Classic cars can offer a raw, nostalgic driving experience that is absent from most modern cars. If you're a car enthusiast, that raw driving experience is probably far more desirable to you than the luxury and efficiency perks offered by contemporary vehicles.
The problem is that classic cars were manufactured decades ago, and they've been exposed to the elements for their entire lives. The salt, snow, and freezing temperatures that come along with winter weather can be especially harsh on older vehicles, causing them to rot from the inside out due to rust. If you're in the market for a classic car in a state that experiences harsh winters, it's important to thoroughly examine the entire vehicle for rust before you commit to making your purchase.
Look Over the Body
The first thing you need to do is walk around the outside of the car and look for rusted body panels. If any portions of the body are missing paint, you'll likely find surface rust. Surface rust is relatively easy to repair: a reputable auto repair shop, such as Rocky Mountain Collision of Sandy, should be able to sand away the rust, smooth out the surface, then repaint the affected area with a properly color-matched paint.
In some cases, you may find rust lurking beneath the surface of the paint. Subsurface rust will cause the paint to bubble out in a rough texture. The problem with subsurface rust is that it's hard to determine how deep it goes. In some cases, it may be as easy to fix as surface rust. In other cases, the rust may have eaten substantially into the body's metal. That means you'll have to hire an auto body shop to cut away the affected metal and weld in new panels before sanding and repainting the surface.
Nooks and Crannies
Once you've finished checking out the body, it's time to dig a bit deeper. First, you should check out the trunk — it's not uncommon for water to leak into the trunks of old cars, causing them to slowly rot from the inside. Open the trunk and remove any plastic panels or carpet that is fixed to the interior. If the metal beneath the interior pieces is rusted, you'll likely have to hire an auto body shop to saw out the trunk panels and replace them with fresh metal.
Once you're finished with the trunk, pop the hood and check out the engine bay. Shine a flash light into all the nooks and crannies between the engine and chassis and look for signs of rust. Pay especially close attention to the motor mounts which connect the engine to the chassis. If the motor mount areas are rusted, it can compromise the structural integrity of the car, so they'll have to be repaired immediately. Likewise, if the strut towers are rusted out, the car's handling can be compromised and it may be unsafe to drive until the affected portions are repaired.
Nuts and Bolts
While you're in the engine bay, you should also take a look at all of the exposed nuts and bolts. Rusted nuts and bolts aren't as big of a deal as rusted body and chassis components. However, in severe cases, the threads may be completely rusted through, making the nuts and bolts impossible to remove. In that case, you'll need to have an experienced mechanic use a tap set to drill out the rusted bolts and replace them with new units. If you try to remove them with a traditional wrench, the heads of the bolts may snap off, leaving the rusted thread body stuck inside the engine component.
Check the Exhaust
The exhaust system is another common culprit for rust on classic cars. The exhaust piping is secured to the underside of the car, so it's constantly exposed to road salt and other debris.
Climb under the car and thoroughly examine the exhaust piping for signs of rust. Small amounts of surface rust can be sanded away and the exhaust system can be salvaged. However, if there are any rust holes in the piping, the exhaust system needs to be replaced immediately. Otherwise, exhaust leaks can allow deadly carbon monoxide to leak into the interior of the car, putting you and your passengers at risk.
Check the Frame
While you're underneath the car checking the exhaust system, shine a flashlight up into the nooks and crannies between the car's frame and body. Make sure no portions of the frame are rusted. If you find any frame rust, you should have the car examined by a reputable auto body shop before you make a purchase. Frame rust can ruin the structural integrity of the car, making it unsafe to drive.
Since the frame is woven deep into the body of the car, it's almost impossible to tell how severe the rust is with a quick examination. An experienced auto body shop will be able to remove any necessary components to thoroughly examine and repair the frame to ensure the car is safe to drive for years to come.