Living

Rust never sleeps

How to battle an ugly automotive foe

Cars – like people – don’t always age gracefully. One of the most dreaded effects of automotive aging is rust, which can turn a functional vehicle into a rolling eyesore. Not only does rust erode the resale value of a vehicle, it can eat away at important components such as engine mounts, gas tanks and brake lines, making a vehicle unsafe.

Unfortunately, rust is a silent and relentless enemy. Freeman Young, president of Krown Rust Control in Concord, Ont., notes that the term “rustproofing” is a bit of a misnomer. “There is no such thing as stopping rust once it’s started,” says Young. “Even the best rustproofing is just going to slow rust, not eliminate it.”

Rust is formed when metal is exposed to oxygen and oxidizes. Since both air and water contain oxygen, the only way to prevent rust is to ensure metal is never exposed to the elements. Automakers do their part to fight rust by using galvanized steel and factory coatings that resist rust, allowing them to offer improved anticorrosion warranties. If you always buy or lease new vehicles and keep them five years or less, a factory warranty should provide all the protection you need. However, if you typically keep a car for seven years or more, you should consider some form of rust-inhibiting treatment within six months of driving off the lot. Money invested in prevention now will pay dividends down the road.

Sorting through the confusing array of rust treatments and competing claims can be a challenge. A good way of narrowing your choice is to ask friends, relatives and co-workers who own older rust-free cars for referrals. Auto clubs may also endorse certain treatments. And your local Better Business Bureau may have files of complaints on less-reputable firms. Contact the Automobile Protection Association (APA) for a list of reputable rustproofing shops.

How the treatment is applied can make the difference between success and failure. According to the APA, 85 per cent of dealership-applied rustproofing leaves one or more high-risk areas of a vehicle unprotected. Specialized service providers tend to have better track records. To be effective, the solution must thoroughly coat metal surfaces inside the car body, including hidden nooks and crannies. It takes skill and effort to reach all the vulnerable areas.

Ask what areas are covered during a rust-inhibiting treatment and what training the staff receives. Expect to pay about $60 to $120 for an annual treatment. So-called “permanent” treatments aren’t; it takes ongoing applications to keep rust at bay.

Don’t assume the warranty covers everything. It’s common for rust-inhibiting warranties to exclude surface rust and to require yearly inspections or reapplications for the warranty to remain valid. Check to see if the warranty is good at more than one location, how long the firm has been in business and if the warranty can be transferred if the vehicle is sold. Contact your manufacturer to make sure a rust treatment won’t void any existing factory warranty.

To fight rust in winter, wash your car frequently, since salt combined with moisture accelerates corrosion. And avoid heated garages, as the temperature change creates condensation that can breed rust. Promptly touch up surface nicks or stone chips. Ensure that no vehicle drain hole (in the car frame) is plugged and trapping moisture.

Maryanna Lewyckyj is consumer advocate for the Toronto Sun. She conducts car care seminars for women through her company, Autophobics Anonymous.