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Despite reputation for quality, Hondas have rusting problems of their own

Posted: October 26, 2017 - 11:21AM
Author: Marc Stern
For more than seven generations, Honda Accords have had a problem with rusting front subframes, while Civics have had their own history of rusting out along the wheel wells and along the seam where the bumper and rear quarters join. Honda Civic, Accord and general Honda forums have all documented this in detail, though generally few who have not experienced it don't know about it.


Unless you hang around Honda Civic and Honda Accord forums on the internet or unless you have a direct line to Honda, you probably haven’t heard very much about the rusting problems that have plagued Civics and Accords for at least 25 years. That’s right; Hondas have tended to rust out in all the wrong places (the rear quarters, door frames, and engine subframes). If you are buying a used Civic Si, here is some good information: Here are six things to look for buying a used Civic SI

Civic rust affected owners notified of problem, others, not so much

It’s not that Honda hasn’t publicized the rust issues, it has, to affected owners. However, unless you are directly affected by rust-out, Honda hasn’t gone out of its way to advertise the issue. There it is, though. It’s like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in a conversation.

The fact is that to many Honda owners; the information is nothing new. Civic owners have known about the rust-outs for years, and they have been the topics of many posters in the many Honda forums and clubs on the internet. While the general public has been in the dark about these issues, Honda owners have known about the rust-outs along the joint between the rear bumper and the rear quarter panels on each side. And, Accord owners have known that there was a front subframe rust-out problem that has spanned at least seven generations of the Accord, starting in the 1970s.

I found out about the Civic problem some years ago when I was working as the Internet Sales Manager for the Preowned side of a large Honda-Volkswagen dual dealership. My first exposure to the Civic issue came in 2003 when I took a late 90s Honda Civic as part of a deal. At first glance, it seemed in reasonable shape and looked like it would make a profitable addition to our Preowned stock. Based on our first impressions, we gave the owner a great deal.

You would have thought that the consumer would have been delighted with the deal he received, but, in truth, he wanted more. I guess he figured that he had pulled a fast one us because he knew the problems with his trade. He probably hoped he would be able to keep us in the dark until deal completion. I guess he never realized that once the deal was finalized, he would receive the valuation we had put on the Civic, despite the rust which became apparent when we put it on a lift.

One of our salespeople was a long-time Honda sales employee and, in talking with him, I gained quite a bit of knowledge about Civics and rust-out. Another employee – a motorhead and wrench, by trade – confirmed everything I had been told. The second employee also did car detailing and helped with the setups for our ad photos. He was an employee of the dealership for some time.

Civic deal runs into ongoing snags

Meantime, the negotiations dragged on – and I mean dragged as it became clear that the consumer’s expectations and our appraisal skills were running headlong into one another. Ultimately, the deal became one of those back and forths, involving $100 and $200 increments. Finally, there was an agreement, and the finance manager took over and wrapped things up.

Fortunately, we had had the forethought to get the Accord the customer had driven and wanted, ready for quick delivery. Who could blame him? I could sense that there would be few tears at home that night as his family became used to the newer, bigger and fancier sedan.

At the dealership, the reaction to his trade-in was, “Uhh, now what do we do with that??” This was after a mechanic checked the welds along the bumper-quarter panel seams. Though there were some signs of rust on the surface, they didn’t seem too bad, at least from the outside. However, looking at them with a work light under the panel, made the rust quite obvious. And, sales management went into a huddle.

A ruling came down quickly: “Give it to the eBay guy” – yours truly – “and let’s see what he can get.” As we had allowed him $3,600 for the Civic, we had to receive at least $4,600 to make any sale happen. The vehicle was a tad on the older side – a 1996 Civic LX -- and needed some work to bring things up to snuff – the timing belt and such.

For the most part, the Civic was in reasonable shape, except for the rusting, which we did disclose in the ad. There was quite a flurry of bidding for the Civic, and the winning bid did hit somewhere over $5,000, though I don’t have notes on the exact figure. I do remember the winner – a young man I picked up at a local hub airport – sitting down with our finance manager, completing the deal. Meantime, I took the plates he brought with him, installed them on the Civic and, when all they had completed all the paperwork, we sent him on his way with a last reminder about the rust-out.

Civics have had long-running rust issues

Though many people may not realize it, there have been issues with Hondas rusting out for some time. For example, on Civics, there was a rubberized trim piece that stretched the length of the wheel well. However, for some reason or other, the seam where the rear quarter panels and bumpers came together was unshielded, left open to the elements, not a good idea in the northern tier of the country.

In the northern parts of the country – where deer and snowplows play – the authorities lay down copious amounts of calcium chloride and other salts and drying agents to fight snow and ice. Over the course of a bunch of winters – 1996 to 2007, for instance -- Civics were exposed to lots of chemicals that just love to eat cars. The chemicals, when they get into tight spaces with a little moisture added, go bonkers and munch with incredible efficiency. Often within a couple of years, rust shows its ugly face, and it’s downhill from there until the vehicle ends up in a salvage yard, where it may be parted out for its best pieces with the rest headed to the crusher. Whether it was for money savings or maybe it was just an overlooked issue, too many Civics from the 1990s and early 2000s suffered early rust-outs because Honda forgot something, a $10 piece of plastic.

Typically, rear wheel wells are lined with lined with a solid piece of plastic that forms the wheel well liner. For some reason or other, many Civics were built using a half-liner. The half that was covered was the front. The rear half of the wheel well was open to the elements.

Over time, especially in the Snow Belt, even the sturdiest of welds and the best paint jobs will wear, allowing the metal in the welded seams to rust. Once the corrosion sets in, there is very little you can do to halt the process.

One way to slow, not stop, the rust-out process is cleaning the seam thoroughly and applying a good base coat and new top coat of paint. This move has likely given the seam several years of life; just how much is not certain. Ultimately, though, the rust will win. It is a process that goes on inexorably.

Rear panel rust-out is a rather significant problem for Civics. Also, as noted, Accords have had their rust issues – front subframes that rust – that was solved with significant structural changes made in the seventh and eighth generations of Accord.

You might ask where this information comes from and it is a fair question?

Sources for this piece

My sources for this story include personal experience as an online dealership manager; the many Honda Civic and Accord club forums that are available, and discussions with mechanics and Honda enthusiasts over the years.

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer/columnist/editor/professional for more than 45 years. He began writing a weekly column “You Auto Know” in 1971 and continued writing it for 32 years. Now, semi-retired, Marc spends his time finding pieces for Torque News as one of the Ford reporters. He covers pickups such as the F150, F-Series models like Super Duty models, and SUVs. Also, he covers more generalized auto news pieces as well. Marc has also written for the,, and others, including some smallish publications -- Popular Mechanics, Mechanics Illustrated, AutoWeek, Automotive News, and Automotive Age. You can follow Marc on Facebook and Twitter.


Parks McCants    October 26, 2017 - 11:45AM

It must be an East Coast, salted road problem Marc. In my 40 years of Honda product experience, on the West Coast, I've yet to encounter rust. I'll keep looking. A well written, informative expose. Thanks for sharing.

Peter Welmerink (not verified)    May 22, 2018 - 2:15PM

We bought a 1999 Honda Accord for my 17 yr old to use. Had a few small mechanical issues we knew upfront, and it was only $1000 and looked good inside and out. However, had it checked out thoroughly weeks later (after the buy) and has the niggling front subframe rust-out issue going on...only on one side of the car. I feel half tempted to coat it thickly with rustoleum just to give it a few more heartbeats.

Donald Tanguay (not verified)    April 26, 2019 - 3:49PM

In reply to by Peter Welmerink (not verified)

I just found out this week that my 2001Accord EXL with only 75,600 miles has excessive sub frame rust and holes in frame. Bought new , garages, not out in the winter, mint and I mean mint. Honda says basically tough shit , we know of no problems.We need to file a class action lawsuit against American Honda Motor Company

Sandra (not verified)    May 13, 2019 - 7:52PM

In reply to by Donald Tanguay (not verified)

Are you serious about the class action suit. I have a rusting Crosstour (rear drivers side panel) and it’s clearly a design flaw. Trying to figure out what to do as the repair is 5,000.

Tamara Anderson (not verified)    September 23, 2019 - 6:19PM

In reply to by Sandra (not verified)

My first Crosstour was a 2010, I ya e it to my daughter and because they stopped making new Crosstours I bought a used one. Less than 2 months later I noticed a bubbling rust over driver side rear wheel well. I felt the dealer ship had repaired it for the sale, this I don’t know for certain. Since this happened I have noticed at least 3 other Honda Crosstours with the same exact rust issue. I believe Honda should fix this as it is a faulty rear panel. Sadly I my Honda days are done especially all the fighting I have gone through to get someone to recognize the issue. They still haven’t said how much they will give me towards the repair. I will get it fixed and buy another brand one that doesn’t rust as quickly. I always loved my Honda’s but bye bye Honda you don’t represent when you should!!!

Laura Street (not verified)    April 7, 2023 - 7:47AM

In reply to by Tamara Anderson (not verified)

I also have a 2013 Honda Crosstour that is rusting on the rear quarter panel. Was wondering if anyone has had any luck getting Honda to do something about this.

nancy (not verified)    June 21, 2019 - 11:29AM

In reply to by Donald Tanguay (not verified)

I am in... 2009 Honda Accord, garage kept , very well maintained, 93000 miles. Rust around both rear wheel wells, shocked when I saw it. If it has been known, rusting problem, why hasn't Honda done something? Never buy another Honda just because of rust.

Isaac (not verified)    January 17, 2020 - 4:59PM

In reply to by nancy (not verified)

Just a little tip. If you live within an area where roads are salted in the winter, keeping your car in the garage will actually cause more issues relating to rust than leaving it outside. This is due to the fact that in the garage the car is likely to warm up and melt away all the snow and ice. At that point, the salt can attack the metal in those warmer conditions. However, if the car is left outside in the cold you are less likely for melting to occur and therefore the salt will be in a frozen state. Do that along with running the car through the wash one a week or so in order to get the salt build up off and you should have better results regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive.

Graham Haxell (not verified)    May 8, 2020 - 9:54PM

Does anyone here on FB own or drive a late model Honda, 5-7 years old [especially either a Jazz or Fit] and have noticed bubble rust coming through from inside, especially in panels such as doors? It would appear that Hondas, long known for their quality are suffering from inadequate or non existent cavity wax protection. I'd love to hear from you and how you dealt with the problem.

Lise MacLeod (not verified)    May 14, 2021 - 1:43AM

The 2007 Honda Pilot I bought in 2014 has appalling rust on the roof. Most of it is within an inch of the windshield, but a few dime and nickel size spots are scattered around the middle of the roof. The ones along the windshield started as slight bumps that broke through the paint, as though screws had protruded from inside. Admittedly we live on the Washington coast and drive on the beach a few times a week. But our neighbors' cars don't rust like this, and the first small rust spot on the side of our Pilot has remained insignificant while the roof has exploded in rust. The local body shop says nothing can be done, no use trying, it's not worth it. Barkeeper's Friend powder rubbed on the spots makes them less noticeable, but a few are going to be leaking rain to the interior soon. I like the Pilot a lot, but I'm shopping for a Toyota.

Matthew O. (not verified)    October 11, 2021 - 9:28AM

I just happened to be looking for info on rust issues on Honda vehicles today, when I discovered (just today also) that the rear corner of the rocker panel (both sides of body) in front of the rear tires, are rusting on my 2014 Accord, bought new back in '14, and has about 47K miles on it today. Rather disappointed with this discovery. I just paid off the 6 1/2 yr. loan a few months ago, and didn't wish to go in to debt again to buy another new vehicle. I have found today also, after discovering this article, an item regarding a 2020 (or article published during 2020) Honda rust recall on certain vehicles in 22 states, which I've never received any such recall notice from Honda, but more specific, as to the Accord and drive-shaft corrosion due to incorrect painting or coating on drive-shaft parts (Car and Driver website)

Matthew O. (not verified)    October 11, 2021 - 9:47AM

I didn't really want to just keeping typing comments, but will anyway: I can't say I've ever really been impressed with Honda, but I expected better. And although Honda self-advertises themselves as a "value brand", the sticker prices seem high if they really are a value brand. Aside from the rust and the items I am seeing on line just today, another issue that doesn't impress me about Honda, is their dealership service departments (where else do you take a vehicle when it is under factory warranty?), but their dealership service departments don't seem to care nor are ever interested in investigating any customer concerns while under factory warranty, and that attitude comes across as that if they would find an issue that Honda, rather than consumer, have to pay for a repair, they don't want to do it and are not interested in looking at all into the consumer concerns. This body rust issue, reminds me of the similar rust issue I encountered on my 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which didn't appear until after factory warranty expired and at least investigated and discovered body wasn't painted correctly (rear quarter panels), but I didn't have the $2500 to pay for half the repair (just like I won't have the $$$ to pay for the Honda repairs). I expected much better from Honda (1st Honda I've ever had and will now be the only and last one).

Lise Macleod (not verified)    October 11, 2021 - 12:56PM

In reply to by Matthew O. (not verified)

Our local body shop estimator was convinced the terrible rust on our Pilot's roof was caused by a bad windshield replacement. I loved everything else about the Pilot. Super quiet engine, good ground clearance and easy in/out for my disabled husband. Also plenty of space for 2 dogs and misc gear. It had 163,000 miles on it so I traded it for a 2017 AWD Toyota Sienna. It's OK in sand, but I got an older Subaru Forester for the beach, which is better.

Don Hanley (not verified)    April 19, 2022 - 4:43PM

I became acquainted with the Honda rust-out problem when the right rear shock absorber detached itself and its mount from the body of my 2005 Pilot at about 145k miles. Inspection by my mechanic revealed that rusting was from the inside out. A little online research showed that this problem is very common on older Pilots. Much as I liked the vehicle and regardless of the continued reliability of other systems, I cannot continue to take the risk of the entire back end of the vehicle becoming detached. I will never buy another Honda. What works in California just does not cut it anywhere the roads are salted in wintertime.

SammyCat (not verified)    August 13, 2023 - 10:08PM

Heartbroken that the entire front end underbody on my beautiful and otherwise mechanically sound 2006 Honda Accord Ex-L with 198K is rusted out so badly that repairs to the exhaust can not be done. When a mechanic tells you not to spend another penny on your car, you know all is lost. I am angry and broken in turns. Should have gotten at least another 50K or 5 yrs out of her the way she was loved and cared for!