Rusty Undercarriage? Don’t Blame the Carmaker

Don't let this happen to your car

Don’t let this happen to your car

Bad things happen when brake lines leak. Who’s to blame when they do?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has wrapped up a 5-year investigation into the cause of rust on the undercarriages of about 5 million GM vehicles.

The problem has been the rusting of brake lines on 2007 and older Chevrolet, Cadillac, and GMC pickups and SUVs. Usually an investigation of this magnitude results in an expensive recall and the mandatory repair of affected vehicles.

This time the NHTSA let General Motors off the hook and blamed someone we can’t sue for the problem:


The problem goes a little deeper than simple neglect on the owners’ part, but the government agency has essentially said the undercarriages are rusting because the road salt used to melt snow in the winter isn’t being washed off.

An AP story said:

The agency urged people in 20 cold-weather states and Washington, D.C., to get their car and truck undercarriages washed several times during and after the winter, and to get their brake lines inspected for rust and replace them if necessary. The warning underscores the importance of washing highly corrosive salt from beneath a car because over time, it can cause suspension parts, the frame, or other components to corrode and fail.

Rather than placing blame on those 20 states for using a corrosive material, the responsibility falls squarely on vehicle owners for driving where salt is present. Which, frankly, is the correct conclusion.

Before 2007, GM and other automakers used steel brake lines that are being eaten alive by road salt. Later vehicles use nylon or plastic lines, which are resistant to the salt. Rather than issuing a recall to have steel lines replaced, which would be a massive undertaking, the NHTSA has issued a car-wash advisory.

One has to wonder why it’s taken 5 years to reach such a simple solution, but the NHTSA is correct. If you have a car and drive it in hazardous conditions, it’s your responsibility to keep it clean and in good working order.

Do you remember to wash the undercarriage of your car?


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