Tech Stuff

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Rust Never Sleeps

For those of us who reside in a “snowbelt” area of the country, city and county road crews have different approaches in their attempt to keep road surfaces clear and free of the slippery stuff (ice and snow). In some areas, such as West Virginia, they tend to use ash to increase the coefficient of friction between the tires and the road. The ash deposits help, and don’t damage our rides. In other areas, such as Ohio as an example, they now use a sticky “brine” solution that they commonly refer to as “salt.”

This stuff, a salt-based concoction, the formulation of which is sometimes a mystery, can be just plain nasty. It sticks to the vehicle like a fly sticks to flypaper. Once this junk is “glued” to the vehicle, it quickly begins to eat away at the belly, brake and fuel lines, frames, subframes and silently creeps into every crevice with evil intent, viciously gnawing away at exposed metal like a starving wolverine devours a dead squirrel.

Granted, car makers have made huge strides in metal prep and rust prevention for bodies, but the undercarriages in certain parts of the country are taking a big hit.

This caustic witches’ brew wreaks havoc on both vehicle owners and technicians. The customer is forced to pay for repairs that seem far too premature given vehicle age, and technicians are forced to fight with stubborn and seized bolts, nuts and clips. Even though the issue can increase shop income due to an increased demand for repairs, it’s no picnic for the over-worked technician, who in turn likely empathizes with the customers who must dig deeper into their wallets.

Keep in mind that after working on rusted areas, your tools may be contaminated with debris and corrosive slime. This is especially of concern with ratchets, torque wrenches, an electric or pneumatic power tools. Be sure to clean your tools afterwards, particularly if the belly of the vehicle was wet with road brine. Clean and oil ratchet heads and run lubricating oil through your pneumatic tools, and give all tools a proper wipe-down before storing to avoid introducing potentially corrosive dampness in your tool boxes.

When dealing with rusty, crusty and wet undercar areas, it’s not a bad idea to wear a face mask to avoid breathing in contaminants that drip or break loose from the belly. And always wear eye protection, whether the vehicle is showroom new or a candidate for the scrap yard. The issue of undercar rust, particularly in snowbelt regions, seems to becoming increasingly of concern to both consumers and technicians. Before a vehicle leaves your hoist, consider applying a bit of penetrating oil to fasteners to make your job easier when the vehicle returns for future service.

Working with rust simply ain’t no fun.

Naturally, when fighting stubborn fasteners that are badly rusted, we often resort to a variety of solutions including the use of penetrating oils, inducing vibrations and shocks to the fasteners, as well as concentrated heat to aid in removal.

If any of our readers have preferred techniques to deal with this issue, we’d love to hear about it. Is the rust issue a major headache in your shop? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you, or should you, charge more when a substantial amount of extra time is required to deal with rusted fasteners? We’d love to hear your solutions. Send them to mike.mavrigian@bobit.com.   ■

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