Image from Craigslist. Art by Jason Torchinsky.

To Detroiters hunting for a car on Craigslist, consider this a warning: The phrases “no rust” and “a little rust” do not mean what you think they mean. But fear not, for today I shall decode the special language used among Motor City automobile sellers.

I’ll admit that I spend most of my waking hours browsing the Detroit Craigslist in search of some sort of rust-free project, regularly passing out at my keyboard after failing to find a single inexpensive example without a hole through the rocker panel.

Though this may sound pathetic and sad, at the very least I can say I have learned something, and it’s that many Detroit Craigslist sellers are straight-up liars when it comes to their descriptions of how much rust their cars have. They say their vehicles have no rust, but it simply is not true!

And yes, the concept of a Craigslist seller lying about a vehicle isn’t exactly unique to Detroit, but I think the issue here in the heart of the rust belt isn’t really that the sellers are intentionally in denial, it’s that they’re so used to total garbage that they’ve literally lost all understanding of what a “rust free” car should look like.

Take this 1996 Jeep Cherokee, for example. In its description, just after the seller erroneously refers to it as a Grand Cherokee, they include the term “no rust.”

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Image: Craigslist

Looking closely at those images, it’s clear that “no rust” clearly doesn’t mean “no rust.” Sure, the Jeep may be structurally sound, but just have a gander at the rockers and at the rear quarter panel. They’re completely rusted through!

Image: Craigslist

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This Chevrolet Astro seller is clearly reading the same dictionary as the person unloading that XJ, because in the jumbled, borderline-incoherent vehicle description exist the word “no” followed shortly thereafter by “rust”:

Image: Craigslist

Clicking on the pictures, you would then expect to see a vehicle with a relatively solid body with no traces of The Brown Car-Cancer. And yet:

Image: Craigslist

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Now, unless this guy drove through a puddle of chocolate pudding, that front bumper is clearly being eaten by our old nemesis Fe2O3.

In addition to “no rust,” the phrase “a little rust” also apparently means something different on Detroit’s Craigslist. Check out this 2004 Buick Century listing:

Image: Craigslist

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“It has a little rust on the rocker panel,” the seller claims. Let’s just take a look at the rocker panel in question:

Image: Craigslist

Where’d it go? There’s a solid two feet of it missing!

But OK, one side is bad. The good thing, though, is that the owner says the rust is consolidated to “the rocker panel,” implying that the issue applies only to a single side.

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But what’s this?!

Image: Craigslist

This may just be a common language among Buick Century owners, because that same “little rust” phrase is also used by this owner of a 2002 model:

Image: Craigslist

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But oh, what do we have here:

Photo: Craigslist

Good god. That rocker panel is in even worse shape than the other car’s! Half of it is totally rotted away, and the back half appears to barely be holding on! How is this “a little rust?”

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And again, the seller uses the phrase “the rocker panel,” when both sides are apparently disintegrating:

Photo: Craigslist

Look at this thing; you could get tetanus by just stepping out:

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Anyway, this whole post is just a warning to Detroit car-nuts innocently browsing Craigslist. I don’t want you getting your hopes up like I once did when a seller of a $400 XJ Cherokee told me his Jeep “had a solid frame.” I wound up in a sketchy apartment complex, trying to yank my flashlight out of the unibody rail I had just pushed a big hole into.

It’s important that you all understand the local vernacular, so allow to me translate it for you:

-No rust (nō-rəst): Surface rust; maybe a few small holes.

-A little rust (ā,ə-ˈlidl-rəst): Quite a few rust holes. The rocker panels and fenders probably look like Swiss cheese.

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-Some Rust (rəst): There are no floors or rockers left. The fenders look like they’ve been chewed on by a rabid beast.

-Rust (rəst): This thing is a freaking death-trap.

-Has A Solid Frame (haz-ā,ə-ˈsäləd-frām): Expect the frame to exist in some form, but the rest of the body will be wrecked beyond belief.

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-Major Rust (‘mājər-rəst): You’ll be shoveling this car into a bag with a broom and a dust pan.

Only if the listing specifically says “From Out West” (frəm-out-əv-stāt) is it possible that the car truly has no traces of rust. Even then, who the hell knows how long it’s been in Michigan.

So there you go; the next time you read a Craigslist post in which a seller claims their vehicle has no rust, you’ll know what to expect. You’re welcome. Though if you want really good advice, maybe just don’t try to buy rust-free used cars off of Michigan Craigslist.