Rust becoming more prominent complaint from car owners; problem thought solved in 1980s

While today's cars are safer, more hi-tech tech and less breakdown-prone than before, some of them are developing a problem that we thought was banished in the 1980s.

It's rust, and more and more cars built since 2000 are developing rust issues.

Pedal Goes to the Floor

Mike Thomann was driving his GMC Sierra pickup truck home recently when something felt wrong.

"I hit my brakes," Thomann said, "and all of a sudden it felt really mushy. And the next time I hit my brakes they went all the way to the floor."

He says he limped his car into his driveway, at which point "I got out and brake line fluid was all over my driveway."

When he looked under the driver's door, he says he couldn't believe the condition of his brake lines.

"They were completely rusted through, and the fluid was pouring out of it."

Investigation Underway

As I first reported back in 2010, the government's NHTSA is investigating brake line rust in GM full size pickup trucks and SUV's, including the Sierra, Silverado, Tahoe, Suburban, Escalade, Avalanche and Yukon.

NHTSA is focusing its investigation on 2000 through 2003 models in northern states, as it says most failures involved those models in rust belt states, where liquid salt is sprayed.
However brake line rust has been reported in many other areas of the country, and on trucks as late as 2009.

New: Repair Kit Now Available
There is no recall at this point, and dealers have been fabricating replacement brake lines, at a cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

But GM spokesman Alan Adler now says us a repair kit is finally available through dealers, that lowers replacement cost for customers from almost $2,000 to just $500.

GM also denies it is a major safety issue, saying a truck can still stop with one burst line. A crack and rupture does not cause catastrophic brake failure, the company contends.

But Thomann feels truck owners should not have to foot the bill, and feels the manufacturer should notify every owner of this risk.

"They're not even letting people know, telling them to check it, and make sure the lines aren't going bad," he said.

Not Just GM

But other automakers have rust issues too: in 2010 Ford recalled thousands of Windstar minivans because their rear axle could rust and snap in half, a serious safety concern if it happens on the highway.

In April 2013, Subaru recalled 2005 through 2009 Outback and Legacy cars for similar brake line corrosion.

And mechanics say they are seeing rusting floorboards and sheet metal again in some Chryslers and Nissan's from the 90's and early part of this decade, a problem that automakers had addressed back in the 1980's.

Is it the Steel or Salt?

The NHTSA wants to know if the problem is cheaper, thinner steel used in todays brake lines and other parts, or stronger road salt in northern states.

Trucking organizations and many mechanics are questioning the liquid salt brine now sprayed onto roads from Maine to Minnesota and as far south as Georgia and Texas, saying it sticks to cars more than granular salt.

Even if your car doesn't drive in winter road salt, or ocean salt spray,  you never know where it may have been during its previous life, if you bought it used.

So its a good idea to check and periodically wash the underside, so it stays rust free.

As always, don't waste your money.


Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

"Like" John Matarese on Facebook

Follow John on Twitter (@DWYM)

Print this article Back to Top