Exposing older cars to winter’s unfavorable elements—specifically, the dual-pronged attack of moisture and road salt—is a quick way to end up facing off with metal’s age-old nemesis: rust. Any classic car fan calling the Northeastern or Midwestern half of the country home has felt more than a passing twinge of envy for their compatriots in many southern and western states, who enjoy a drier climate that allows for year-round enjoyment of their rides without living in constant fear of the tin worm.
Corrosion, however, tends to attack vehicles of a certain vintage far more aggressively than their modern counterparts. It’s not just a question of being “old,” either. In certain eras, brand-new cars could shed their metallic skins while still sitting in the showroom.
The answer as to why today’s vehicles are more resistant to such a sudden fate is somewhat complex. Automotive industry’s long, slow march toward more durable materials is the result of advancements in design, engineering, and manufacturing, as well as the corporate buy-in required to implement an actual anti-corrosion plan.
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Good article. My family is in the steel business, galvanizing is pricey and adds weight. In the basic form (hot dip) it also warps thinner metal and even (too automotive hobbyists) thicker metal if spans are longer. Zinc coatings have filled that gap. Many auto companies struggled with getting their finish paint to stick long-term to these early coating attempts though (i.e., 90s GM trucks with not rusting hoods shedding paint).
The pickled salt brine used in many jurisdictions in increasing intensity the past decade plus doesn't help. Ontario, Canada insists on this while other parts of the country get just as much snow (or more) but don't use the salt. We bring cars from those provinces into Ontario and from southern states for a reason.
Their efforts are not working. In the Midwest it's common to see rusted out, especially pickups, that are only 5 years old today. Hopefully Tesla's stainless steel pickup solves this.
My horror story concerned a 1973 Triumph Spitfire which I found in a field with a tree growing through the floorboards. It required not only the floor but trunk liner, numerous brackets, headlight mounts and a number of other hard to find and expensive parts. I learned my lesson with that car. The next one I owned, a 1973 911T was completely rust free and from AZ. Nice car to work on as bolts just unbolted. A joy compared to the Spitfire. Rust is death.
No mention of the deep dip rustproofing used by Nash/AMC for years to combat this very problem. Chrysler did the same when it went to uni-body in 60.
By the early '80s AMC was using two sided galvanized steel and Zeibart rustproofing.
That's not exactly "It took almost a century for the auto industry to move from a total disinterest in the prospect of rust protection to a dedicated effort to make good on the multi-year perforation warranties that became commonplace by the time the ’90s rolled around."
Galvanized steel was around in the '60s. Some makers bragged about two sided galvanization so the suggestion that the industry just looked the other way for 100 years is hyperbole.
All the points are well taken, and, yes, I learned all about bondo as a teenager in the midwest in the '70s. I hated seeing our 66 Mercury Montclair begin to rust within 3 years.
It is also why I loved the concept of the polymer panels on Saturn products. A direct response to the quick rust out of Japanese cars and a selling advantage. That all four fenders could be removed for easy replacement just like Checkers and Studebaker Larks was an added perk only a geek who had done rust "repair" every spring on that beautiful 66 Mercury could appreciate.
Good article. Doesn't go far enough and paints a picture that's true..... to a point.
Chrysler's notorious Aspen and Volare were rushed into production, part of the reason they rusted so quickly. Cut costs, sloppy assembly.
The Vega, same thing: a weapons grade corporate cluster hump. I saw those things rusting the front fenders within two years of intro. More bad design, cost cutting and sloppy build quality.
Of all of them I'd say Ford was the least interested in investing $$$ in rust resistance tech and had a couple of class action suits lobbed at them because of it.
I guess I was sort of hoping for more details about industry attempts at rust proofing. That's probably too wide a scope to expect.
But as is, it makes the US industry look like ignorant boobs while the Europeans and Japanese ride to save the knuckle draggers in the US once again, the hapless fools.
Not the full story by a long shot
After having totally dismantled my 1963 Auto Union to build my 1939 Auto Union Type C/D replica I contemplated the slightly (mainly surface) rusted frame and thought of all the time and effort required to clean off the rust and prepare to paint. I hit on hot dip galvanizing the whole thing. A local boat lift manufacturer had it done for me for $130. I didn't paint over it but I could have and it's still a nice silver/gray after more than 15 years. I'm sure the prices have gone up but it still is an excellent way to go when restoring old frames.
Living in the northeast, I've battled this issue for decades. What most people don't realize is its not only the cosmetic damage, its ALL the other failures and hazards created by the salt. Brake lines, fuel lines, sensors, rotors , all threaded fasteners, clips, and bearings. Working on a salted vehicle doubles the labor and part cost, not to mention the value plummets 2 fold compared to a non-salted one.
I know you're thinking "so what" " we have to salt to prevent accidents" Right? , The answer is NO. My point is this: There is probably nothing worse that salt when it comes to ruining automobiles, roads, and bridges - period.
1. Use less - how many time have you seen them pouring it on when the temps don't require, just was treated, or other reasons the effectiveness is minimal? Stop doing that!
2. Use alternatives. There are many. Ignore the cost excuse - its lame. Your damaging BILLIONS $ in equipment, roads, bridges, etc. The salt lobby spends millions convincing municipalities its the only way.
3. How many accidents, deaths, and collisions are caused by rotted brakes lines, leaking fuel, and other SALT RELATED damage? Answer: A lot more than you think! Is that ok?
4. Put more money into driver competence and teach how to drive in marginal conditions. The benefits will far outweigh the effort. More salt and more overtime is NOT the answer.
5. Automobile manufactures are hesitant to spend money for corrosion protection because its only a problem where they use salt. Why should all the customers pay for something they don't need?
Bottom line is its not just the cars that get ruined, its more cost and more damage for everyone. Seems pretty simple that eliminated the PROBLEM rather than the symptom makes the most sense!