Most people buy used cars instead of brand new ones, saving significantly on nice-looking, low-mileage vehicles. Unfortunately, individuals or dealerships are not always honest and may purposely withhold information on any known issue with the car. If your newly purchased car has a rusted frame, you will want to know whether selling a car with a rusted frame is legal.
It is not illegal to sell a car with a rusted frame as long as you disclose the defect to the buyer. In most states, the seller must by law disclose information on the frame flaw to the buyer at purchase. When a dealer does not disclose known problems with the vehicle, they are committing fraud.
If you are purchasing a car, ask the dealer to explain and document any issues the vehicle might have. This article details safety issues with rusted car frames and possible legal actions against a fraudulent dealer.
Rusted Car Frames
Rusting is corrosion that happens to metal objects when they contact water and air. A car frame is made of metal, usually steel and iron, and it often comes into contact with water and air.
The frame of the car forms the skeleton of the vehicle. Everything else, including the engine, dumpers, and doors, connects to the frame. Rust can create holes in the structure and cause other attachments to fall off. Once the frame starts rusting, it only worsens unless you repair it.
Rust on a car frame depends on the car, where you live, and where you drive that car. Is your vehicle a unibody or a full-frame, and how often does it get a wash?
People living in heavily snowed places have more rusty cars because of the salt used on snow-covered roads. The salt does not cause rust but will accelerate the process if your vehicle already has some rust.
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What to Do if a Dealer Does Not Disclose Car Frame Rust
There is no law to protect you from bad business deals on old cars, but there are laws to protect you from deceptive and unfair practices. If the state lemon law does not cover a rusty frame, other state laws and the federal lemon law may give you an avenue for legal action.
The industry standard is to inspect the vehicle extensively upon its acquisition before selling it. The certified mechanics inform the dealership of any defects during the inspection, including frame damage and previous repainting. If the vehicle shows signs of repainting, the dealership investigates whether the car had been in an accident.
Check the documents and the terms of purchase. You have no recourse for “as is” sales unless you can prove direct misrepresentation, such as a new undercoating. If the frame is rusty with no attempt to conceal it, your claim may not be valid.
Some state laws protect you from such fraud, and some states also have minimum standards for roadworthy vehicles. Get all your paperwork together and consult a consumer protection attorney near you.
Is a Car With a Rusted Frame Safe to Drive?
A car with a rusted frame is not safe to drive. Rust eats away the car frame, turns the metal into a flaky powder, and compromises the structural integrity of your vehicle. Once rust creates holes in the frame and some parts are missing, your vehicle becomes unsafe to drive.
The frame is one of the essential parts of your car; it provides support for your car’s entire body and accessories. Once the frame starts peeling off and develops holes, you need to act immediately. The rust can also depreciate the car’s value if you do not fix it immediately.
Excessive rust weakens the frame, and you should not drive the car regardless of the distance. Although the vehicle might not split into two while moving, a car part might snap or fall off. Additionally, the compromised frame might not provide sufficient protection in a collision or a crash.
Depending on the severity of the rust, an expert auto mechanic can repair your rusted frame. The cost is significantly high because the process is stressful and time-consuming. However, it is better to fix the damage properly to protect your life and passengers.
How to Perform a Rust Inspection on Your Car
All vehicle frames rust, but some have more rust than others. You can perform the inspection on your car or when you want to buy a used one. Rust inspection can be for full-frame or unibody vehicles, even with enclosed subframes and structural components.
Here is how to perform a rust inspection on a car:
- Conduct a visual inspection: Inspect the exposed components visually for signs of severe rust that could affect the car’s reliability. You can use oil or a towel to remove surface rust and dirt so you can check what is underneath.
- Examine the fender wells: The fender wells are usually exposed to road debris that blasts paint off the frame. Damage to fender wells will be significant if you have been driving your car on gravel.
- Check the leaf spring brackets: Areas that trap dirt like flat brackets or pocket-like rear position leaf spring brackets are the most vulnerable to rust. The brackets are replaceable on some vehicles and attached to the frame on others.
- Check the inner side of the frame: You have to climb under the car to inspect the inner side for rust. A likely place is near the exhaust, where heat melts snow and accelerates the rusting process.
- Open the hood: You have to open the hood to inspect the front part of the frame. You might need a high-powered flashlight to get a clear view from that viewpoint.
- Hammer rusted areas: If you want to purchase a car, ask the owner before you start hammering. Use a regular, chipping, or ball-peen hammer to hit only the rusty parts and find any soft spots. The sound should be consistent, but if it sounds hollow, then the rust extends to the frame.
- Use a borescope: A borescope will help you examine the inside of a frame that looks stable on the outside. Frame replacement costs thousands of dollars, yet welded frames diminish the car’s structural integrity and perform poorly in car accidents.
It is not illegal to sell a car with a rusted frame in most states. However, the seller must document and reveal the information to the buyer before concluding the sale. Consult an attorney if you think the seller deliberately withheld such details when selling you a vehicle.