Millions of cars with rust recalls

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Rust and corrosion on the 2008 Subaru Forester by Daniel Savage. (FOX 9)

Daniel Savage wanted a safe “second car” for dangerous winter driving in Minnesota. So a few years ago he bought a used 2008 Subaru Forester.

On June 16, as he was driving the 610 freeway in Brooklyn Park – with clear skies and a dry road ahead – his car suddenly and without warning seemed possessed.

“The car just started to shake violently, I lost the steering,” Savage said. “I was just thinking, I have to get this car off the road or I’ll get run over.”

A car enthusiast, Savage was shocked at what he found under his Subaru Forester.

The control arm, which keeps the wheels straight, had inexplicably snapped from the chassis of his car.

“This part was completely rusted from the inside out,” Savage said, showing FOX 9 investigators the broken part of the car still in its driveway.

He soon discovered that he was not the only one with this problem.

A reminder of the “salt belt”

The same happened to Lydia Radcliffe on July 8 as she drove her 2005 Subaru Forester on a busy county road near Stoughton, Wisconsin. The only warning she heard was the sound of a “thud”.

“And at that split second, I realized I had no steering. Nothing was working at all,” Radcliffe said.

Then she knew her car was 80 feet into a cornfield, barely missing a telephone pole and culvert.

“It was horrible. I’ve never heard of anything like this before from anyone else,” she said.

On Subaru message boards, you can find drivers and owners complaining about the same problem – catastrophic suspension arm failure caused by rust and corrosion.

There was a post from a Canadian family who said they “got lucky” because they “might be in obituaries” after their car crashed into a railing.

Savage looked through his vehicle’s VIN number in an NHTSA database and discovered that there was in fact a recall for his Subaru Forester.

Ten years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a recall for the front suspension arm, also known as the cross link, affecting more than 318,215 Subaru Forester (2003-2008), Subaru Impreza (2002-2007) and a smaller number of Saab 9-2x (2005-2006). The recall affected more than 318,215 vehicles.

The flaw, according to NHTSA and Subaru, was that a bracket holding the control arm broke, as a drain hole would plug, causing corrosion of the interior.

But the recall only affected vehicles registered in twenty so-called “salt belt” states, including Minnesota, where salt and harsh chemicals are used on the roads in winter.

The “salt belt” states include Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The choice of the dealer?

Savage ran his vehicle’s VIN number on a Subaru website and found that his vehicle’s recall had been completed.

Come find out, the previous owner of the vehicle received a recall notice from Subaru, asking them to go to their nearest dealership for repairs.

But the dealers had a choice: replace the control arm for $ 300 if the integrity of the part had been compromised by corrosion, or, if the part appeared to be in good condition, simply spray it with a rust preventative treatment.

Savage said his car got the rust spray, not a new part.

Spray was a cheaper, faster option, of course, Savage thought. But he wondered if it was safer. Remember, that rusty part of the interior.

Savage filed a complaint with NHTSA claiming that Subaru of America “effected the recall cheaply”, and that NHTSA cleared it.

“They basically masked the rust problem and allowed it to continue rusting,” Savage said.

Radcliffe, who experienced the failure in Wisconsin, said Subaru confirmed that the Forester it bought last year also completed the recall with the rust spray.

She also filed a complaint with the NHTSA, telling them, “I don’t want anyone to lose their life because of this malfunction of this room.”

Other reminders in ‘Salt Belt’

FOX 9 investigators have learned that critical safety recalls for rust and corrosion are not unusual and are not limited to a particular manufacturer or vehicle model.

It also appears to be a growing problem as more and more people buy used vehicles. Due to the pandemic and supply chain challenges, the average age of U.S. vehicles hit a record 12 years in 2020, a two-month increase from 2019, according to data from HIS Markit.

General Motors, Mitsubishi, Honda and Toyota have all been the subject of recent safety recalls for rust and corrosion on the chassis, chassis and undercarriages of vehicles. In total, the recalls involve nearly one million vehicles, but all recalls are limited to vehicles registered in “salt belt” states.

The NHTSA has also issued a similar warning for rusty pipes that carry burst fluid in five million older Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC pickup trucks and SUVs.

All warnings and recalls are limited to “salt belt” states.

But what if the used vehicle was purchased out of state?

Jim Choate, auto body instructor at Hennepin Tech College, said “rust is like cancer.”

“You guess the damage. You see a quarter the size of rust and you don’t know it’s not hiding something the size of a melon,” Choate said.

Invisible and untreated, it can spread with devastating effect, potentially leading to catastrophic failure at high speed, he said.

“You can have just about anything going on. Look at this Ford, all the undercarriage is gone,” Choate said, gesturing to a car on an elevator.

“The control arm is so bad, solidly rusted,” he said.

What’s underneath?

Choate said used car buyers cannot assume a recall has been taken care of and should verify their vehicle’s VIN number with the manufacturer or dealership.

But there are also several ways to prevent rust and corrosion before it starts.

Washing your car is not only aesthetic, it is also a question of safety.

The NHTSA recommends that car owners in Salt Belt States wash the underside of their vehicle several times in the winter.

Choate recommends washing your vehicle once a week, weather permitting. He is also careful with automated car washes which may not clean the underside of the vehicle.

This is also why owners should seriously consider an additional underlay that can protect your vehicle.

But experts warn against underlaying a car without first cleaning up the rust, trapping it underneath, allowing oxidation to continue.

Savage believes that is what happened with his Subaru Forester. The anti-rust treatment simply trapped the corrosion that was already spreading under his vehicle.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” Savage said. “Hit the box later and maybe you’ll come back and pay us to replace it in the future.” “

Subaru USA did not respond to repeated requests for comment. NHTSA also did not respond to questions.


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