I saw the signs early.

That little rust spot on the quarter panels. The tiny dent that exposed sheetmetal. The little places where paint bubbled near the wheel well.

I knew what they were.

But I couldn't bear to accept it.

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So I hid in the lies I gave to my friends. "It's only surface rust, It's nothing to worry about for now," I told them. They believed me. I came to believe it myself. I accepted the lie: I had to. Winter was coming and I knew that things could get worse. Much worse. But I couldn't afford the treatment.

I had to weather the storm.

But it was worse than I could have imagined. Worse than anybody could have imagined. The icy chill of a polar vortex cast a long shadow upon the eternal gloom of this backwater city. As the mercury dropped, the Subaru soldiered on. Coughing to life in the frosty bite of arctic mornings, the heart of the Outback beat steadily without falter. But it's body was too old, too vulnerable, for this job.

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Visibly, I watched in horror as the oxide slowly consumed the quarter panel. I wanted it to stop. I wanted the salt and the rain and the snow and the potholes to go away. That was all I wanted for an automobile that has stood beside my family for 11 years. But I couldn't leave the area. And neither would the winter. It seemed the subzero temperatures never would rise, as winter continued to knock on the front door of spring.

Eventually, Spring trimphed, with winter uttering its last desperate sigh in April. Finally, like like a hurricane survivor wandering a leveled neighborhood, I could assess the damage. Although I knew that the rust had grown, and that it would grow again, I still hoped it hadn't hit any vital components.

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I was wrong.

First the two rear MacPhersons went, succumbing to the potholes of early Spring. Then a front strut. I made believe these were isolated incidents: that Old Man Winter had only graced the shocks with his frigid kiss of death.

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But as I changed the oil one day, I began to take a closer look at my control arm. With alarm, I slowly realized that the cancer had metastasized. Once hiding behind the false facade of "surface rust" one arm was already lost.

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As summer moved on, the cancer appeared in new places. It was under the headlights, in the doorjambs, and on the rear hatch. I began to realize that the quarter panel rust was the tip of an iceberg. There was more to the cancer than my eyes could ever observe from the outside.

So with winter on the way again, I understood I needed to take action. It might already have been to late, but I knew that waiting around would guarantee such a diagnosis. So with flathead scredriver in hand, I decided to chip out the loose paint and unearth the bubble rust. It was time for the extent of the damage to be known.

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I went for the most hopeful corner first and found what I was looking for. There was metal. Underneath the chipped paint, the sheetmetal remained. Although the plastic bumper hid a tragic loss, the quarter panel remained intcact. Lucklily, the cancer had not yet fully attacked.

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I continued to pursue another patch of bubble rust in the same manner, and unsurprisingly, the paint chipped away to reveal nothing more than light surface rust.

With spirits high, I continued on to the worst area of the car.

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I cried for about ten minutes. The diagnosis was fatal.

Then I pulled the bumper off and cried some more

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There was no choice. I had to operate to save this faithful machine before the disease grew. The car may never look the same again. It may no longer be the same attractive shiny wagon-ish thing that came home from the dealership 11 years ago. But looks are only skin deep. Beneath a weather torn body sits a ticking head-gasket time bomb heart of gold.

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But seriously. That 2.5 has never broken down in 11 freaking years. You have to give it some credit.

Also, please note that this is purposely written rather dramatically. There are Dodge pickups around here that are more rust than metal. However, my point is that I'd hate to lose such a reliable car because of rust, so I'm trying to stem the problem with some redneck ingenuity before the repair bills get any higher.

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