Like all children growing up I had a fairly wide selection of toy cars. As a toddler the best way of exploring these cars always seemed to be to put them in my mouth and after my mother realised that dental hygiene wasnt my greatest fear a new threat came about, RUST!
As such I grew up with a vague understanding and a deep rooted fear of rust convinced it was going consume my toy cars. Oddly despite this my first car was a Mini and Ive stuck with them for over ten years now.
Given the time of year and the unseasonably cold weather we have been experiencing in the UK lately I decided it was time to revisit rust and as such Im starting from the very basics of school chemistry. Hopefully understanding the causes will help make this make more sense when looking to protect your classic.
Rust is a generic term given to the process of iron oxidation. As you will probably be aware iron is the main component in mild steel, which most classic cars body shells are made from.
In dry form oxygen will barely have any affect on iron however if you add a catalyst such as water or carbon dioxide things really start to happen. CO2 is the reason your exhaust will be one of the first things to start to rust first and a major reason why people often upgrade to stainless steel.
The next factor that will cause a rapid increase in the speed at which your car will rust is salt. Salt when mixed with water rapidly increase the speed at which oxidation takes place which is why it is imperative that if you drive in the winter you clean your car regularly. Always clean under the wheel arches, the floor pan and sills. It may not help your car aesthetically but it will save you a costly repair bill down the line.
After cleaning, the next most important factor to consider when trying to prevent rust is paintwork. This barrier is your main protection from the onset of rust. If you have any work completed on your car that involves drilling into bodywork ensure that any bare metal is painted over afterwards. If concours isnt your thing you should consider under-sealing your car with Dinitrol or a similar product as this will prevent the exposure of your frequently stone chipped underside.
Another consideration in cold weather is the process which enables gaps to form in your paint in the first place. Revisiting basic chemistry in cold weather metal contracts and as such the panels on your car move further apart. This creates a gap for water to get in which then freezes making the gap even bigger. This is why with classic car ownership it is especially important to keep your car covered in the winter. Not everyone has access to a garage but you may want to consider a car cover if you dont as it will almost certainly save you money long term.
Something people often forget about is the rubber seals on their cars. Every two years I replace every seal on my Mini as over time rubber becomes brittle and will contract allowing water to get through. You should be able to get hold of seals for most post 50s classics as aftermarket seals tend to be readily available and they are usually fairly low in cost.
If you have a bigger budget and are looking at a large rebuild you may want to consider taking a visit to Surface Processing Limited in the West Midlands. SPL offer an electrophoretic process to primer a bare shell which is the same system used on most modern cars. This is after the shell has been chemically cleaned to remove all trace elements of rust.
Im not completely sure of how the electrophoretic process works but from what I can gather an electric current is passed through the primer creating an electrostatic field. This prevents the electrons that would normally move from the iron molecule to the oxygen molecule from doing so.
The long and short is that it will give your car the same protection a modern car gets and if you have a restoration planned anyway will in all likelihood save you money in the long term.
If you have no restoration plans and your car is already in good condition you may consider having your car Waxoyled. This involves having clear hot wax injected into all panel gaps and creates an extra layer to protect your car. It is a much more affordable option but can be difficult to self administer. I would highly recommend getting a professional to do this. The only downside with this is it can sometimes make it difficult to get a good finish when polishing your car, although I suspect that was down to incorrect application which comes back to why I would recommend using a professional.
Im sure there are other rust prevention methods to look at but I have hopefully covered the main ones.
Finally this week I was contacted by David Benn who has just published the first in his series of books for Children entitled Moggy Minors Grand Day Out, which unsurprisingly relays the adventures of a Morris Minor.
It would make a great gift for Christmas if you know small people you want to indoctrinate in the classic scene from a young age then this would make a great gift. You can find the book on Amazon and Ebay or contact David directly by e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a good week and our Christmas edition next week will be out a day early on Thursday.
(N.B. If you read the Newsletter version of this article then even more of it was technically incorrect than it is in it's current form. I will no longer be writing about anything remotely scientific.)