After the purchase of any new car, an opportunity to rust-proof arises. Should you do it, or is it just a waste of money?
First, it’s important to know what rust is. Rust is an example of corrosion. When iron (which is in steel) and oxygen mix with air or water, rust occurs. Eventually, rust can take over any iron mass and cause it to disintegrate. Corrosion can also occur when dirt or moisture accumulate on a car’s underbody.
Rust is a serious problem and spreads like a rash. It can shorten the lifespan and value of any vehicle.
Since rust is a possibility in just about every car, automakers these days are galvanizing steel used in cars in order to lower the risk of rusting.
GALVANIZED STEEL PROTECTED FROM RUSTING
Galvanized steel has a coating of zinc to protect it from rusting. Oxygen and zinc don’t react like iron and oxygen do, so galvanized steel doesn’t rust. This process is also pretty low-cost; so many automakers are doing it.
“Rust is far less of a concern now,” says Mike Quincy, Automotive Analyst at Consumer Reports. “The types of metals and treatments have changed over the past 20 years and cars are well protected from rust right from the factory.” Consumer Reports’ reliability data tracks a 10 year history of a vehicle, reporting on issues consumers have with their new cars after 12 months of ownership. Quincy says they actually removed questions about rust from the survey several years ago because the results were showing it wasn’t a factor any more.
But that doesn’t mean new cars are invincible. If a car has been in an accident, and unprotected steel was exposed, there’s still a chance of rust occurring.
So if that zinc coating gets chipped, the metal underneath is at risk of rusting. Same thing on a car’s paint finish, if a rock-chip cuts deep enough into a car’s paint job, it can still rust. This rust occurs on the outside of the car, and while it’s ugly, it’s not a catastrophic problem. Fortunately, car frames are also galvanized and well protected from chipping as well.
For extra peace of mind, Quincy explains that there are some tips that every driver should consider keeping their car as rust free as possible. Wash a car regularly, especially in the winter after you’ve been driving on salted roads. Driving over this salt could spray it deep into your car’s underbody. The easy thing to do is to wash underneath your car with a pressure washer or automated car wash.
WHAT ARE AUTOMAKERS DOING ABOUT RUST?
Some automakers are looking into more advanced methods of rust proofing their vehicles.
“We’re clearly at the leading edge of rust treatment,” says Derek Joyce from Hyundai communications.
Hyundai uses a roto-dip process, which dips the chassis of the car into the galvanization treatment and rotates it to ensure full coverage of the zinc coating, and ensuring no part of the vehicle goes uncoated. “There’s no way any part of the surface isn’t covered,” ensures Joyce.
Along with galvanized steel, more exotic materials are being used in cars for weight or cost savings. Plastic, aluminum, fiberglass and carbon fiber car parts are all less likely to rust than steel, although they aren’t used in mainstream vehicles.
“Aluminum isn’t prone to rust since it’s an oxidation of iron,” says Brad Stertz from Audi. The Audi A8 was the first car on the market with an aluminium chassis, and other automakers, like Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar are also adopting this strategy. While aluminium construction is mainly for saving weight, the added benefit of long-term reliability is also a great selling point. The same can be said about Carbon Fiber.
DEFENDS AGAINST MORE THAN JUST RUST
“The chemicals used on our roads are far more corrosive than those used in the past,” says Freeman Young, president of Krown Rust Control. “Add to this the high humidity and the huge variations in temperature and you have a recipe for rust,” he says.
Young points out that rust proofing also protects other important parts of a vehicle.
“Although protecting body panels and vehicle frames against rust is important, the best rust inhibiting products also protect electrical areas such as battery terminals, wiring harnesses, switches and plugs from moisture,” he says. “Keeping these areas protected with the right type of product will greatly reduce repair costs and vehicle breakdowns. Lubrication of moving mechanical parts like brake cables, suspension components, and door hinges is another benefit of a good rust inhibitor/lubricant.”
Overall rust is far less present now than it was 20 years ago, leading outlets like Consumer Reports to downplay the need for rust proofing.
So should you buy a rustproofing package when buying a new car? “We don’t recommend rust proofing,” says Quincy. “It’s very likely a waste of money and almost all of the cost goes right into the pockets of the dealer.” Even third party rust-proofing is considered a bust, “after-market rust proofing is a waste of money regardless of who’s applying it,” says Quincy. “Factory rust proofing is all you need.”