Subaru Invites You to Feel the Freedom (Of No More Body Panels)

OK, maybe it's not fair to pick on cold-weather vehicles for having corrosion problems, but the problem is much deeper than rotted body panels.

When I bought my first Subaru, my Dad told me “you better keep a roll of duct tape in the trunk.” He was referring to a Subaru he had recently seen that was holding a body panel on with the magical gray tape. And his comments we’re alone. Other people would say “better keep an eye out for rust spots” or “congrats on your holy wagon!”

Living in the Rust Belt

Sure, a lot of older Subaru’s have rust. But so do old GMCs, Hondas and for the love of everything – have you seen a Chevy Citation recently? So I decided to try and find where this reputation for rust came from and it boiled down a few theories:

  1. Owners of old Subarus — we’re talking way back in the 1970’s — would be the first to admit their cars rusted out. But they were mechanically solid, cheap to maintain and so dependable that owners would run them into the ground. That means by the time the engine was ready to go to the big garage in the sky, the door was so rustu that a strong gust of wind would probably turn it to dust. Some say the reputation started there.

  2. Subarus national popularity is a relatively new phenomenon. For decades Subaru’s AWD and no-frills utilitaritanism made them a perfect match for the hardened people of the rust belt states. Those are states that see more ice fall from the sky in a week than Floridians put into a lifetime of fancy blended margaritas. And you know what comes with all that ice? Road salt. Tons and tons of car-melting road salt.

  3. Old Subarus weren’t made for beauty pagents (some would argue new Subarus aren’t either, but that’s besides the point). Late 90’s models used “protective” rubber guards around the wheel wells to stop rock chips. Unlike today’s sport “utility” vehicles, these cars were actually made to be used. Unfortunately, those guards would also hold moisture. Salty, dirty moisture. A lot of rust spots formed around wheel wells during those years.

Like real estate, this reputation seems to be tied to location, location, location.

When Yahoo! released their list of “most popular new vehicles in each state” there was this note about Subaru:

[In 2014] Subaru sold 138,790 Outbacks — or about 1/3rd of what Honda moved in Accords — but that was enough to be the most popular new model among retail customers in Washington, Colorado and Maine, while the Forester conquered Connecticut.

The data, from IHS Automotive, counts what new vehicles are registered in each state.

In several other snowbelt states where a pickup topped this map, the Outback was the most popular car.

Despite Subaru’s recent surge nationally, they are still most popular in the land of ice and snow – don’t cha’ know.

“I'm shocked the Subaru Outback isn't top dog in Colorado. Seems like they're everywhere up there. Or VT, or NH.”

Top Contibutors to Rust

If you were to make a top 10 list of car-corrosion-causing factors, it’d probably look something like this:

  1. Road salt
  2. Road salt
  3. Road salt
  4. The type of primer and paint used
  5. Road salt
  6. How well the car is welded, i.e. getting rid of moisture trapping gaps
  7. Road salt
  8. How often the owner washes their car to get rid of road salt.
  9. Dings and paint chips that haven’t been repaired
  10. Road salt
Salt Trucks
To be fair, none of us stand a chance against this

Stacking up the Competition

So how does Subaru hold up against other brands in terms of rust? Using data collected by the Automobile Protection Association (APA) over a 15 year period, The Protégez-vous magazine came up with a list of the 10 least-corrosion resistant cars on the road:

  1. Mazda: 3, 5, Tribute, MPV ⇒ very weak resistance;
  2. Jeep: TJ, Wrangler ⇒ weak resistance;
  3. Ford: Focus, Escape, Explorer ⇒ weak resistance;
  4. Saturn: Relay, Vue ⇒ weak resistance;
  5. Buick: Rendez-Vous, Terraza ⇒ weak resistance;
  6. Suzuki: Swift, XL7 ⇒ weak to average resistance;
  7. Nissan: Altima, Maxima, Sentra ⇒ weak to average resistance;
  8. GM: Terrain ⇒ weak to average resistance;
  9. Pontiac: G5, Montana, Torrent, Wave ⇒ weak to average resistance;
  10. Chevrolet: Cobalt, Equinox, Uplander, Aveo ⇒ weak to average resistance.

Can you spot Subaru? Me either.

It’s Not All Puppies and Rust-Free Roses

Subaru does have a problem with corrosion, especially on the underbody of the car where road spray can wreak havoc.

In April 2013, Subaru recalled the Outback and Legacy because of leaking brake fluid caused by corrosion. Salt water was hitting the brake lines through a space in the fuel tank protector. To fix th eissue, Subaru dealers planned to rustproof the area with an anti-corrosion wax.

That worked. For a little while. In July of 2014, Subaru recalled 660,00 cars for rusted brake lines including some of the vehicles that were part of the original recall.

Then in January of 2015, Subaru re-recalled 200,00 cars for those same rusted brake lines.

In Conclusion

All this is to say, Subaru does have corrosion problems but it’s no different than any other manufacturer.

Will Subarus rust? Absolutely. But a steady diet of car washes (especially for the underbody), preventive waxing and diligence with any paint chips will go a long way towards protecting your investment.

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OK, Now What?

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