Rust (rŭst) – An electro-chemical reaction resulting from ferric oxides and hydroxides on iron and iron-containing materials in the presence of moisture.

Anyone who has been in this business very long has met our common enemy, the demon Rust. This demon is not easily exorcised. Left to his own devices, he can quickly overtake any ferrous material. Most of the time he is found in hidden areas of bolts and other fasteners where it cannot be seen but becomes obvious when attempting to remove that fastener. The term ”Break Loose” takes on a whole new meaning as a bolt twists off and knuckles contact with a nearby immovable object becoming an example of physics and the transfer of kinetic energy. Once the bleeding stops, the challenge of removing an exhaust manifold stud that has been in the same position for 15 years and broken off inside the head begins.

To add insult to injury, the mechanical repair is often much easier than fixing the owner. Some people just seem to have a problem believing that rust can create such problems and extend the time (and expense) of a repair.

Having grown up in the South where the only salt is in a shaker on the table, I had not been properly introduced to Mr. Rust until I joined the Navy and took a trip to Great Lakes Naval Station in Waukegan, Illinois. There I saw vehicles travelling down the road with fenders flapping in the wind. The locals said that was a common occurrence and not to worry about it.

Fast forward to 2017.

While Missouri is not a heavy “Salt State”, we do sometimes get enough ice and snow to warrant salting the roads. Interestingly enough, it seems the trucks and trailers we see with the worst rust problems come from other states. For example, a trailer that recently came to us had spent most of its life in northern Illinois. Some background on this unit is appropriate. This is a 40 foot, dump bed trailer with 3 axles and is rated at 80,000 lbs. The trailer is used to haul salvage railroad track steel with the idea of dumping it at its final resting place. While 80,000 lbs. is not an excessive amount compared to some other trailers, they do not normally put all the weight onto the rear suspension when unloading.

This trailer first came to us about 9 months ago. The owner had bought it at auction and it needed to be modified to fit his particular needs. Among the many repairs and modifications we made was the installation of new suspension air bags. Now, as we in the repair business all know, once you touch it you own it forever, at least in the customer’s eyes. So, obviously, when there was an air bag problem, it had to be our fault and covered under warranty. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Forwarding a picture of this failure took all the wind out of the “warranty” sails.

Let me add here, if you are not taking digital pictures for every job, then you are missing a huge advantage. Digital pictures cost nothing to take or send. Also, sending digital pictures to a cell phone (and who doesn’t have one of those today?) or e-mail gives you creditability in the customers’ eyes and is an amazing sales tool. In our example, being able to show the customer that the failure was due to a structural fault and not the air bag relieved that stress. We also keep digital records for our own liability protection.

Here’s how our digital picture process works. We create a folder using the Repair Order number as the name of the folder. In that folder we save pictures of the following; VIN, license plate, odometer, any scratches, dents, broken glass, missing caps, or anything else that stands out. If there are lights on in the dash, get pictures of that as well. Another thing to consider is the fuel gauge. It hasn’t been a problem with trucks, but during my automotive dealership days, we had several customers claim that their fuel tank was full when it came in. Before and after pictures can also be very valuable when demonstrating to a customer what was involved in the repair. If there is ever a question in the future as to what was done or left undone at the owner’s request, then you have an accurate account. We also save a digital copy of the completed invoice in that folder.

Demon Rust had been hard at work on this trailer. I am not a structural engineer, nor do I play one on TV, but for a trailer of this size and load capacity, I would have expected heavier suspension brackets. One mount had completely failed.

For repair, we fabricated a new air bag mount to replace the failed one and reinforced the other mount. Of course the damaged air bag had to be replaced as well. When finished, I would have to say the air bag mounting system was better than new.

The demon Rust can be defeated through diligence, hard work, and the appropriate use of a torch and welder. But be constantly on the alert, he can pop up in unexpected places.