QOTD: Lost to the Red(dish) Menace?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd lost to the red dish menace

No, we’re not talking about your college dalliance with the counterculture scene. But we could very well be talking about an event from your college years.

Higher education usually involves empty pockets, bloodshot eyes, and dry gas tanks — usually slung beneath a vehicle held together with Bondo and bought for a song. A vehicle that gets lighter as time goes on, even as your expanding midriff packs on the pounds.

Maybe college has nothing to do with the memory. Maybe, at one point in your life, you simply fought a losing battle with the scourge of autodom — corrosion — and lost.

Mechanical failure that isn’t worth the cost of repair usually dooms these types of rides to the scrap heap, but a good many vehicles keep running, even as their earthly body de-materializes before the driver’s eyes. It’s a sad thing. Increasingly rare, too, as car bodies tend to hold up better than in years past.

On a couple of occasions, yours truly lost out on what could have been a great automotive romance due to the presence of rust; enough of the stuff to kill the sale. No Volvo or Jeep for me.

Premature rust can also nip an existing romance in the bud (the Chevy Vega, Plymouth Volare, and Mazda 3s and Toyota Tacomas from the 2000s spring to mind), but corrosion alone rarely ends a vehicle’s life. It did in a friend’s case. The circa ’04 Nissan Altima had simply seen too many salt belt winters; the hole that appeared beneath the front seats even before he took ownership continued to spread thereafter. The carpet touched the ground. Eventually, despite the sedan’s still-beating heart, the rust spread from sill to sill, eating up the sides, weakening the floor to the point that the rocker trim began pulling apart, ominously, at the base of the B-pillar, indicating an alarming weakness amidships.

Eventually, it all became too much. Putting a dime into a car with that much corrosion would be foolish. Driving it was similarly unadvisable. When it became financially feasible, the old Altima was swapped for a slightly newer one — this one almost free of the reddish menace.

Have you (or someone you know) ever fought a losing battle against rust? How bad did it get before you threw in the towel?

[Image: Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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3 of 58 comments
  • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Apr 11, 2019

    I remember GM advertising bragging about all the rustproofing on the 1980 X-bodies. Riiiight. Living in Hawaii, the rusty old cars there were amusing. One old Malibu trunk lid literally had a rusted out and missing area. One could look through and see trunk contents. On a remote part of Oahu there was an early seventies car parked on a dirt road above the ocean. I still have Kodachrome slides of it somewhere. Literally a car's footprint defined by rusty rubble. The early seventies rhinoceros bumpers were aluminum (I'd guess) entirely intact, as were the plastic bits like washer fluid tank, and the engine block, which obviously takes much longer to corrode away, were the only things not rotted. A colleague at work told me her father used to get rid of his old cars by pushing them off of that dirt road into the ocean!

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 12, 2019

      ttacgreg, Apparently there was an issue in the 70's or 80's with several manufacturers who got 'sour steel' or something - so it tended to corrode no matter what you did. I've never gotten specific dates or heard the story from a technical person. Best vehicle disposal story I've ever heard: Guy's family has some acreage and a backhoe - the son watches his father get in the family's old station wagon and turn the starter - nothing. The dad silently gets out of the car, fires up the backhoe, digs a large hole, pushes the car into the hole and then buries it completely. Goodbye Family Truckster!

  • Geozinger Geozinger on Apr 12, 2019

    Fnck. I've lost lots of cars to the tinworm. I had a 97 Cavalier that I ran up to 265000 miles. The drivetrain was solid, but just looking at the body gave you tetanus. I took it off the road because I was afraid that if it got hit, it would just disintegrate into dust. In Northeast Ohio, everything rusts. The difference is how soon. GM cars used to take the longest to rust, everything else was quicker. AMCs, European and Japanese cars were usually a two year to dust, Fords and Mopars about three to see perforation, GM cars (depends on which ones) about four years to perforation. Ziebart or any of those other treatments hardly helped. - In the 80's the domestic car companies saw the light and started putting better rustproofing methods in their cars. Nothing is totally impermeable, but it did help a lot. Now cars last usually about five years before you see trouble... Which is about how long your payments last...

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.