What is a Rusted Car?

This guide explains what a rusted car is, all the synonyms of a rusted car, and takes an in-depth look at what is a rusted car, its prices, removal, buyers, laws, and more.

What is a Rusted Car?
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    What is The Definition of a Rusted Car?

    The definition of rusted car is a motor vehicle that has any amount or stage of rust. Rust occurs when moisture and carbon dioxide from the air combine and erode the iron while the water molecules separate. When the oxygen molecules come into contact with iron the resulting iron oxide a rusted car is the result. Any vehicle can be a rusted car, and many vehicles are driven for years after rust first becomes visible on the body or frame.

    Rusted cars are not always obvious. When there is no visible damage to the vehicle rust could be hiding in places not easily seen. The salt and sand on winter roads can leave pits in the paint and metal so small they can’t really be seen on visual inspection. Because rust is a cancer that eats all iron with which it comes contact, oxidization in even these small pits can be detrimental to a vehicle long term.

    Rusted cars are often also decrepit cars, old cars, clunkers, incomplete cars, lemon cars, and other junk cars that would cost more to repair than they are worth. According to National Material, it is more likely vehicles will rust when they are older than 2000 to 2003 model years, depending on make. Galvanized steel, the process that protects automotive steel from oxidization, was not adopted by the US automotive industry until the mid-90s. At the time only electroplating was used to bond the zinc to the steel, but by the late 90s hot dip galvanization began to be used widely. Vehicles made before 2000 are more likely to rust because they do not have galvanized steel or the galvanization process used is now outdated.

    The odometer reading of a rusted car could be any range. Older cars are more likely to have rust, but new cars can also have rust depending on driving conditions, climate, road conditions, and frequency of cleaning and maintenance. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average driver puts 14,263 miles per year on their vehicle as of 2022. This will give you an idea of the average mileage of a rusted car based on the model of your vehicle.

    Rusted cars can be of any condition, and many are still drivable. However, the exact health of a rusted car can be difficult to determine. Rust can occur in many places that are not easily seen. Sometimes rust can start internally to the point that it cannot be diagnosed until it has completely taken hold and begun to disintegrate the surrounding exposed metal. This is especially true of undercarriages for the 70% of American drivers living in snow-affected regions.

    Rusted cars can still work, but not all rusted cars can be driven on the roads. All states have safety inspection requirements for registration, and registration requirements for any vehicle driven on public roads. A rusted car could be denied registration if the decay has eaten away any metal on mechanical car parts, depending on the type, location, and amount of rust damage. Safety rules about rusted cars and their registration can be discovered for your state by visiting your local DMV.

    Synonyms of Rusted Cars

    The most common names for rusted cars include, old car decrepit cars, or scrap cars. Other names frequently used to describe rusted cars are damaged car, derelict car, or end-of-life car. Depending on condition and circumstances rusted cars could also be called salvage car, clunker, beater, inoperable car, incomplete car, totaled car, wrecked car, or abandoned car.

    An In-Depth Look at Rusted Cars

    A rusted car is a junk car that is deteriorating as a result of exposure of the iron alloys to water. Most rusted cars have been damaged by either car accident or repeated exposure to road salt which penetrate the galvanized layer and exposes the iron to oxygen. Rusted cars vary in severity and could have surface rust, scaling rust, or penetrating rust not easily seen or treated.

    The general definition of a rusted car is any vehicle that has metal with deterioration resulting from oxidation. Rust occurs when the zinc used to galvanize the metal wears away and the iron alloys beneath are frequently or consistently exposed to both water and air. Salt found on winter roads and in coastal communities speeds up this process. Rusted cars are also called junk cars, damaged cars, beaters, derelict cars, and end-of-life vehicles.

    Rusted cars can be in any running condition, and rust may or may not be noticed on a general visual inspection. The oxidization occurs on the body or frame when the vehicle has been in an accident, but rust is most likely to be found on the undercarriage of vehicles. Rusted cars are most common in the Midwest because the salt used to treat roads in winter corrodes both the cars and the roads themselves. These rusted cars are also likely to have suspension damage.

    Any vehicle that has been damaged will eventually have rust if the damage is not repaired. Cars rusted from salted roads corrode from the undercarriage into the major mechanical components of the vehicle. The only way to prevent this rust is to have the undercarriage thoroughly cleaned each time the roads become clear, which many do not.

    Rust on the body must be cut away and patched, while car parts with even a speck of rust should be replaced before it starts eating the parts around it. A minor rust repair on the body could run between $60 and $150, but major oxidation or larger areas of decay can cost as much as $1,000. There are many car parts that can rust, but if you see any rust on the engine replacing it can cost up to $7,000 according to Consumer Affairs. These high costs mean that it is usually not worth it to repair a rusted car, and rusted cars always become junk cars that must be disposed of properly.


    How does a car become a Rusted Car?

    A car becomes a rusted car when the iron alloys used in its manufacture are exposed to oxygen as described above. There are 10 events that can cause a car to become a rusted car.

    1. Flooded cars: Cars are flooded in natural disasters, flash flooding from storms, misjudging water levels on roadways, or localized flooding on a property. Flood waters and stormwaters typically have silt and other corrosive and damaging debris and chemicals that seep into the crevices of your vehicle causing a rusted car. According to Car Fax there were about 350,000 flood damaged cars in Florida and the Carolinas during Hurricane Ian in 2020. Other states with frequent flooding and rusted cars include Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and California.
    2. Unrepaired collision damage: Even the most minor collision with the smallest of dents opens the door for oxidization to create a rusted car. According to a CBS News report, about 20% of car accidents happen in parking lots where these minor dents are most often incurred. The repair of minor dents is often ignored due to high insurance deductibles. In addition, about 28 million drivers are uninsured and never repair collision damage to their own vehicle.
    3. Infrequent cleaning: Cleaning your car inside and out, including the undercarriage, is important for preventing rust. Grit and grime can eat away paint and galvanized layer of steel to expose the iron to oxidization regardless of climate. However, according to People Magazine 29% of drivers have not washed their car in the last 3 months or don’t know the last time they washed their car. Another 35% of drivers are confused about how often you should wash your car. You should wash your car about every 2 to 4 weeks depending on use and environment.
    4. Unrepaired hail damage: Like small collisions, hail damage can open lead to a rusted car, especially in wetter climates. The NOAAs Severe Storms Database showed 4,611 hailstorms in 2020, and according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association there were 849,033 hail damage auto claims in 2020. However, only 78% drivers with comprehensive insurance have coverage for hail damage. Rusted cars are often the result of hail damage being ignored due to cost, with average hail repairs in the $2000 to $4000 range per Get Jerry. The states with the most hail damage leading to rusted cars are Texas, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
    5. Ineffective cleaning in winter: One must wash their car after every snow storm when driving on snow treated roads to prevent rusted cars. Rusted cars with deterioration of the undercarriage are the result of infrequent or inefficient cleaning of the underbody in winter weather. According to AAA about 22 million Americans experience rusted cars as a result, with the average cost of these rust repairs in the $500 range. When those repairs are unaffordable the rust becomes cancerous and penetrates deeper into the vehicle and its parts.
    6. Ignored door dings and scratches in paint: Everyone gets a few pits or scratches in the paint from knocking doors into inanimate objects when opening them, or from others bumping into the car with carts and such in parking lots. These are often ignored but the exposed metal from the scratches and divots can breed surface rust that worsens over time, depending on climate and driving conditions.
    7. Coastal climates and beaches: Coastal climates and beachside communities have a lot of rusted cars because the salt water from the ocean permeates the air and everything the air moves through. In addition to being abrasive and deteriorating the galvanization and paint to expose the iron underneath to oxygen, salt speeds up the corrosion process.
    8. Road salt, sand, and de-icers: Salt and sand on the roads are also abrasive and cause damage, even when the roads are no longer wet. Many communities are switching to more effective liquid de-icers, but these chemicals are even more abrasive to the mechanical parts exposed by the undercarriage. All of these things speed up the deterioration that occurs in rusted cars.
    9. Scraping the undercarriage: Scraping the undercarriage of your vehicle on the pavement, a speed bump, a parking hurdle, or other obstacle often leads to rusted cars. Many people don’t think about the fact that the galvanization of the steel is being scored when this happens, which exposes the iron to oxidation. Rusted cars are often the result of these pits being ignored.
    10. Neglect: A vehicle left to sit in neglect can develop rust depending on the environment in which it was parked. Many neglected vehicles are found in barns and fields each year and all of them are rusted cars.

    Rusted cars are the result of any type of damage that opens up the iron to oxygen. When blemishes occur and the exposed iron comes into contact with the wrong conditions, vehicles become rusted cars. Once rust starts it is a cancer that spreads to the rest of the iron it comes in contact with, even when that can’t be seen.

    What are common characteristics of Rusted Cars?

    There are 5 common characteristics of rusted cars.

    1. Unregistered rusted cars. Many rusted cars are unregistered. When rust has invaded the muffler, exhaust system, or drive train the rusted car cannot pass the necessary safety and emissions inspections to be registered. Each state has their own laws for what rusted cars are deemed to be safe to drive on public roads and highways.
    2. Barely running or inoperable rusted cars. Many rusted cars are clunkers that make lots of noise when they run down the road. Rusted cars are likely to have more than one mechanical problem of varying severity.
    3. Flat tires on rusted cars. Many rusted cars with decomposing rust on the wheels have flat tires. This is because the corrosion and flaking of the scaling or penetrating rust scrape against the bead of the tire, decreasing its life dramatically.
    4. Older model rusted cars. Rusted cars can be of any year, but most rusted cars are older models for the reasons mentioned above.
    5. Driven in one of the worst states for rusted cars. The worst states for rusted cars are Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The entire Midwest is also plagued by rusted cars with disintegrating undercarriages.

    Many rusted cars have been found or inherited, or they are used cars that were purchased not realizing how bad off the rusted car really was. Rusted cars are almost always more costly to repair than they are worth.

    Are rusted cars junk cars?

    Yes, rusted cars are junk cars because once rust has invaded it is a cancer that spreads throughout the vehicle and causes it to become unsafe to drive. All unsafe vehicles are junk cars that should be recycled rather than continuing to be driven. A vehicle with only minimal rust may not be considered a junk car immediately but it will become so within a few short years depending on driving conditions and climate.

    What is a Rusted Car worth?

    A rusted car is worth less than other types of junk cars because less of the metal is available for recycling. How much a rusted car is worth depends on the year, make, and model of the vehicle, whether or not it is complete, and how extensively the rust damage has penetrating the body, frame, and parts of the rusted car.

    What are the price ranges of rusted cars?

    The price ranges of rusted cars varies greatly by condition. The price range for rusted cars that have minor surface rust on the body and late model reusable car will be higher than the price range for rusted cars that have significant surface, scaling, or penetrating rust that still have salvageable parts. The price range for rusted cars with rusted parts that cannot be salvaged or fully recycled is lower. When selling a rusted car with widespread decay and decomposition expect the lowest range.

    What are the most valuable parts on a rusted car?

    The most valuable parts on a rusted car are the transmission and engine. The engine contains a significant amount of steel while the transmission is made of valuable aluminum. Engines can rust, but they do not rust often. Most rusted cars still have working and usable engines and other car parts that are not immediately exposed to the underbody of the vehicle. About 23% of the steel in a vehicle is in the drive train, but this is usually too degraded to recycle fully in rusted cars.

    What are the most valuable scrap metals in a rusted car?

    The most valuable scrap metal in a rusted car is steel, such as that steel is not contaminated with rust. Aluminum does not rust because rust is iron oxide and there is no iron in aluminum, although the alloys used with the aluminum can degrade with exposure to oxygen. The catalytic converter has the most precious metals that do not rust, containing small but valuable amounts of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

    How much is a rusted car shell worth?

    Barn finds are often little more than a rusted car shell. When there is little to no recyclable metal left, these rusted cars have very little value, if any. According to It Still Runs, a DIY mechanic information site, one should cut at least a 2 inch margin around rust for the steel to be reusable. One should be prepared to pay for removal and disposal of rusted car hulks with no recyclable metal or materials.

    What to do with a Rusted Car?

    There are 4 things you can do with a rusted car.

    1. Donate the car to your local charity. Some charities accept vehicle donations, but not all. Check with your favorite charities to see if they accept rusted cars. Keep in mind that the charity could lose money if you donate a car that has too much penetrating rust to be recycled.
    2. Sell the rusted car to a salvage yard. Salvage yards and junkyards are not picky about rusted cars as long as there are reusable car parts that have not been touched by rust. These rusted cars bring less money than cars without rust because the parts must be removed sooner than later before the rust can spread and eat away the in-demand car parts.
    3. Sell the rusted car to a junk car buyer. Selling a rusted car to a junk car buyer is the easiest and fastest way to get rid of a rusted car that still has value as scrap or salvage. Keep in mind that junk car buyers will not pay for severely rusted cars with no recyclable value. Junk Car Medics stands out from other junk car buyers in that we make sure the rusted car goes to the right stage of the recycling process based on its condition rather than being sold as part of a random lot of junk cars.
    4. Contact a local junk removal service. When you have a rusted car shell that has no value even as scrap metal recycling, you will need to contact a local junk removal service and pay for the rusted car’s disposal. No one will pay for a vehicle that has zero value. Exhaust options with junkyards and junk car buyers first, as it could save you from paying for rusted car removal.

    Junk Car Medics is a junk car buyer with locations in all 50 states. We stand out from other junk car buyers because we work with salvage yards, junkyards, auto dismantlers, and scrap metal recyclers to get the best prices for rusted cars based on their condition.

    Can I sell a rusted car with no title?

    Yes, you can sell a rusted car with no title depending on your state and the status of the vehicle. Barn finds or old neglected incomplete cars typically don’t have titles, and they are not required to have a title or registration in most states. For later model rusted cars the title could have been lost, mutilated, stolen, or destroyed. Most states have a pathway to sell rusted cars with no title as long as you can prove ownership. Junk Car Medics is familiar with the title laws in all 50 states and assists with the paperwork to sell rusted cars with no title.

    Can I sell a rusted car with no registration?

    Yes, you can sell a rusted car with no registration. A registration is not required for all vehicles in all states. Many rusted cars are not registered because they cannot pass the required safety and emissions inspections. However, you can use your registration as proof of ownership in most states.

    Who buys rusted cars?

    There are 4 main places who buy rusted cars near you.

    1. Individual buyers: There may be a demand for your rusted car with individual buyers depending on the make, model, condition, and location. Hobby mechanics and car restoration hobbyists rely on cheap rusted cars for the parts they need. Whether or not the part they need has been exposed to rust and whether or not car repairs are allowed on residential property in your area affect your ability to find individual buyers for rusted cars.
    2. Junkyards and salvage yards: Junkyards buy rusted cars and allow the public to salvage their parts for their own car restoration or car repair projects. Auto salvage yards also buy rusted cars to sell self-service used car parts, but in addition they use those rusted cars to rebuild salvage vehicles for resale as cheap used cars. There are 3.5 million salvage cars sold at online auctions annually according to the National Salvage Reporting Program, most of which are also rusted cars.
    3. Junk car buyers: Junk car buyers are middle-men who buy rusted cars from the public and then sell them to junkyards and salvage yards in the area. Some local junk car buyers are affiliated or partnered with a particular scrap yard, while online junk car buyers sell the rusted cars they buy in bulk at online auctions.
    4. Junk Car Medics: Junk Car Medics is a unique junk car buyer that operates on a national scale but still works with local junkyards and scrapyards, even those that don’t buy rusted cars from the general public. Junk Car Medics makes these junk car facilities compete for the rusted car to get the best prices for our customers while our proprietary system makes the process quick, easy, painless, and rewarding.

    Some rusted cars are too far gone to be recycled or salvaged. These rusted cars have little to no value and when there is no recyclable materials left you may not be able to sell the rusted car.

    How to choose a buyer for rusted cars

    Finding a buyer for a rusted car can be difficult, especially when its condition is very poor. It is important to be up front and honest about the condition of the rusted car so that accurate quotes can be given. Research all junk car buyers by looking for online reviews, reviewing consumer watchdog sites like the Better Business Bureau, and looking for industry affiliations. Here are 4 things to look for as you research junk car buyers for your rusted car.

    1. Experienced and knowledgeable. Junk car buyers should be experienced enough to give accurate prices for rusted cars based on their year, make, model, condition, and location. The right junk car buyer has been in business longer than the boom in the junk car industry in 2020, and therefore is better able to judge how much a rusted car is worth and what may be necessary for its removal. Junk Car Medics has been in business since 2016 and has bought many rusted cars in that time.
    2. Pays fair prices for rusted cars. Many junk car buyers will dramatically decrease the value of a junk car when they hear the word rust, even if the deterioration is not significant. The best junk car buyers recognize when rusted cars still have value as salvage or scrap to give the best prices. Junk car buyers should also honor their quotes for rusted cars as long as the vehicle condition was reported properly. Junk Car Medics works with local junk car facilities to make them compete for the rusted car to give the best prices and guarantees our quotes for 7 days.
    3. Offers free junk car removal. The best junk car buyers do not charge up front for removal of rusted cars. The cost of towing the rusted car should be built into the junk car quote. Junk Car Medics works with local towing companies to provide free removal of rusted cars in all 50 states.
    4. Assists with paperwork to sell rusted cars. Rusted cars are often lacking a paper title that can make selling rusted cars difficult. Every state has laws about titles and how rusted cars can be sold with no title. The best junk car buyers are familiar with the paperwork required to sell rusted cars in your area and assists in completing that paperwork. Although a national junk car buyer, Junk Car Medics is knowledgeable in the laws to sell rusted cars with no title for all 50 states, providing forms and instructions for their completion.

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