Is It Safe To Drive a Car With a Rusted Frame

If you are underneath your car and you see a lot of rust on your car frame, you should be worried. The first thing that comes to mind is: Is it safe to drive a car with a rusted frame?

”It is not safe to drive a car that has a rusted frame because rust is a special form of corrosion that slowly eats the car frame turning the strong metal into flaky powder, eventually damaging it to a level where it’s structural integrity is compromised.”


Is It Safe To Drive a Car With a Rusted Frame

Is It Safe To Drive a Car With a Rusted Frame

”If your car frame has excessive rust on it to a point where holes start to appear on the frame, or some parts of the frame are missing, this means that the rusting has affected the structural integrity of the frame and it is no longer safe to drive your vehicle.”

Rusting is a special form of corrosion that occurs when the metal object comes into contact with air and water. Your car frame happens to be made from metal, mostly iron and steel, and happens to be in contact with air and water. So, your car frame qualifies as an object that can get rusty. It’s up to you to perform an inspection and see is it safe to drive a car with a rusted frame.

Not all cars rust the same way. This depends on where you live, what type of car you have, where you drive your carOpens in a new tab.

People that live in places where it snows a lot will have more rust on their vehicles. This is because we still use salt on snowy roads. The salt itself cannot initiate the rusting process, but it can speed it up if there is any to begin with.

If you drive your car off-road and then you come home and you don’t wash it, this could be bad for the car because all kinds of debris could be stuck into the frame and keep moisture for a long period of time.

How To Inspect Your Frame For Rust

All vehicles have rust on their frame. Some have little, some have many. It all depends on where you live and where you drive your vehicle. As much as salt helps the snow to melt faster on the roads, it is the number one cause of frame rust.

Performing a rust inspection on the vehicle frame that can be used both on your own vehicle or if you are buying a used car. This inspection can be performed on full-frame vehicles and unibody vehicles even though they have enclosed structural components and subframes.

Some vehicle models are at more of a risk to failing frames and compared. Unfortunately, frame rust is an even bigger problem with enclosed structures. This is because debris from a road can get trapped inside and keep moisture which will create rust overtime. Here is how to inspect your frame for rust:

1. Perform a visual inspection

First, you would want to do a visual inspection of the exposed components. Going from the outside, we can do a visual inspection of the car frame. Your vehicle frame would be dirty and the frame could have surface rust which is not that bad. We are looking for that major rust that affects the structural integrity of the frame. If any, try and remove the surface rust so you can inspect what’s underneath. I usually do this with a towel and oil.

2. Check The Fender Wells

Fender wells are part of a vehicle body which are exposed to more road debris which is basically sandblasting the paint from the frame. This is especially an issue on vehicles that have been driven on a gravel road.

3. Inspect The Rear Leaf Spring Brackets

The most common rusted areas are the areas that allow dirt to become trapped such as flat brackets or ones which created pocket like rear leaf spring brackets. This was a common problem on the Ford Rangers and Mazda B series trucks. On some vehicles, these brackets are replaceable and on some are welded to the frame.

4. Inspect The Inside Face Of The Frame

Moving on to the inside face of the frame. This is where you’ll have to climb underneath the vehicle. Inspect the frame for any rust. A common area can be next to the exhaust where the heat can melt any snow with a salt mixture, therefore accelerating the rust.

5. Open The Hood

Open the hood and check the front of the frame. Depending on the vehicle, you may be able to get a good view from that point of view. I would recommend having a good high powered flashlight in order to get a good view.

6. Use a Hammer On Areas Which Are Rusted

If you are buying a vehicle, make sure to ask the owner if he is okay before starting. You can use a chipping hammer, ball-peen hammer, or a regular hammer to hit any rusted areas and find soft spots. Again, you want to make sure that you are only hammering the rusted areas. You should hear a consistent sound. If you hear different sounds while hitting different rusted areas, a hollow-like sound could indicate that the rust is not only affecting the surface but also the structural integrity of the frame.

7. Inspect The Inside of The Frame With a Borescope

I would recommend using a borescope to inspect the inside of the frame. The frame could be looking good on the outside, meaning the previous owner could have painted it, but once you look on the inside, it could be all rusted. Frame replacement could cost you thousands of dollars. I am not sure that you will find a welder to weld up your frame because it can affect the structural integrity of the frame. Also, welded frames perform really bad in car accidentsOpens in a new tab.

How To Clean Rust on Vehicle Frame

How To Clean Rust on Vehicle Frame

Unfortunately, vehicle frames tend to rust over time. From time to time, you should check your frame for rust because it is more than just an aesthetic look. You can clean rust on your frame only if it’s surface rust. If the rust is so bad that parts of your frame are missing, you should take your vehicle to the repair shop and fix it there.

Here is how to clean up a rusty frame on a budget.

1. Wash your vehicle

First, go ahead and wash your vehicle. You need the frame to be free of debris and dirt so you can really see which parts are rusted. It’s best if you wash your car at home and let it dry. You can also spray some degreaser to help you remove any oil that could be on the frame.

2. Identify the rusty areas

Get underneath the vehicle and inspect the frame for rust. Check every part of the frame with a flashlight and try not to miss any part. Once you find the rusty parts, mark them with tape so it’s easy for you to find them later on. Again, you can only clean the surface rust. If your frame is so rusty that parts are falling off, you should take your vehicle to the mechanic shop. Hit the rusty areas with a ball-peen hammer to see the condition of the rust.

3. Remove any parts that are in the way

If some of the parts are in your way of getting to the rust, remove them. If the rust is near some electronics or around the engine, mask out the area with tape and paper to prevent any overspray. Also, make sure that the engine is cold.

4. Grind off the rust

You can either do this manually or with a heavy-duty air-powered surface sander(check price on Personally, this is too much work to do with sandpaper so I use power tools. Start with 80 – 120 grit and then do the second hand with 220 grit. If needed, use 320 as a finishing touch. You should stop once the bare metal is exposed.

5. Wipe the working area

Give the working area a good wipe down with a wax and grease removerOpens in a new tab.

6. Spray with rust converter

Spray the rust converter(check price on directly on the rusted parts so it will remove any rust left and your new finish will have a longer life. When using a product such as this, always read the instructions so you know exactly what the product requires. Some rust converters are a liquid that can be applied and washed off.

7. Paint the frame

After a couple of hours of drying the rust converter, the frame can be finished up with paint. For paint, I always use farm equipment implement paint( link). If you have a leftover, you can use this paint on utility trailers, fuel tanks, mower decks, and other yard equipment. Make sure the paint is dry before applying another hand. I usually leave the car couple of days so the paint can really dry before driving it.

8. Re-install any parts that you removed

If you removed any parts during this process, reinstall them and you are good to go.

Igor Iwanowski

I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018. I specialize in Brake systems, dashboard warning lights, EGRs, general engine problems, EVAP and Emissions issues.

Recent Posts