you keep it clean and intact you will be fine. What is going to cause you problems is any compromise of the galvanization or the paint. So come spring any chips in the paint need to be touched up, if the car has ever been in an accident and repaired it is almost guaranteed to have some rust starting, even good body repair rarely addresses restoring original rust protection. Any time I look at a used car, if it has body rust issues, it is 9 times out of 10 the factory rust protection was compromised.

    Wouldn’t advise undercoating an old car, will just seal up all sorts of moisture and get all over everything.

  • avatar

    If you want to keep this car for a long time, and as an owner of a G20, I understand why you would, you need to follow the advice of those who say “buy a beater.” Here in Wisconsin, we are used to snow, so every city has the plows needed to clear the roads, so there is no need to go with all-wheel or four-wheel drive. Just get some good snow tires, and you will be set. If you are in Milwaukee or Madison, you will have some issues with street parking. If you are north of a line from Green Bay to Eau Claire, bring long underwear. It will get cold. If you are a motorcyclist, consider picking up a small enduro. There are a lot of shops here that will install steel spikes on your bike’s knobby tires so you can do some riding on the frozen lakes. It is amazing fun.

  • avatar

    I remember when my dad bought his 92 Sentra. We lived in Montreal, which seems to be one of the salt lovingest cities I have ever seen. Within 7 years the car was rotten, and when the roads were wet, the back seat would become logged with water.

  • avatar

    As others have said get a beater. Not only due to salt but all the potholes that grow during winter can do all kind of mechanical damage.

  • avatar

    Thanks everyone for the suggestion so far! I’m learning so much about this topic. The car is nothing special, a 2 door SE with 180k that is in reasonably good condition, just a wanna be SE-R that gets good gas mileage. I don’t think a winter beater is in the cards at the moment, but I will defiantly keep that in mind. I know its going to be a losing battle, just trying to fight it as long as possible.

  • avatar

    Hey man! I joined the site today just to comment on this (not that I’ll be dormant afterwards, I lurk a lot), so I hope you see this.

    Not to rep one product just for the sake of it, but I’ve got a ’97 Sentra GXE, a Chicago car all its life, that used to be my grandma’s, and I’ve had great success using something called Rustbullet Automotive. I order it by the quart and brush it on – mostly hidden areas like the door bottoms, inside the doors, spot welds, wheel wells, fender lips, any structural unibody sections, and radiator supports. It’s absolutely fantastic. I highly recommend you check it out.

    You can paint right over rust, as long as it isn’t all the way through, and the first coat is supposed to de-moisturize it, and the second coat hardens and protects the first coat like a plastic. In my experience, I’ve done two coats the first summer, and then I have added a coat once every summer after (and yes, it’s getting better, first time was the worst and eventually I might not need to do it at all). Hope that helps!

  • avatar

    If you like your Sentra, park it for the winter and find a beater. Nothing ages a car like old man winter. Having spent a good part of my career looking after equipment that maintains highways, I have little faith in any spray, treatment or coating. Some of it buys time, but once salt gets in it can’t get out. By the time you see it, it’s too late. They don’t call rust “cancer” for nothing.
    And don’t assume you’ll be OK in areas that get too cold for salt. Most jurisdictions mix 3 to 5% salt in thier sand to prevent clumping and promote adhesion to the road surface. That way you get the blast effect and the corrosion! Even if you do avoid salt corrosion by some miracle, there’s always that out-of-control SUV waiting to slide into you. Unless you have no choice, park it until Easter.

  • avatar

    I used to own a ’91 Sentra XE back in the day. I bought it at 123,000 kms and it was already six years old at the time. Got eleven years out of it before rust and worn steering finally forced me to send it to the wreckers.

    When rust becomes noticeable on these cars it’s already too late because the first place it shows up is around the base of the door frame vertical posts between the front and rear doors. This rust begins unseen from the inside and works its way out. Dishonourable mention goes to the leading edge of the hood, rocker panels, rear fenders and body seams. A Krown rustproofing treatment will address all of these areas.

  • avatar

    To all those suggesting a “winter beater”…where exactly does one go from a ’92 Sentra SE with 180k…any used car will need some work, it will surely cost more than some extra car washes for the Sentra.

    If you are like me…you buy a beater and fall in love with that too and then it will be “too nice” to rust ha.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if they are sold for the sentra but there are full skid plates available for some cars. They aren’t a miracle solution but they stop a lot of rock and salt spray.

    If you apply underbody trestment clean well and hand dry first.

  • avatar

    Before buying a beater, get it in the air and check out the underside first.

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