Beware of hidden frame rust on used cars

Don't Waste Your Money
Posted at 7:16 PM, Apr 13, 2017

Shopping for a used car this spring? We have a cautionary tale.

Jim Williamson's 2005 Hyundai Sonata appears to be in great condition at first. But what lies beneath is another story.

The subframe, linking the front wheels to the car's unibody, was rusted so badly, his Hyundai dealer told him it could snap if he kept driving it.

 "They checked it out, and they let me know right away that this is a real problem, and suggested I don't even drive it until we get it fixed," Williamson said.

So he went home and Googled the issue, and found hundreds of complaints about similar Hyundai rusting issues, as well as a recall and settlement for his exact issue: subframe rust.

 "They had actually recalled the 1999 to 2004 Hyundai Sonatas for this very same problem," he said.

Recall only for certain years

However, as he soon discovered, the problem with many recalls is that the recall time period is limited  to just a few model years. And if your car is out of that range, typically you are out of luck.

Williamson discovered that back in 2011, Hyundai reached a "Subframe Corrosion Class Action Settlement," offering reimbursement to owners with this issue.

But it covers Sonatas up to only 2004 cars. His is a 2005.

Repairs can be well over $1,000

Auto tech Dave Singer of Academic Automotive says repair costs are "typically $1,500 or more, due to the labor involved."

Hyundais are not the only brand with rust issues: Toyota bought back thousands of pickup trucks in the past decade for dangerous frame rust, that caused truck beds to droop.

Subaru, Ford, BMW, and others have all ordered recalls for rusting of frame parts or brake lines that could cause handling problems, or potentially a crash.

 Singer, who says he is seeing many brands with rusting frames these days, has several suggestions to his customers:

• Have a used car inspected before you buy it, even if you live in a southern or western state. Many older cars from the "rust belt" are shipped and resold in states that don't have much winter weather, surprising owners when they find rust underneath later.

• Wash your car frequently. It is worth it to pay a few dollars more for the underside wash.

•  Have it checked annually by a reputable shop for developing rust issues, and other problems. 10 minute oil changes are fine, but they typically won't alert you to rust potential.

If frame rust is caught early, it can be stopped in its track with rust converting sprays and additional undercoating.

Company agrees to help

We contacted Hyundai, asking if any coverage could be extended to Williamson, since his car is just outside the settlement window by a few months. After reviewing his case, Hyundai told him they will be willing to reimburse him for his final repair cost, as a result of our involvement.

 "It was a little bit disheartening," he said. Now, however, he is thrilled with the company's willingness to help.

Frame rust can target almost any brand of car over time. And remember, living in a non-rust belt state is no guarantee:  That car could have been up north, or parked next to a salty beach.

So inspect it so you don’t waste your money.


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