Our Kev: Why has rust made a return? It all comes down to money…

Our Kev: Why has rust made a return? It all comes down to money…

SOMETHING has started to make quite a comeback in recent years, and it’s something that us MOT testers don’t like very much. 

The scourge of cars of the 1970s and 1980s – rust – is back with a vengeance, and it has started to attack in stealth mode.

The reason behind this is vanity.

Styling has started to take precedence over sensible design, meaning more and more cars are fitted with sill covers, to the extent that whenever I MOT a car fitted with them, I always advise that ‘sill covers prevented full inspection of the vehicle’s structure’.

Some owners get quite grumpy about this as they believe it blots their vehicle’s copybook, but as a tester I need to ensure I fully cover myself. If, for example, a car turned out to be dangerously corroded on inspection after a serious traffic accident, then by not advising it, I could get into trouble. And the picture you see on alongside this month’s column is all you need to know to see why.

The car in question is a 2002 Jaguar X-Type, and the image is of the back of the offside sill. That round thing you can see through the hole is the rear subframe mounting point, which is clearly significantly weakened.

The owner of this particular car couldn’t believe it when I told him that not only had his car failed the MOT, but that it probably wasn’t an economically viable repair.

The sill on the other side was holed, too, albeit not as badly, while at the front of the car the outer sills and lower bulkhead were also crusty, to the extent that if I’d whacked them a bit harder with the MOT man’s toffee hammer, they may, too, have gone through.

Realistically, the Jaguar needed around £1,000-worth of welding, and that was just what I could find. I’d bet you my last fiver that behind the plastic sill covers, there were more horrors awaiting unexposed.

‘But modern cars don’t rust!’ exclaimed the owner, pointing out – not incorrectly – that the visible bodywork of his car was highly polished and pretty much immaculate.

Indeed, in every area apart from the chassis, the Jaguar was in terrific condition for its year. A clean and unworn interior, unmarked alloys and a great service history indicated it was a car that had been well cared for, so it was hardly surprising the owner was crestfallen when I broke the news. That’s why I took the photos. Once I’d shown him the pictures, he accepted its fate.

In fairness, a few years back, a 15-year-old car would have been well past its use-by date anyway. Back in the ‘halcyon days’ of simple-to-maintain classics, you were lucky to see a decade before they succumbed to terminal corrosion. And there were some cars that were worse than others. Minis, Metros, Fiats and any Japanese models from the Seventies or Eighties spring instantly to mind, along with the very first Mk 4 Ford Escorts, which were held together with all the integrity of a Christmas cracker.

Back then, we were happy to accept it. But in the current era of much improved paint quality, galvanised panels and cars that are much more likely to end up in the knackers’ yard as a result of mechanical failure rather than corrosion, it’s a shock to the system.

Not least because, in the 1990s, cars were so well protected from corrosion (with notable exceptions such as the Ford Ka, Mercedes C-Class and Nissan Micra K11) that we started to believe rust was a thing of the past.

Indeed, look at any 1990s Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat or Volvo that you see on the road today, and while the interior may look as if it has been attacked by a pitbull, the bodywork will inevitably be rot-free.

So why the change? Why is it that cars of the 2000s are rotting out, when their forebears were so resilient?

Simple. It comes down to money. In the Nineties, car makers were so determined to up their game in the quality department, ostensibly to take on the Germans (who, time has told us, weren’t as good at rust prevention as their reputation suggested) that they made their cars too good, and people stopped replacing them. And that makes no business sense whatsoever.

The X-Type is a great case in point. If the team that engineered the car had rounded off the sill covers, or fitted a simple rubber or plastic seal to prevent water ingress between the plastic ‘sill’ and the metal one, then the dirt and moisture trap that ultimately leads to the cars being eaten alive wouldn’t even be there.

But to do that would mean that 
15-year old X-Types such as the seemingly immaculate one I refused an MOT to would go on forever, such is the quality of the engineering elsewhere. And then people wouldn’t buy new cars any more.

A cautionary tale, then. If you’re in the market for an older used car, appearances can be deceptive. Make sure you stick your head (and your fingers) into the grubby bits, as it could save you a lot of money in the long run…

Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we’d have to kill you… What we can say is he’s been around for longer than he cares to remember and has a fund of stories to tell...

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