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My mother-in-law has just retired and given us her old Pontiac Sunfire 1996. It's been little used and generally well maintained, except for the body.

Both front fenders have a small patch of about one square inch that looks like it has been heavily damaged by rust, and the part of the rear right fender that's just under the gas tank door is rust-damaged over about one square foot — my wife managed to make a hole accidentally by putting her finger on it.

I very much doubt that we'll this car for more than a couple years, and that we'll be able to sell it for anything but scrap when we get rid of it. Therefore, it's not very tempting to invest money in fixing the body.

Would there be any consequences, other than aesthetic, in not taking care of this? If the answer is yes, would there be a relatively way of avoiding those consequences, again considering that aethetics is not a major concern?

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    Before putting any money into it bring it to a mechanic you trust. Ask him to put it on the lift and inspect the car. You want to determine if the rust has progressed beyond cosmetic concerns and into structural concerns. This can only be done by getting under it. – mikes Apr 6 '15 at 21:48
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    I second this comment. Depending on where rust originated, it can either be surface cosmetic or structural and unsafe to drive. If the rust started on the surface, it is less of a problem, but if the rust started from the underside of the vehicle, and progressed all the way to the surface, then you will risk having chunks of the car fall off. – Nelson Apr 8 '15 at 1:04
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There realistically should not be any worries about a rusty body other than aesthetics. As stated in the comments, though, you need to give the vehicle a good once over to ensure there is not structural damage from rust. Body parts will usually have issues well before structural parts, but it is at least worth checking. If you are going to treat this as a throw away car, drive it until the wheels fall off and don't worry about it. When the rust gets to a point where it is interfering with the safe operation of the vehicle or it gets just too ugly, then roll it over the scales (scrap yard) and call it a day.

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As the others have said, it really depends on whether the rust is purely cosmetic, or if it affects structural parts.

Also, depending on where you are, it may fail required safety tests - for example, in my jurisdiction a car will fail if it has any sharp edges (e.g. where you poked a hole through the rusted panel) or any rust within 30cm (12") of a suspension mounting point or seatbelt anchor point.

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