Rust on a car is a serious problem. Not only does it look terrible and lower the value of your car, but it’s also a “silent killer.” Left untreated, rust can cause major safety issues. Luckily, it’s also entirely preventable.
The following guide will discuss the different types of rust that can develop on the car, explain how to prevent it, and debunk some of the most common urban legends about rust on cars. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to keep rust at bay so your car continues looking great for years to come.
What Is Rust?
When learning how to prevent car rust, it’s helpful to understand what it is and where it comes from. The word “rust” is actually short for “red dust,” named after its color and texture. It’s caused by a breakdown of iron-based materials, called oxidation. This happens when iron comes into contact with oxygen and water.
Rust on cars typically happens in stages. If it’s not taken care of when it first occurs, it will continue to progress, causing more damage. Let's take a look at the types of rust that can form on a motor vehicle:
You’ll often experience surface rust when your car’s paint breaks down over time. This can be caused by a prolonged over-exposure to the sun’s UV rays or by mechanical damage such as scratches, scrapes, and dents. It's also important to note that bird droppings are acidic, so leaving them on your car can also lead to rust.
It’s often possible to remove surface rust using high-grade sandpaper or an abrasive wheel to grind it down until the paint and rust are gone, and shiny metal is exposed. Then, you’ll need to prime the area before applying new paint.
Left untreated, surface rust often creates “scales,” also called “bubble rust.” This happens when surface rust expands and flakes, exposing the metal underneath. When that metal starts to corrode, the rust will continue going deeper, creating “scales.”
This can be treated in much the same way as surface rust, but you’ll need a wire brush to make your way through the rough scales before using sandpaper or an abrasive wheel.
If you leave bubble rust for long enough, the base metal will begin to flake, leaving holes in your car. Unfortunately, at this point, your options for correcting the problem are limited. In most cases, you’ll need to have the entire panel replaced or have the corroded areas cut out and have patch panels welded into place. If the frame of your car is rusted, this will damage its structural integrity, making it unsafe to drive.
The Damage Rust Can Cause
In addition to cosmetic and structural damage, it’s also possible for rust to occur inside your vehicle’s engine. This often happens when condensation occurs inside the engine or from using low-quality fuel. While modern lubrication systems may help prevent this, it’s also important to take precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure to the elements. If water frequently finds its way into your vehicle, rust may also affect its electronics and electrical system.
How to Prevent Car Rust
As you can see, rust on a car can be a very serious issue. This is why it’s so important to learn how to prevent car rust. Luckily, keeping your vehicle rust-free is pretty easy. Start with these five tips.
1. Wash Your Car Frequently
One of the easiest ways to prevent rust on a car is to wash it often. Not only will it keep your car looking shiny and new, but it will also remove corrosive debris, salt, and grime.
It’s important not to wait for your car to look dirty before washing it. The elements that attack your car’s paint aren’t visible to the naked eye, so by the time you can see that you’re due for a wash, some damage has already occurred.
While any type of car wash is better than not washing your car at all, a high-pressure cleaner is the most effective. This will allow you to easily clean tricky areas – like your undercarriage and the inside of your wheel arches. For the best protection, plan to wash your vehicle once a week and have it professionally cleaned every few months.
2. Don’t Forget the Wax
To keep your car in the best possible condition and prevent rust from forming, you’ll want to wax it at least twice a year. This adds another layer of protection between your car’s paint and rust-causing moisture. If you’re not storing your car in a garage, you’ll need to wax it even more often to make up for the extra exposure to the elements.
It’s easy to wax your car on your own, but if you don’t have the time, consider adding a hand wax when you take it for professional cleaning.
3. Apply a Rust Coating
If you’re already having problems with rust or you live in a harsh environment, it’s a good idea to have a protective rust-proof coating applied by a professional. Since exposure to salt is one of the primary causes of rust, this is even more important if you live by the ocean or the gulf. In areas where salt is frequently applied to icy roads, rustproofing can also make a major difference.
If you have a short-term lease or don’t plan to keep your car for long, then you can probably skip the rustproofing. However, if you plan to hold onto your vehicle for the long haul, this is definitely worth considering.
4. Protect Your Car from the Elements
Constant exposure to sun, rain, and snow can do a number on your car. If you want to avoid rust, you really should park it under cover. If your home doesn’t already have a garage, consider adding one. A portable garage is an affordable option that's ideal for those who rent their homes, on a tight budget, or don't have a lot of space. A steel garage is an excellent option for a homeowner who has room to spare, is looking for a permanent option, and wants to save money on a new structure.
5. Repair Rust Before It Spreads
It’s a good idea to give your car a once-over each time you wash it. Keep an eye out for any paint damage or small spots of rust. When checking your car, also pay close attention to the condition of drain holes, water channels, and seals. If moisture collects here, rust can start to form unseen.
Any time you notice a possible sign of rust, it’s important not to let it go. Taking care of it before it spreads can save you a lot of time and thousands of dollars in future repairs.
Urban Legends About Rust on Cars
Now that we’ve covered how to prevent rust on cars, it’s time to debunk some common urban legends. Each of the following statements is commonly believed but is completely untrue.
1. You Need Annual Rust Proofing
While rustproofing is a great idea, there’s no need to overdo it. As long as you choose a qualified professional to apply your coating, it should last at least a few years. In fact, a high-quality rust-proofing application should keep your car protected for as long as 10 years.
2. You Can’t Rust-Proof After Rust Appears
Even if oxidation has already occurred, a rust-proofing treatment can significantly slow down the process. It will also help protect the other parts of your car that have not yet started to rust. If you already have rust on your car, it’s best to consult with a professional about your options.
3. Washing Too Frequently Can Cause Rust
Since rust is caused by contact with water, it’s reasonable to think that exposing your car to too much water could be a problem. However, when it comes to washing your car, this simply isn’t true. The more often you wash your car, the more frequently you remove damage-causing debris and chemicals. This is actually one of the best ways to prevent rust on cars.
4. Rust on Your Car’s Body is the Primary Concern
Most people worry about the rust they can see, but rust on your undercarriage is far more concerning. Road salt and other contaminants can get trapped under your vehicle, causing serious damage. This is one reason why cars in northern states that are driven in the winter are more prone to rot.
In addition to checking the car's surface, it’s important to inspect the underside of your car for rust every year. This is the best way to discover small issues and fix them before they become a major problem.
Take Steps to Protect Your Vehicle Today!
As you can see, learning how to prevent car rust really isn’t that complicated. Simply wash and wax it regularly, keep it out of the elements, consider a rust coating, and repair any rust spots you find right away.