classic car rust

Classic Car Rust: What to Look For Before You Buy

When it comes to older vehicles, classic car rust is a top concern. Knowing what to look for before you buy – as well as how to protect your car from rust once it’s in your care – are imperatives. You want to know exactly what sort of challenges you may be dealing with, and you also want to protect your investment.

By 2024, the global classic car market is expected to grow significantly, to a total value of around $43.5 billion, with vintage cars being especially popular in North America and Europe. A survey by IHS Automotive revealed the typical car on U.S. roads is 11.5-years-old – a record in a country that historically values getting a new ride every few years. The number of vehicles on the road that are at least 25-years-old is somewhere around 14 million, up from 8 million 20 years ago.

To be considered “classic,” a car must be at least 20-years-old. An “antique” car is one that is at least 45-years-old. And a vintage car is one that is manufactured sometime between 1919 and 1930, and is either a “survivor” or has been restored to conform to the original manufacturer specifications.

According to Hagerty, the largest insurer specializing exclusively in older vehicles, more than 90 percent of class car purchases occur on the private market. That creates a “buyer beware” situation when it comes to classic car rust.

What to Look for When Examining a Vehicle for Classic Car Rust

Of course, no vehicle buyer wants to spot even a speck of rust, though it’s rare to find a decades-old vehicle without any signs of rust. The problem is that once rust takes hold, it can end up being a recurring problem.

For those purchasing older cars, identifying where the rust is, how prevalent it is, and how extensive the damage will be important.

Some rust red flags include:

  • Surface rust. This is the sort of rust you’re going to see directly on the surface of the metal. Paint may be worn thin, and moisture from the air has penetrated the surface metal – a chemical interaction that causes rust. If you can catch it in time, surface rust is the least destructive and the easiest to fix. Typically, it can be addressed with a light sanding, some paint primer, and protective paint, restoring the surface back to its original polish.
  • Pitted metal. When you see pitted metal on a classic car, it means that rust has wormed its way into the body panel, creating surface pits. The good news is that it probably hasn’t yet rusted through the metal. This isn’t exactly what you want to see, but it’s still relatively easy to stop. Here again, the solution is to sand the surface or use a wire brush to remove loose bits of rust until you reach a solid metal surface. Phosphoric acid can be applied to arrest the rust.  Once that product dries, the area should be sanded again, followed by application of a surface primer.
  • Rusted-through panels. This is the most concerning outcome. Unfortunately, when panels have rusted through, they may be difficult if not impossible to save – and they’re rarely easily removeable parts. The easiest parts to replace if they’re rusted through are typically the hood, doors, and bolted-on fenders. What you’re going to look for is bubbling in the paint or holes created by rust, particularly in the lower doors, in front of the wheel at the rear fenders, in front fenders, and in lower fenders behind the wheel.

Always before buying any car, make sure to check for structural damage, which can necessitate major reconstruction, which can be incredibly expensive – and perhaps not worth it, even if you get the car at a great price.

How to Protect Against Classic Car Rust

Once you have your classic car, keeping rust at bay is going to be an ongoing concern.

The following are steps you can take to protect your investment and keep your car in top condition:

  • Rinsing and drying it. This is perhaps the most simple step. Make sure you rinse off the grit and grime off your car after use, paying careful attention to the wheels and undercarriage (using a garden hose, rather than a pressure washer, which can remove the protective coating). Also make sure you’ve properly dried it. Perhaps it was drizzling when you took it for a spin or you parked it right after washing – but all that moisture will condensate and work its way into the cracks and crevices, which will kickstart the oxidation process.
  • Waxing it. Wax is a great way to battle classic car rust. It does more than simply give your vehicle a sleek shine. It will protect paint from fading and damage.
  • Dehumidifying it. Keeping a car in your garage isn’t going to shield it from rust. Using a dehumidifier in the garage can help reduce the risk of rust.
  • Covering it. Using a Zerust rust prevention car cover will do wonders to keep your classic car rust-free for years to come. These covers are water resistant, mold proof, corrosion proof, and rust-inhibiting. They do more than simply protect against the typical elements of dust, sunlight, and water. They use a corrosion-inhibitor that protects the surface of the vehicle for a full five years after the purchase date.

It’s also a good idea not to leave your car idle for too long. Classic cars need to move to avoid buildup of rust and corrosion on brakes and other components.

Contact Zerust for information on car covers and information on preventing classic car rust by emailing us or calling (330) 405-1965.

Additional Resources:

The collector car market got larger and younger in 2021, Dec. 30, 2021, By John Wiley, Hagerty Insider

More Blog Entries:

When a Patch of Classic Car Rust Nearly Ruins Retirement Plans, Aug. 25, 2021, Zerust Car Cover Blog