The Detroit Post
Tuesday, 19 October, 2021

How Rusty Is Too Rusty To Restore

Christina Perez
• Wednesday, 28 October, 2020
• 7 min read

UK based Mat Ridge gives some wise advice on restoration pitfalls to avoid. In truth there is very little that is not respirable as the team’s recent work on a Morris Minor for Discovery Channel’s Wheeler Dealers (one of the most popular car shows on TV) proved.

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Here are 10 classic car restoration tips to help your project avoid being a rust bucket. Areas of rust must be cut out and removed before repair panels can be made and installed.

The cost and availability of parts is another issue that can lead to the bottom falling out of your restoration project. The reason for the relative popularity amongst restorers of American cars of models like the Buick Riviera (1963-65) or the Chevrolet Bel Air (1953-54) over, say, the Pierce-Arrow, Forties-era De Soto or V-16 Cadillac is that the former are supported by a huge parts supply, making them a lot easier and cheaper to restore.

Before deciding on a car restoration project make sure you have taken into account the sum of its parts. It is always safer to pay the extra and buy an assembled, complete, running car.

Invariably there will be something missing with a basket case and it is impossible to always tell exactly what when you make your purchase. Many basket case projects are placed up for sale again in a rather similar state to how they were purchased.

A project that we worked on was a 1964 Austin-Healey 3000 MK111 which on the surface looked to be in fairly good condition. The panels had been filled with body filler to push dents out rather than the metal being worked.

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We have also come across projects where the filler is mixed with metal shavings, presumably to escape a suspicious buyer’s magnet test. Tap a few panels with your knuckles and listen out for dull or dead sounds which can indicate excessive build-up of plastic fillers.

If you have any suspicions ask for a photo of the car sanded down to be bare metal and walk away if one is not available. Perhaps the majority of rust bucket projects could have been avoided with a little of research and a little more knowledge.

Never underestimate the value of such knowledge before embarking on a project rather than seeing it as something you may need to call on when your restoration work has begun. The cost is prohibitive to start with: there are very few restored on the market (though restored examples abound).

Once you’ve started in one direction, it can be very costly to change goals and may lead to you having to abandon your project. Horror stories may abound but with a bit of care, thought, planning and perseverance (and more than a little blood, sweat and tears) there is no reason you should not get pleasure and pride from your car restoration.

Although the term often describes any kind of decorative ironwork, true wrought iron is shaped with heat and a hammer. Then many swings of the hammer, or repeated pounding in a hydraulic forging press, gradually coax the metal into the desired shape.

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Mark Bailey, who runs Metal Specialties (301-421-1832; metal, a custom fabrication shop in Spencerville, Md., looked at the picture you sent and emailed back to say he thinks your piece is not wrought iron. The cutter also blows the molten material to the side, creating separate pieces.

(Iron shaped by either method can of course rust if left out in the weather without a protective finish.) In the picture you sent, the flat areas appear to have gray paint, which reinforces Bailey’s opinion about how your piece was made.

But if your piece was made by plasma arc cutting, it could affect the answer to your question about the best approach to refinishing the sculpture. It’s so popular that if a sculpture like yours were to show up at the Brass Knob, the shop would put it out for sale as is.

Preserving the existing finish, rust and all, would also preserve the remaining gray paint, which could be evidence that the artist in Haiti was improvising by using metal that had a former life as a gray part for some steel object, perhaps a car door. If you decide to maintain the look, Palmate suggested spraying the metal with flat lacquer to help keep the rust from getting worse.

A shop that specializes in powder coating would sandblast the metal to remove the rust and any existing paint, spray on a dry paint powder that clings to the metal through an electrical charge, then put the sculpture in an oven so the finish bakes on. Wearing goggles and gloves, spray a liberal amount of the rust-remover onto the damp metal.

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In fact, if a vehicle’s structure gets rusty enough, there could be a catastrophic failure even in routine daily driving. First, moisture and carbon dioxide in the air mix to create a weak acid that starts to dissolve the iron.

Think about how easy it is to crumble a flake of rust between your fingers, and then imagine that stuff trying to protect you and your loved ones during a car crash. Additionally, automakers are moving away from rust-prone iron-based metals to more rust-resistant surfaces such as aluminum and carbon fiber.

A stray piece of gravel or a minor fender bender is all it takes to chip a car’s paint, and any iron in the body panels will start to rust as soon as air and water reach the metal beneath it. That means rust spots can be fairly common on used vehicles, particularly if they’ve been driven in a northern U.S. state that uses chemicals and salt to device winter roads.

But if the rusting process goes on too long, it can eat right through the metal, causing holes and allowing body panels to fall to pieces. This is where problems go from cosmetic to dangerous, because modern cars and SUVs rely on these body panels for their structural integrity.

Rust-free body panels boost a vehicle’s structural integrity, but the parts doing the heavy lifting lie under the car’s skin. Unfortunately, this area of a vehicle is often susceptible to rust-causing chemicals and water, which can accumulate there when a car drives down wet or icy roads.

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Rust only needs a tiny crack in a car’s structure (or truck frame) to do its work. Most customers should avoid used vehicles that show strong signs of structural rust.

CARFAX also recommends getting an expert inspection that includes putting the vehicle up on a lift, to give your mechanic a better view of under body components. You can apply touch-up paint to stone chips, small scratches, and other minor nicks and dings, but truly repairing rust can take several steps, a variety of tools and materials, and quite a bit of skill.

Depending on the size and severity of the rust, blending the repaired area with the surrounding paint may require wet sanding or buffing the surface. Dirt can retain and trap moisture, and road salt, bird droppings, and other corrosive materials will eat away at paint if they’re left unattended on metal surfaces for long periods.

Waxing it on a regular basis (twice or more each year) will add a protective surface to the paint and clear coat. Wash and wax more frequently if you live near an ocean or in an area where highway crews spread salt on the roads to melt snow and ice during the winter.

Also, frequently check the fender liners and other areas under the hood, along the sides of the engine bay, for any standing water. Check the trunk or cargo area to make sure water isn’t seeping past the seals.

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Stone chips and other nicks and dings that are left unrepaired can develop into rust spots over time, so it pays to buy some matching touch-paint to cover those imperfections. Here is a simple and cheap way to restore a tool that has become hopelessly rusted from exposure to the elements.

You should see a lot of rust flakes and debris in the solution. Wiggle, brush and resubmerge a few more times. If that doesn't work, maybe leave it another 24 hours.

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