In rust we trust

24 Jan 2018

Here’s a fun fact: the title of Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album was suggested by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh who originally coined the phrase as a company slogan for Rust-Oleum when he worked in an advertising agency.

There’s so much to love about that, but while Mr Young intended the title as a comment on artistic complacency, Rust-Oleum’s intent as a warning against the inevitability of oxidisation is probably more pertinent for petrolheads. Either way, you need to whip it…whip it good (okay, enough musical references).

Rust is steel’s natural state. It starts out happily enough as iron oxide then gets crushed, thrown into a furnace and beaten into shape, so it’s little wonder it spends the rest of its life trying to get back to its roots. Or, if you prefer, picture steel as an impressionable teenager: if it meets up with bad elements (water and oxygen) things can start to go downhill.

Treated steel, electrostatic coatings and ionised paint processes go a long way to preventing rust in modern manufacture, but those of us playing with older cars and bikes pretty much have to accept that rust will rear its ugly (red) head sooner or later. And that can hold true even after a decent paint job.

Rust eating its way through from areas that haven’t been painted or fish-oiled is an obvious example of how that ‘show quality’ paint job gets ruined, but rust happens at a molecular level and even before you’ve hit it with 180-grit sandpaper there are tiny pinholes, fissures and scratches that are ready to trap air and moisture…to say nothing of any impurities in the steel. Meticulous surface preparation and perfect paint application in a climate-controlled spray booth might ensure the integrity of the surface coating, but chemistry is probably still doing its thing under all that candy apple metalflake. Some would argue that it’s always just a matter of time before rust reappears.

Which brings me to the point of this piece – how the panel’n’paint job on the HiAce is holding up.

A second-generation model born in 1978, the HiAce was bought with some less-than-desirable rust and cosmetic issues. Rusty sections were cut out and replaced with fresh steel, dents and dings massaged for minimal body filler, the nose and doors given a bit of a shave, and fresh paint applied. You’ll find the backstory here.

Anyway, considering the paint was done en plain air, and the van has been sitting outside in rain, snow, summer sun and temperatures ranging from below zero to 35 degrees C for the past three years, it’s holding up well…with a couple of exceptions.

The overall paint is still good (must give it a polish one day), and the areas where rust was cut out and new sections were stitched in are fine, but there’s some bubbling along the roof near the gutters and a nasty looking eruption where the join on one of the side-window rubbers is gaping a bit.

The window thing was a pre-existing issue. I’m willing to bet that whoever installed the side windows didn’t worry about painting the edges when they cut the steel out, and they weren’t too concerned about closing the gaps in the rubber either. Pulling the glass out, getting rid of the rust and installing a new rubber would have been the best solution, but the ever-popular time, money and degree-of-difficulty considerations mitigated against it. I knew it would probably come back to haunt me…and it did.

The spots along the gutter line were less expected. Visible rust had been cut out (why do vans always rust out where the curve of the roof is so difficult to repair?), dubious sections stripped back to bare metal and treated with KBS RustBlast (good stuff!), and the ‘insides’ treated with fish oil. The ‘new’ rust spots seem to have appeared on sections that either weren’t stripped back or where moisture might have snuck in under the fresh paint…so, once again, a bit more time at the preparation stage might have prevented problems.

Given the van’s workhorse status a bit of a touch-up will keep up appearances for the time being, but it does give you some pause for reflection on why some ‘show’ cars keep turning up with a new colour scheme every couple of years. You can’t eliminate rust, you can only stave it off. Try not to lose too much sleep over it…rust won’t!