How To Thoroughly Inspect A Classic American Muscle Car For Rust Before You Drive It Home

How To Thoroughly Inspect A Classic American Muscle Car For Rust Before You Drive It Home

5 October 2017
 Categories: , Blog

Classic American muscle cars rolled off the assembly line between thirty and sixty years ago. Because of their age, a lot of them have fallen victim to rust over the years. That's especially true if they've been driven in an area that receives snowy winters, because road salt tends to exacerbate the problem of rust.

Repairing and repainting rusty body panels is extremely expensive. More importantly, rusty chassis and suspension components can make a car unsafe to drive. Before you commit to purchasing a pre owned car, you should thoroughly inspect it for rust so that you know exactly what you're getting into.

Inspect the Body Panels

When you go to examine and test drive the vehicle, make sure it's a sunny day so you can closely examine the exterior. When rust forms underneath the paint it will form bubbles. Pay especially close attention to the fenders and rear quarter panels near the wheel arches. Water from the road tends to work its way underneath those areas, making them especially prone to rust.

Rust bubbles aren't necessarily a deal-breaker because they only affect the look of the car rather than its drivability. Nevertheless, the rust will spread over time and eventually eat completely through the body panels. If you decide to purchase a car with exterior rust bubbles, note that you're going to have to sand the affected areas down and repair them with body filler at some point in the future.

Inspect the Underside

Slide underneath the car and use a flashlight to examine the underside chassis components. Most classic American muscle cars were built with a body-on-frame configuration, meaning the wheels and suspension are attached to a flat frame on which the body is bolted. Carefully check exposed frame rails and floorboards for signs of rust, and look in every nook between the frame and body.

A bit of surface rust isn't the end of the world. It can be sanded off, then you can treat the chassis with a rust-proofing spray to prevent rust from coming back. However, if any chassis components are rusted so badly that they have cracks or holes, the car's structural integrity will be compromised, making it dangerous to drive. Those portions of the chassis will have to be sawed off, and you'll have to pay a professional welder to weld in new metal to restore the chassis.

Inspect the Trunk and Engine Bay

Another common area for rust to form is in the trunk. The trunk's rubber seals tend to wear out over time, allowing water to get in and pool on the floor. Open the trunk, remove the spare tire, and pull up the carpeting if possible. If the floor of the trunk is starting to rust, it will eventually have to be cut out and patched with new metal.

Finally, pop the hood and inspect the engine bay. Shine your flashlight down between the engine and chassis, paying especially close attention to the strut towers and engine mount locations. If these areas are rusted they need to be repaired immediately. Otherwise, vibrations from the engine and suspension can cause the metal to crack, leading to unsafe driving characteristics.

Virtually any muscle car can be repaired, no matter how rusty it has gotten over the years. However, repairing rusty components is extremely time-consuming and expensive, so factor that into your budget before you make a purchase. It may actually be cheaper to spend more money on a pristine muscle car up front instead of settling for a cheaper one with rust damage.