Remember how cars from the 1970s would start rusting in just afew years?
In the 90's, they finally improved their rust preventiontechniques, so that rusty cars became a thing of the past, untilnow. Unfortunately, it's making a comeback.
Brakes Fail Without Warning
Beth Farr of Cincinnati's Anderson Township neighborhood wasdriving her daughter home from soccer in her 2003 Buick RendezvousSUV, when she tells me the brake pedal suddenly went to the floor.
Beth said "we were going down and hill and I was putting onmy brakes to slow down, and hit them to the floor and they wouldnot stop. I panicked. I was like 'oh no, oh no!' "
Luckily, Beth says, she was able to coast to a stop on theshoulder of the road, without hitting anything.
So what happened? The repair shop her car was towed todiagnosed a rusty brake line, that snapped without warning when sheapplied the brakes.
It turns out Beth's case was not an isolated one.
Mechanics See More and More Rust
ASE certified mechanic Jim Schulten, of Duebber's Auto Servicein Cincinnati's Western Hills, is seeing more and more carswith rusted lines.
He demonstrated by bending a rusty brake line, which snappedlike a toothpick, instead of bending into a "U" the way a normalbrake line would.
Jim said "we're finding rust just eating away the brake lines.Brake lines, even fuel lines in some cases."
And he says replacing a set of brake lines can cost $1,000or more with parts and labor, which may not make economic sense inan older car worth just $2,000 or $3,000.
Government Launches Investigation
The NHTSA, National Highway Transportation SafetyAdministration, in July 2010 launched an investigation into morethan 6 million GM pickups and full size SUV's, after receiving morethan 100 reports of brake lines bursting due to rust.
The NHTSA's investigation centers on 1999- 2003 GM SUV's, which seem to have the mostcases of rusting.
GM has not commented, other than telling Motor Trend andEdmunds.com that it is aware of the investigation and iscooperating.
Not Just GM
But other automakers have rust issues too: Ford this year recalled thousands of Windstar minivans because their rear axlecan rust and snap in half, a serious safety concern if it happenson the highway.
And mechanics say they are seeing rusting floorboards andsheet metal again in some Chryslers and Nissan's from the 90's andearly part of this decade, a problem that automakers had addressedback in the 1980's.
Is it the Steel, or Salt?
The NHTSA wants to know if the problem is cheaper, thinnersteel used in todays brake lines and other parts, or stronger roadsalt in northern states.
Trucking organizations and many mechanics are questioningthe liquid salt brine now sprayed onto roads from Maine toMinnesota and as far south as Georgia and Texas, saying it sticksto cars more than granular salt.
State transportation departments deny it's more corrosive,and say it makes highways safer by preventing icy roads before theyform.
But mechanics suggest washing the your car's underbodyfrequently in winter, if roads where you live are salt covered.
And if you drive a 1999 -2003 GM truck or SUV, like Beth,you may want to have a mechanic inspect the brake lines the nexttime you bring it in for service, because failure can come withoutwarning.
Inspect Used Cars Carefully
Rust checking is especially important when buying a usedcar: You just don't know if it spent its first few yearsnever being washed, in northern Michigan or somewhere else wheresalt may have covered it 6 months at a time. That's a potentialproblem for any car.
So have a pro inspect it, so you get a safe car and so youdon't waste your money.
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