By Allen Penticoff
In this next installment of “Keeping Your Old Car Looking Good,” I’ll preach a bit and provide some how-to information.
In past Mr. Green Car columns, I’ve preached the gospel of washing your car (or truck) often, particularly in the winter to remove salt. While we are a long way from January right now, it is what happened in January that is still eating away at your car — and June is a great month to do body work.
During the winter, I go to the coin-operated pressure wash places and hose off the salt, usually with just the high-pressure “rinse” cycle to get the salt dissolved and off my car. I don’t care much that it is spotlessly clean, since it will be a mess again soon. You brush your teeth every day, even though you are going to eat again. I wash not only the outside body, but also inside wheel wells, under the hood, engine bay and under the car. Following the rinse-off, I wipe the car down with clean towels.
I often see others lovingly wiping down their cars, too, at that time of year, but I rarely see them going the extra step I take in wiping all around the edges of the doors and door frames. I sometimes have the urge to go give them advice — but it would be a never-ending task. The reason I do this is that not only does this easy-to-do detail keep your car looking great, it really removes salt and dirt from areas very prone to corrosion. Do look at the bottom inside before wiping — if it is already rusty, you may cut yourself wiping in this area.
The bottom of car doors usually curve in. Road salt and water splash up through the slot between the door and the frame. The inside of the door is not very smooth, and often rubber seals don’t prevent crud from getting through or actually trap some of it there. The inside edge is usually the folded-over outside metal panel of the door. On top of that, water that runs down the outside of the window finds its way to the bottom inside of the door. There are drain holes, but they clog up with dirt sometimes. This traps salt/water inside the door to corrode, too — in an area not usually well protected or ventilated. The drains drip water down the inside of the bottom edge, too. In short, this area is neglected and leads to loss of paint and the formation of rust.
In the accompanying photo, you see the bottom edge of the outside of this mini-van door. If you see rust or bubbling paint like this on the outside, more than likely there will be rust on the inside — only worse. In time, the rust and corrosion will meet one another, and there will be a large hole. Prevention is far easier than repair.
If you want to keep using a vehicle that looks like this one, then you can stop most of the damage in its tracks right at this point with little work and materials. It may not be a professional-looking job when it’s done, but we’re talking damage control here, not car show. If there are bubbles in the paint — that is a sign of water and corrosion underneath the paint. Break open the bubble with a sharp tool, and scrape away the paint until you get to an uncorroded area. If you have bubbles — open them up right away to let them air out, even if you cannot do the repair for some time.
When you begin the repairs, you will need to sand down the worst of the rust. You need not get down to bare metal. Next, you will need some “rust converter” chemicals. Apply with a small brush, and wait for it to dry. The formerly rusty surface will turn black. Apply another coat. After that has thoroughly dried, you may need to apply some body filler to smooth things out, particularly at the edges of the existing paint. Whether you use filler or not — you can spray paint the area with primer, or skip the primer and scuff it up a bit with very fine sandpaper and start applying a matching finish coat by spraying or with a brush. I often use an artist’s brush for small areas — it makes less of a mess. If you want it to look like new — I’d go to a professional to finish off the outside. The inside areas nobody will see, so do it yourself.
You’ve now put the salty world of winter at bay for a while. If it looks like you have holes started — big or small — the body work can be done by a do-it-yourselfer. There is plenty of help in books and online about how to do this sort of work. Worst case is patching with metal or replacing the whole door, but all are still cheaper than replacing the car. I’ve been told things were beyond repair, then set out to repair them myself because my time at the hourly rate of “free” makes it economical to keep and fix it.
The sooner you take care of things, the easier the solution is. While your car is still in good shape, get in the habit of cleaning those unseen places. You will be rewarded with pride of ownership, long vehicle life and higher resale value.
From the June 13-19, 2012, issue