It's one of the basic rules of converting an EV: choose a donor with no rust. Rust could indicate structural weakness, and when you're loading a car down with lead, you want a sturdy frame.
I thought I had managed to follow at least one of the basic rules... until I found a rust bubble under my driver's side rear turn signal lens.
I got some advice on how to fix it, then attacked it with a few flap wheels and a sanding block. I wound up sanding right through the metal and into something ugly on the other side.
Turns out someone else had trouble with rust in this spot before. But instead of actually fixing the problem, he just slapped some bondo on it and figured he was done. Naturally, that didn't cure the problem. And then it became my problem.
It actually looks like the car might have been in a minor accident. The bondo is all over the back of the rust spot, but it's also spread throughout the corner, including between two pieces that are fitted together. (That makes me think that it might have come from Honda this way.)
There's a little surface rust nearby on the bottom stripe of the tailgate, and a pinpoint of actual rust there. The plan was to remove the lenses, strip the tailgate stripe and both lens corners, and paint the whole thing black with yellow stripes (like a caution tape). I was hoping for a couple of hours of work, spread over two days. Thanksgiving I was out of town with Eri's family; Friday I helped Tatiana prepare for the science fair; Saturday and Sunday looked like my best bet.
Saturday afternoon I discovered the hidden rust, so I tossed that plan. Instead of the entire job, I decided to attempt only the driver's corner. But I wasn't going to stand for any half measures! I attacked both sides of the rusty panel with two steel wire drilling wheels. I had bondo and rust flying. I worked hard to get everywhere. Where I couldn't reach with the drill, I worked by hand with 40 grit. Where I couldn't get by hand, I painted with rust converter.
When I was done, I had a bunch of bare metal (coated with rust converter/sealant) and a quarter-sized hole, right next to the edge of the lens. I used bondo to fill it, getting the junk all over my hands. Then I went to pick up the kids from their party.
The next day Melissa wanted to help. We started early, sanding my bondo mountain down. We started with 40 grit, and worked our way up to 120. Then Melissa taped up the car to prevent overspray while I sanded the corner piece. I put the piece back in place. Then I forgot to clean the area with naptha, and we sprayed it with primer and went inside to rest.
I came back out after 30 minutes or so, verified that the cleaning wasn't such a big deal by sanding it (nothing peeled off), and sprayed it with black while Melissa played video games. Thirty minutes later I let Melissa give it another coat. I tried to spray some extra in the edges and made a wet spot; when I tried to rub it off, all the paint came with it. I settled for shooting it again and trying to sand it out later.
Then everything went wacky. Tatiana needed help performing her science fair experiment. There was a tornado warning. And one of our friends called us for backup. They'd been in the hospital four times last week; the father and one of the sons were having serious trouble. I called a halt to the painting and helped them out by taking their other son out for a while. We had a difficult bowling trip, a difficult trip to a McDonald's PlayPlace, and a difficult dinner at home.
By the time I could get back to work, it was dark. I managed to get everything untaped and put back together with the help of an emergency light we keep plugged into the wall. Melissa verified the brake lights and blinkers all worked.
It's not sanded or finished, and there are still some scratches visible. It needs sanding, badly. To the naked eye, at a distance, it's not bad -- and I'm sure I can get more done next week.
But I can definitively say: it's not going to rust any time soon.