With the unexpected passing of Pat Goss this week, MotorWeek lost not just a contributor, but a friend, mentor and an irreplaceable pillar of our program. Now out of respect, we will soon be retiring the Goss’ Garage feature, but Pat left us with a few remaining unaired segments, and we know he would want to share them with you.  So, here’s Pat with a few tips for when your rockers start to rust.

PAT GOSS: Virtually every automobile has parts that are made out of steel. And steel has a nasty habit: it rusts. Now, if you catch rust early, such as we see back here on the Jeep, well, that can be taken care of relatively easily.

An older vehicle like this van may not be worth the expense of taking it to a body shop for a professional repair, but there are some do-it-yourself options for improving your car’s appearance and preventing the spread of existing rust.  One solution is to encapsulate the rusted areas with a rubberized undercoating or spray-in truck bed liner.

Remove all the loose rust, clean the area thoroughly, and be sure to coat the entire area, especially inside areas like frame rails and body crevices where dirt and moisture like to hide.  This will keep moisture away and help prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

For one side of this van, our producer decided to fill in a small rust hole using a metal backing mesh and reinforced body filler. Prepping the area to remove loose rust and scuff away flaking paint took an hour or so. These sanding disks are readily available and can be used with a cordless drill or pneumatic grinder, and make quick work of this kind of job.

Take care when mixing body fillers. Most use a hardener to activate the product and the ratio can be as little as a few drops, so be sure to read and follow the label instructions.  Inexpensive plastic spreaders can be used to mix and apply body filler, and also remember that the working time of these products is typically just a few minutes, so be sure your prep work is done and you have all the tools and materials you’ll need close at hand before you start.

And speaking of hands, it’s always a good idea to wear protective gloves when handling any chemicals, and a ventilator mask when working around heavy fumes, dust, paint or other aerosols. 

Once the body filler has hardened, it can be sanded smooth to match the surrounding bodywork.  In our case, we added a layer of rubberized undercoating behind the repair to encapsulate the rusty areas and keep it from getting worse, and we also coated the entire outside of the rocker panel to hide the repaired area and protect against future damage.

The other side of this van had a lot more hidden damage, so we decided to replace the entire rocker panel section.  These repair panels are available for a lot of vehicles and are relatively inexpensive. They can be welded or riveted in place, but we decided to try panel bonding adhesive. This is a two-part epoxy designed specifically for joining metal bodywork. The big caution here is to take time to test fit the new panel, bend and trim it as necessary, before applying the adhesive. Again, read and follow the label instructions and you can get great results.

So, a weekend’s worth of work can lead to a long-lasting, good-looking repair that’ll add a lot of miles to the life of your vehicle.