Rust Proofing Your Thing

OK, everyone knows the primary area for rust on VWs is under the battery. It’s an easy fix, as there are battery tray panels as well as complete right and left side floor pans that can be used to fix larger areas of floor rust.

Rust on the VW Thing Type 181 can be a different kind of critter because of all of the blind panels in the body.

Let’s discuss the easy part first. The floor under the battery can be fixed in any number of ways. If the holes are small to medium, you can grind the floor down to bare metal and put a layer of 1oz fiberglass production cloth on it and glass it in. This will last forever if you prepped right. Then coat the area with paint or some other product of your choice. I prefer to use a spray bedliner material that is put out by Dupli-Color. It is in a rattle can and costs about $9.00. It dries hard over the glass and you can’t see the repair. I shoot it on both the inside and outside underneath. In fact, I use this spray on the entire underside of my pan. It has proven to be a super product for the cost invested.

One of the worst areas for rust on the Thing are the lower rocker panels just in front of the rear wheels. This happens because there is a rubber plug just in front of the rear wheels on the inside of the wheel wells. When this plug comes out or is cracked, it allows the rear wheels to sling rain water and snow up into the void area of the rocker panels. This is an expensive repair area. The Thing is assembled with numerous blind panels inside the body for strength. When snow or water gets in there, it just sits there and rusts until it eats through the panel.

Experienced body shops will tell you the Thing can be one of the most expensive body work projects, depending on where the rust is located. I have had to cut out the rocker panels that were rusted through and weld in a good set that was cannibalized from a donor body. There is a body ledge under the rear long flat seat cushion. When this gets rusted through, it is Big Dollars to get this fixed properly.

Another area for rust on the Thing is around the fuel filler pipe, where it goes through the body. This is caused by the weld around the pipe itself on the body becoming cracked. It is fixable, but labor intensive. There are the other areas of rust, such as the bottom of all your doors. This is caused by the drain holes in the bottom of the doors being plugged. Some folks put rubber plugs in these holes which is fine if you live where there is minimal rain. We live in Idaho where we really don’t get a lot of rain, but just from an abundance of caution, I leave them out.

Lets talk about the windshield frame. These are getting harder to find in good condition. The part that is critical to the windshield is the lower frame. This is the one that rusts out completely if the windshield gasket is cracked or shot. If you flop your windshield forward, you can slide the bottom rubber out of the track and check the inside of the slot. I always check this area when getting a new Thing. Repairing this is almost impossible. Usually the entire lower frame has to be removed, which is a task.

I have been hoarding these frames for the guys in our local Thing Group. At the bare minimum, take the rubber out of the slot, clean the slot out and then brush in some rust killer like POR-15. I use a product that I get from body shop suppliers called SEM. It’s less costly than POR-15 and works just as well. Costs about $16.00 for a pint or so.

When we were running our Things in our outfitting business up on the high desert of southern Idaho, we had a few rivers to cross on our excursions. The Bruneau, Owyhee, and Jarbidge were some of the rivers we forded numerous times during the season. At times the water was 18-22 inches deep. We knew when the generator (alternator) warning light came on we were at the maximum depth for fording in the Thing. Doing this in the business was rough on the Things, as rust was a constant issue that doesn’t abate. Moisture is conducive to rust. Moisture is a fact of life on Earth.

Even if you have a Thing in good condition, don’t ignore RUST, or the possibility of RUST. Be pro-active in dealing with it. One of the things I did to protect the body was to pull all the rubber body plugs, such as those around the top rear of the body and the ones on top of the door hanger posts, as well as the ones inside the front area along the lower body. Then I squirted straight SEM into these areas with a mustard squeeze bottle. I would then take the air hose from the compressor and blast a stream of air into the body cavity to push the SEM into all areas. I put a 3 ft long copper tube on the end of the air nozzle so as to be able to get it down into the body cavity from the top and shoot air into the areas.

For me, the best preventative has been coating the inside of the wheel wells and fenders with the Dupli-Color spray bed liner material. I shot it on the inside of the bottoms of each of my doors, and then shot the color coat over this. It helps.


– Mike Humeston