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Series Land Rovers

Chassis Preservation..

Original Author: Alan J. Richer (OVLR)
You'll get filthy.
You'll get a backache.
You'll eat more crud than you ever thought feasible.
You won't enjoy this job.

Don't get me wrong - there are few things I've enjoyed doing less on my Rover than rust-coating and preserving my chassis, but it is a job that needs to be done on most of these British beasts. The chassis more than any other part of the vehicle determines the Rover's life span, so care with this can mean the difference between a nice Rover and a parts special.

The major objective here is to deal with the external corrosion on the chassis, and then to paint it so that maintenance and upkeep of this vital bit becomes simpler in the future.

I took this as a 3-part job:
  1. Clean off all of the dirt, grease, crud and such that the chassis had picked up in its travels.
  2. Coat the clean but rusty metal with a rust reforming chemical, and
  3. Paint the resulting cleaned metal to inhibit further damage.
You'll notice that I'm not mentioning the inside of the chassis - that's an entirely separate problem that needs to be addressed with a sprayable coating - I've not done this myself yet, but that's next on the list.


The materials needed for this job, with one exception, are available at your local hardware shop or home center.

These include:
  • Safety goggles - you'll want them for this job, as things will be falling on you as you clean, as well as paint, rust reformer and so forth as you preserve the cleaned chassis.
  • Very old clothes - I ended up tossing out the jeans and T-shirt I wore while dong this - they were too filthy to wash.
  • A large piece of plywood or cardboard to lay on underneath the car Disposable painter's hat - Ever try to get paint out of your hair? You don't want to. Cut the brim off this or not as suits you for undercar work - I did.
  • Wire brushes - I used a brass grill-cleaning brush for the open areas, and a narrow steel wirebrush for the tight spots. You don't need expensive ones - I think I paid $1.99 for each of them, and I didn't wear them out.
  • Paint scraper - this is to remove the accumulated crud from the areas of the chassis that accumulate such things (behind the fuel tank, for example). Two of these, one wide and one narrow, are right for the job.
  • Paint brush(es) - Don't use good ones for this job, buy the disposables and just dump them. The nooks and crannies of the outriggers and such ruin the shape of a brush.
  • Paint - I used a good water base polyurethane paint for mine. It's easy to clean up, fairly tough and easy to apply.
The last item isn't really a hardware-store item, but can be had without too much searching. As a rust converter I used a chemical preparation called Extend, manufactured by the Loctite Corporation. It's a chemical compound that converts rust to a stable black primer, thus inhibiting further corrosion. It's not stable under ultraviolet light and needs to be overcoated for best protection, but as we're going to paint over it anyway this is not a problem.

This stuff is NOT cheap, but it works well. I'd seen it in hardware stores for 8-10 dollars a pint - way too expensive for a whole chassis. However, for folks with access to a Sherwin-Williams paint store (all over the US and I believe Canada), they sell this same material in gallon industrial packages for $55-60/gallon. As I only used 2 quarts on my 109 (and I was lavish with it), 2 Roverites could get together and split a gallon, reducing the price even further.

I wish I could offer advice on preparations available in Europe and elsewhere, but I don't know of them. Barring the availability of this, I'd probably go with a good red-lead primer or some other anticorrosion paint, then paint over that with a finish coat.

1. Cleaning the chassis and preparing it for coating

Here's the truly filthy bit. To prepare the chassis for rust inhibiting and painting, we need to clean it. The best way to do this is just to go for it, being methodical about where you begin so you'll get it all.

First, go down to your local self-service car wash with a pocketful of quarters and give the chassis a thorough soaking with degreaser (engine cleaner), followed by a soak and a thorough rinse. Pay attention to the areas above the outriggers on both sides, the crossmembers, the insides of the frame by the engine compartment and all of the nooks and crannies where mud collects, like the inside of the rear crossmember. Do as thorough a job as you can here, because anything you don't get here you have to go after by hand.

When you get home, let the underside dry, then get on your grubby clothes and safety goggles and prepare for some work. Put your cardboard down on the ground, and starting at the rear, systematically attack the chassis with the wirebrushes and scrapers. Your intent here is to remove all the hardened dirt the power wash wouldn't touch, leaving clean metal behind. You won't be able to get everywhere, but do the best you can with it.

One area to be particularly concerned with is the top of the chassis, especially toward the rear of the vehicle. Inevitably, dirt and mud get tossed up there, along with road salt and what-have-you, and it just stays and causes things to rot away. It's not an easy area to get to, but it can be done without major disassembly. Also, the same problem takes place on the chassis rails inside of the fuel tank areas. If you want to be really thorough (I was), then pick up the floor panels and hit the chassis areas and outriggers so exposed. You'll tank yourself in 10 years when all your friends are dishing big bucks to the local welding shops.

In doing this you will inevitably turn up areas that need repair. Do yourself a favor and hit them now, if you can. I found 4 or 5 spots that needed some patching on my car and replaced the steel with 12-gauge metal, fitted to shape and MIG-welded into place, with the welds then ground flush. Can't even see 'em, now.....

Once the cleaning is done, take the car back to the car wash and power wash it again. This way, it'll remove all the little loosened bits and give you the best surface you can get. Let it dry overnight, if you can, before proceeding to the next phase.

2. Applying the rust conversion coating

The conversion coating I used (Loctite Extend) is a latex-based chemical that looks a lot like heavy cream. It's applied straight from the package, painting it on with a brush. After a minute or two, you'll see the rust underneath the white emulsion turning black as it's converted to a stable form, then in an hour or so the coating will be completely black, having turned the rust into a nice paintable primer surface.

There are no real tricks to applying the coating. I just basically slopped it on with a brush, being very careful to get it into all of the nooks and crannies of the spring hangers, outriggers and so on. The coating is not really amenable to spraying, unfortunately - it would have made application easier. Just go at it with a brush, making sure to wear eye protection - there' s some serious chemistry in this mix.

Once this dries, get out your MagLite or a bright drop light and have a good look around underneath. Inevitably you'll find places you missed, as I did. Touch these up and give the whole mess at lest a half-day to dry hard.

3. Painting.

There's no trick to painting a Land-Rover chassis - it's just grunt work and patience. I applied a coat of water-base matt polyurethane paint over the rust conversion coating, both to protect the coating from UV and as a further barrier to rust. Just be patient and make sure you work the paint into all the cracks and crevices, and you'll have a job to be proud of.

Again, take the time to get the top areas of the chassis as well as the sides and bottom. It'll be time well spent, and isn't all that hard to reach by pulling a wheel to access the areas through the wing wells.

In conclusion, maintenance of this type may be distasteful but it's the way to get maximum life out of the steel parts of your aluminum friend. After off-roading, make sure you clean the undercarriage to remove all the mud, and if you see scrapes or the like, clean them and touch them up. It's easy to keep things in top condition once you get them there to begin with.

With this kind of care, you and you Rover will be spending many more miles together.



Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2011. Last modified March 15, 2005.
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