By on July 20, 2013

rust 1

In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.

Apparently the issue is more important than I thought because about two weeks ago my local Ford shop contacted me by letter to remind me about the recall and to encourage me to make an appointment for an inspection. But the cat was in the cradle with the silver spoon and little boy blue and the man on the moon and like so many important things in life, I never got around to doing anything about it. Yesterday, however, I decided to tackle one the van’s other annoying little problems, the malfunctioning rear air conditioning, and that required removing the interior panel that covered both the AC unit and the seat mount. I was utterly shocked by what I found.


As you can see from the photos, the steel wall of the wheel well is almost entirely eaten away around the seat mount and in places the corrosion is so bad I could look through the holes in the body and see the garage floor. Because of the pattern of rust, in a complete circle around the mount, the situation appears to be quite dire in my opinion. I could have easily made a hole big enough to put a basketball through by simply pulling on the affected part with my bare hand. Given the fact that my son rides in that third row almost everyday I’m left a little speechless about what I found. All it would have taken to collapse the rear seat completely was one hard bump.

Naturally, I went to the Ford dealership right away and they scheduled me a time next Friday to come in and get the issue fixed. Until then, we will have to continue to use the van for daily errands, but I’ve told my wife to stay close to home as possible for the next week. Because we only have the two vehicles now, these repairs, which I am told will take about a day to complete, will be pretty inconvenient for us. Loaner cars are not covered under the recall.

Despite the inconvenience, I still have to commend Ford for their repeated efforts to get me to address what they knew to be a legitimate concern rather than just posting the information on their website and letting it languish. I wish now I had been more proactive about solving the problem and I encourage all of you to spread the word to anyone who owns one of the affected vehicles about the severity of this condition. I guess it pays to stay on top of these things. Lesson learned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better make that colonoscopy appointment I have been putting off…

2004 Ford Freestar

2004 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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63 Comments on “Total Recall: Ignore At Your Own Peril...”

  • avatar

    Wow, that’s some pretty severe rusting! From my times driving through in the winter, I remember that they dump a lot of salt there – at least on the Thruway and the route to the border crossings.

    It looks like there are 2 Krown shops in the Buffalo area, so maybe you should make an appointment after Ford does the repair to slow down any further deterioration. Good luck with your repairs.

    • 0 avatar

      They don’t just dump a lot of salt in Buffalo. About a week after that recall was announced I saw one of these Freestars sitting along the side of the road in Chicago with a broken rear axle.

  • avatar

    Ford Freestar… “Job Quality is Number One” Ford ad noise in the late eighties and nineties.

    Parents bought one of these disasters used with low miles. I recommended they get an extended service plan. Boy, did that payoff. They would have put thousands of dollars in repairs into that misbegotten hunk of parts.

    They had a Windstar ‘Eddie Bauer’ edition before the Freestar, so Dad didn’t need any persuasion to add the extended warranty.

    Freestar was replaced with a Chrysler 300, so far so good on the power train, but it sure has some quirks and everything falls off the thing…. weather stripping, trim, door openers busted, windows don’t always close, but hey, it is comfortable and gets decent mileage.

    I have never bought a new Ford, with out a near immediate recall or return for a service issue. Transmissions, brakes, ignition, just too name a few.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford in my lifetime seems to do a few things well, and everything else mediocre to poorly.

      • 0 avatar

        This ^

        And every ford trucks steering system is my example.

        • 0 avatar

          It does baffle me that the Super Duty (and presumably also the F150) evidently can’t be made to adequately handle brake boost *and* steering, especially at low speeds.

          It’s only a little annoying and disconcerting in parking lots, for the most part – until you get used to it – but, still…

    • 0 avatar

      Interestingly, my parents’ Aerostar was a real trooper. Eventually died, of course, but only after fairly severe abuse.

      (Hit a deer, which led to un-noticed damage to the flywheel/main pulley bolts. Which later sheared, leading to overheating and a leaky head gasket, and then the scrapper.)

  • avatar

    Obligatory reference: I’ll see you at the party, Richter.

    EDIT: This is better: YOU BLEW MY COVAAAA

  • avatar

    I’ve seen these vans at the side of the road, after the rear axle has broken off. Rust.

  • avatar

    As the old adage says…rust never sleeps…

    The Cleveland/Erie/Buffalo crescent where you encounter road salt nearly daily for 4 months of the year is a real challenge for sheet metal.

    I remember new Vegas would perforate in the fenders and cowl in 18 months.

  • avatar

    Not Ford related, but anybody with an old(er) vehicle really should get under it and carefully look at the brake lines. Those of you with W body GMs should especially pay attention. You too, Zackman. We had a Century that had a total failure of the brakes. Pedal went to the floor with ZERO warning. Had we been in traffic an accident would have been a certainty. The car was only 10 years old at the time and being a Southern NY car, salt exposure was present but limited. Nothing like Buffalo that’s for sure. Funny thing is all the sheetmetal under the car was in beautiful condition, but most of the brackets, heavy steel parts, etc. were all heavily rusted. Still strong, but the rust was surprising.

    FWIW: The brake lines on my 21 yer old Sable station car are still fine. Go figure. Just had rust on the subframes and rear locator links.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      GM supplier: We can do the brake lines for 3.2 cents per car.

      GM accountant: Make it 2.2 cents.

      GM supplier: Um, it costs more than that to galvanize the lines.

      GM accountant: 2.2 cents. [email protected] or walk.

      GM supplier: Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooookay.

      • 0 avatar

        Sad truth is that everything on the market is being built to a price, not a standard.

        Toyota is becoming GM, Hyundai is becoming Toyota, and some Chinese company is about to become Hyundai.

      • 0 avatar

        Accountants are simply scorekeepers. It’s a “GM purchasing manager” who will say “make it 2.2 cents”. And the purchasing manager was ordered to cut costs by the executive whose bonus depends on the current year’s earnings per share.

        What car buyers really need is a publication that takes cars apart to examine and report on component and build quality.

    • 0 avatar

      I grew up, lived in Montreal for 25 years, it has to be the road salt capital of Canada. I had a 1999 Golf that looked relatively rust free, turns out the brake lines weren’t. Luckily I was stopped at a light pumping the brake and wondering why it felt so squishy, then pop, right to the floor.

    • 0 avatar

      Ugh, there’s a memory… ’96 Ciera wagon, snowstorm, brake pedal sank to the floor. Had to stop it using carefully-selected snowbanks.

      To its credit, it had about 250k on the clock and the brake warning light managed to come on before I lost most of the braking force, but still…

      And yep, it was a rusted-through brake line, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      Also true that you want to inspect the rubber bits connecting the hard lines to the calipers.

      Rubber isn’t immortal, even if it doesn’t rust.

  • avatar

    Shoddy quality is always a theme at Ford and co. Was then, is now.

    Maybe someday Ford will make something that won’t fall apart….someday.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey everybody, the above comment doesn’t represent thoughtless axe grinding at all! I promise!

    • 0 avatar

      My 2x 1983, 1 1986 and 1 1987 Ford Products may fall apart….someday.

      The ’96 that spent 18 months, 2 winters being buried under a snowbank as a parking lot ornament has the worst rust. Rockers aren’t good and brake lines needed replaced after 16 years in the rust belt.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, I’m not even really a partisan here*.

      (*I have an F250, but only because you can’t find a used Tundra in a useful spec for love nor money; I’m not a Ford Guy in any emotional terms, and would have, if I’d had new-truck money, gone with a new Toyota to replace my old Toyota.)

      But someone so invested in GM as to name themselves “Z71_Silvy” shouldn’t be talking about *quality* in quite those sort of terms, you know?

      The Silverado is a perfectly good truck.

      Problem is, by all available data is is *not any better than* the Fords.

      They *all* have quality issues, according to Edmunds.

  • avatar

    Bizarre that a car company based out of Detroit would have any trouble with rust….

  • avatar

    Replace “Ford Freestar” with “Jeep” and “Wheel-well rust” with “fuel tank protection”.

    Didn’t you get the memo from “TTAC Staff” earlier? Recalls years later for things not written in stone in a safety standard (and I’m pretty sure there is no specific federal standard for body rust) are Un-American!

  • avatar

    So did these vans not get an electro-coated bath to protect against rust? How does (did?) Ford’s process differ from competitors: surely not every car make rusts this badly in Buffalo???

    • 0 avatar

      Notice in the picture that you can see the reinforcement plate on the other side. It looks to be about the size of a fuel door. It seems that it’s simply spot-welded to the panel without any body seam sealer (caulk). What happens is crud will get behind there and act as a sponge. Then you drive through salted roads. Even the most well-protected sheetmetal doesn’t stand a chance in an environment like this.

      It’s a design or process failure, not a material one.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks. I think a process failure is forgivable, but a design one is not.

        Not when this one was designed (90’s). 60’s 70’s ok, but not 90’s. Sure as hell not today.

        • 0 avatar

          Cars usually have a 5 year or longer development cycle. So it may have been designed in the late 80s with late 70s lessons learned and tech.

          Further, you have to accelerate 10 years of corrosion and vehicle use in 6 months to 3 year period (mind you, you are testing a B sample at that point and possibly hand built, scewing results).

          I would only really bag on Ford if this was some kind of systemic issue over multiple generations of the same platform.

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right, its unforgivable. Its a GD disgrace. They already knew how to stop that sort of thing well before that was built.

          The body hardware I made often had to survive 1000 hours in an ASTM spec salt spray cabinet “with no red rust”. That was even after the change from hexavalent to trivalent chrome; so it can be done. There’s no excuse.

      • 0 avatar

        Good point. Rust is amazingly efficient at finding unprotected spots on a vehicle and working its way in.

        I recently cleaned up a few rust spots on the bed of my otherwise rust-free ’96 Bronco (I live in Phoenix) due to the fact that Ford failed to shoot a section of the bed with paint. I suspect that all it took was an instance or two of the jute carpet pad soaking up spilled water from a cooler to allow the rust to form.

        In a lot of ways steel is a less than ideal material for car bodies. It will be interesting to see how aluminum fares on the new F150s.

  • avatar

    Now all we Krown, Rustcheck fans can gloat and say I told ya so.

  • avatar

    I have lived in Buffalo and anecdotally can attest to the fact that Fords tend to rust at a greater rate than most. Taurus rear wheel wells disintegrate and Explorers rot everywhere.
    Interestingly all Windstars and Freestars were assembled only 50 miles away from Buffalo in Oakville Ontario

    • 0 avatar

      First gen Escapes seem to rot in the rear wheel-wells too…and I live in Pennsylvania, where we get quite a lot of salt and brine but certainly not as much as Buffalo.

    • 0 avatar

      I got my first rust penetration on my Sable at 19 years of age. Right side over the rear wheel well. A common point of rust on many cars. Still, lasting that long is impressive. Around these parts, perforation is not common anymore until cars pass 14 years. A vast improvement over the 70s and 80s…

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I inherited a 1990 Maxima SE from my step mother about 12 years ago. It lived it’s first 11 years in New Hampshire, so needless to say it had a little rust problem.
    The gas filler tube disintegrated, which I found out about at the pump. Nothing like having gas pour all over the ground during a fill up. That was covered by a recall.
    The suspension was so corroded that when I replaced the CVs everything that needed to be removed had to be ground off. And I couldn’t replace the worn suspension components because everything was fused together.
    There were no rockers left behind the front wheels.
    And the best part, also covered by a recall – though I have no idea how they’d have fixed it, the rear seatbelt mounts rusted off the car. So they were useless.
    I ended up selling it before I got the seatbelt fixed. I didn’t get much for it and I told the new buyer to get it done. But it probably should have just gone to the crusher.
    I did like that car a lot though. It makes me wonder how great it was new.

  • avatar

    Scary shyet for sure ! a Child riding in there…. ouch .

    This is why I don’t miss living Down East one bit .

    Did I ever mention the time the ’64 Scout’s door _fell_off_ when I opened it ? .


  • avatar

    If you must live in the “rust belt”, perhaps you should lease your
    vehicles … just a thought …

  • avatar

    A 10-year-old Ford with a hole in the floor. What’s old is new again and what’s new is old.

    Could Autoshare work for your 2nd wheels? Then you could forget about gas, inurance & maintenance and try all the different flavors. Just watch the deductible – pay annual $60 extra for zero. You don’t want to pay their windshields or parking lot hit & runs.

    • 0 avatar

      No, I don’t think any kind of autoshare would really work for us, but Mikein08’s suggestion about leasing a vehicle is actually a pretty good one, I think.

      Given how little I drive these days I wouldn’t even come close to any mileage limitations and if I had worked it right the lease would have been up about the time we headed overseas again. I’ll definitely look into it the next time we rotate back stateside.

      • 0 avatar

        Thomas, how long before the typical vehicle get serious rust in Buffalo? As I have posted before, I lived in Oswego in the early 80s and the late 70s cars were showing perforation in three years. Japanese cars were most affected, typical domestics and better Europeans made it to 5 before holes and rust stains were everywhere. How do today’s vehicles hold up?

        • 0 avatar

          That’s a good question that I am probably not the best person to answer since I haven’t lived here very long. From what I see, most cars have some issues after a few years. Some brands, Mazda for example, seem to totally disappear from the road in about 8 years. Most economy cars/family haulers seem to have noticeable issues after about a decade and are off the road totally just a few years later. A search of Craigslist for any kind of non-collector car from the 80s or early 90s generally turns up few hits.

          Oddly, Chrysler LHS cars, Buicks, Cadillacs, Panthers etc seem to be doing pretty good. I’m not sure if that is because they are generally owned by older drivers who drive less in the winter or what.

          My van had some minor rust issues when we got it and I had it repaired so it looks pretty good, but I recently noticed a couple of places where bubbles are beginning to form under the paint. Up til now, however, I had thought it was generally pretty solid but I guess this really shows what I know. My guess is that, unfortunately, it is close to the end of its usable life.

          • 0 avatar

            Regarding Mazda; We have ran a 93′ Mazda MPV for a crew car at the Bonneville Salt Flats for some 18 years now with no corrosion issues to date. This isn’t the case with a lot of other vehicles we see yearly at the flats.

            The amount of salt build up on a vehicle used on the flats for even a day or two is considerable. After a week you have added 50-60…+ pounds of it to the chassis and exterior body surfaces.

            After a week on the flats We cleanup as much as possible, but you can’t get it all and it always leaves a film of residue. Concentrating on the brake lines and parts, is the most important part of the clean up.

          • 0 avatar

            The Panthers will rust, but it’s usually under trim panels. Those black runners under the mid 90s TC can conceal rust here in Ohio. Also around the wheel wells near the trim. Sometimes it’s hard to spot.

            Never seen a rusty LHS/300C/New Yorker/Concorde.

        • 0 avatar

          It takes about two years in Ithaca.

  • avatar

    Glad to hear you’re getting this addressed. Nothing brings home the importance of correct engineering and material selection, then when it has to do with our children’s safety.
    I had a similar experience when my 7 year old son said “I can’t buckle up Dad”. Sure enough, the ratcheting spool no longer had metal to anchor to, just air.

    My review of my much beloved 1991 Maxima, and Nissan’s refusal to honor the NHTSA recall here (if the link is allowed):

    Kudos to Ford for living up to their obligation to fix per the Federal mandate.

    And Nissan can go pound salt for picking my 1 car (in the middle of a ~740K production run) to refuse to perform a similar warranty obligation.

  • avatar

    I live in the Buffalo area and have found that cars handle our salted roads much better these days as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago. One thing we do is get regular cars washes in the winter to remove the salt from the under body & wheel wells. Our 2005 Mazda MPV has no rust as of yet. Most rusted cars I see around here have probably never had the salt removed in the winter.

  • avatar

    Attention Golden Husky: On your Probe GT check the rear brake lines at the left front corner near the fuel tank. They rust through going up to the ABS pump, and also across the rear crossmember feeding the right rear caliper.
    Not too bad to drop the rear crossmember 3 inches(4 bolts), and lower the fuel tank to replace the lines.
    My Probe GT started leaking on the left side, then popped over the rear crossmember.
    One of these days I’ll tell you of the 6 cyl-to 4cyl 5th gear conversion that takes about 45 minutes and nets about 4-6 mpg, makes the car quieter, and gives much better cruising torque in reserve at highway speeds.

    • 0 avatar

      Terry, thanks for the heads up. Not sure that I have to worry as my car has never seen a single salt bath and has spent all of its 19 years garaged. She rests quietly in the winter in a heated garage only coming out for exercise. The factory marks from assembly are still in place under the car. Does the occasional rain or car wash hurt? And I’d like to hear how to do the conversion. Almost 4000 RPM at 80 is a lot of revolutions.

  • avatar

    Weekly washes and annual Krown (or equivalent treatment) will help. I did not do the latter with my 2003 Jag X-Type, purchased new. Rust started appearing in body crevasses by the winter of 2007, despite frequent cleaning. We moved from Toronto to Cleveland (big mistake, don’t ask) in 08 and commuting in CLE greatly accelerated the process. Cleveland uses less salt than Toronto (and no one has winter tires despite SO much more snow!) but has lots of weather right around the freezing mark, so much slushier and corrosive.

    I sold the Jag last year, by which time rust had penetrated the body around the right passenger door frames and was creeping under the hood and RR wheel well, although still none of it visible from outside the car…BTW, the much maligned X-Type was otherwise a very good and enjoyable car and mine, in zircon blue with pristine dove leather (maintained with Leatherique)and coco mats, got more compliments than any car I’ve ever owned even with over 200k km on it. Underpowered but impeccable handling and just as luxurious as an XJ.

    I’m no longer in the rust belt but if I was I’d ENSURE annual Krown treatments and be more attentive than I was…

  • avatar

    Im not seeing how that could be fixed in a day. Pleasepleaseplease show us pictures of the completed “repair”.

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