The Ballad of the Rusty Bumper

While filling the air in my tires yesterday, I happened to look up at the rear bumper on my truck, and I noticed something I didn’t like: rust. There was just two little spots of it, barely noticeable unless you’re looking for it, but in the harsh and variable weather of Iowa, it doesn’t take long for such things to rapidly spread.

This observation leaves me with a lot of options.

Should I do nothing? Right now, the rust spots are barely noticeable (I didn’t even see them until my face was inches away), and it will be quite a while before they’re easily noticeable. The bumper is slightly weakened by the rust, but not incredibly so.

Should I get a rust treatment to prolong the life of my bumper? Most rust treatments are a temporary fix to an average bumper. They’ll get rid of the visible rust just fine, but they don’t get rid of the underlying problem: rustable metal exposed to harsh conditions. Obviously, there are more expensive treatments that can keep the rust away for a long time as well.

Should I replace the bumper? This will likely cost $300 or so (depending on what exactly I choose to get), according to the thumbnail estimate of a friend of mine who works on cars. That will fix the problem permanently, but is also the most expensive choice.

I haven’t decided which route to take, but I did notice one important thing: In a lot of ways, this question has very little to do with a rusty bumper.

The bumper happens to be an item that is going to eventually need to be replaced, much like many other items in life, like a washing machine, a dryer, a television, and so on. Obviously, near the end of their lifecycle, these items will begin to have problems. A television’s screen will get darker, a washing machine will have a motor go out, and so on.

At that point, is it prudent to just go ahead and replace the item? A highly frugal person would probably say no or, at best, it depends. A big spender would probably chuckle, as they rarely keep an item long enough to reach this point.

What about me, a person who leans towards the frugal side of things? I tend to use an item until it breaks or begins to wear out. At that point, I try to fix it myself – is it something I can actually do myself with minimal parts purchased? Quite often, I can find a washing machine motor or make up a homemade solution to fix the problem for a while – if it’s simple and an enjoyable task, that’s the route I’ll take.

However, when I’ve reached that point, I start to bargain shop. I do research, figure out what my ideal replacement options are, then start seeking bargains on that option while my “repair” is working. Then, when I find the replacement I want at the right price, I go for it, even if the item is still working, because I know that it’s about to fail.

So how do I handle that rusty bumper? I just mix together equal amounts of cream of tartar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, and baking soda (a cheap homemade rust remover) and scrub it on the bumper with a brush, removing the obvious rust. I do this a few times while scoping out bumper prices and I keep an eye on the bumper itself. If the bumper lasts until I replace the truck for other reasons – great. If it’s obvious the bumper’s having problems or I come across a good deal on a bumper, then I’ll just replace it entirely and swallow the cost.