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How to Get Rust Off of Your Car

Steven Mitchell

If left untreated, rust will take over your entire car. Let’s look at some ways to clean things up and provide some prevention. Here’s how to fix rust.

There’s No Simple Remedy for This One

Lightning McQueen's sponsor Rust-eze - Pixar Cars on YouTube.com
Lightning McQueen's sponsor Rust-eze - Pixar Cars on YouTube.com

One of the many endearing moments in the movie Cars had to do with Lightning McQueen’s sponsor, Rust-eze. Rusty and Dusty created the Dinoco owned company to sell medicated bumper ointment with a unique rear-end formula. Old cars with rusty bumpers and more could use the product to eradicate rust.

As it is in most movies and TV shows, fantasy isn’t reality. As much as we’d like a magic potion to permanently get rid of rust, it’s not quite so simple. Permanently ridding a car of rust isn’t easy, but we’re going to check out some ways to battle rust on our cars.

What is Rust?

Vintage car with rust
Vintage car with rust

Like a nasty rash, you just can’t get rid of rust. If left untreated, it can take over the surface of your car. Iron oxide (rust’s actual name) shows up when your car’s paint is chipped, and bare metal is exposed to oxygen. Over time, a brownish-red color starts to appear and, if left untreated, the affected area will become brittle and lose its structural integrity. Although cars built before the ‘70s were more prone to rust, it’s still something that current models have to deal with.

Since we discovered how to galvanize metal by giving it a molten hot zinc coated bath, rust hasn’t been as big of a problem. However, one rock nick, a small dent, or salty air can invite rust to feast on even the most recent cars. Iron will continuously be susceptible to rust.

Vintage car with rust
Vintage car with rust

Since you aren’t interested in replacing trunk lids and fenders, what can you do to get rust off of your car? Depending on the severity, you may need to take it to an auto body repair shop for some significant intervention. Or you may be able to take care of it yourself. Let’s check out some options that can help you in the eternal battle with rust.

Type of Rust Repairs

Surface Rust Repair

Surface rust on a vehicle - 1A Auto: Repair Tips & Secrets Only Mechanics Know on YouTube.com
Surface rust on a vehicle - 1A Auto: Repair Tips & Secrets Only Mechanics Know on YouTube.com

Depending on your car’s age and where you live, you may see surface rust on places like a chrome bumper, the bottom edge of your fender, or a trunk lid. Surface rust isn’t usually a problem and doesn’t cause structural problems. Like most cosmetic issues, it’s not a bad thing to get rid of either. You, or a body shop, can repair it by sanding the affected part until the bare and clean metal is exposed. That area can then be prepped for painting or chrome plating.

  • Use 50-grit sandpaper for sanding the surface rust spots and the surrounding area.
  • Use a rust inhibitor like Permatex 81773 Rust Treatment  to neutralize any current rust and protect the metal from future rust.
  • Repaint and top with a clear coat.

Major Repairs

Rust hole on a vehicle - ChrisFix on YouTube.com
Rust hole on a vehicle - ChrisFix on YouTube.com

In some cases, the rust has done so much damage that parts need to be replaced. If this is true with your car or a car you’re looking to buy, you’ll need to decide: Is the car worth the cost of parts replacement? Has the structure been compromised to the point that it’s not safe to drive?

With scale rust or penetration rust, you’ll need a professional paint and body technician to check out your ride. In many situations, a repair can be as simple as using a steel brush to get rid of the rust and then repaint. With some rust, you need a simple body part replacement. In others, your car may need some significant metalwork. The cost will need to be balanced with the expected safety and value of the vehicle.

Keep Rust from Returning

After you get the rust off of your car, how do you prevent it from revisiting your precious metal? Here are a few tips on keeping away the red menace.

Garage or Cover Up Your Car if You Live Near the Ocean

Car cover protecting a vehicle
Car cover protecting a vehicle

Salt air and coastal fog can do a number on your paint. If your vehicle is parked outside off the coast, a good investment would be a car cover.

Wash Your Car Regularly Especially in Snowy Winters

Car going through a car wash
Car going through a car wash

Salted and chemically treated winter roads can nick your paint and corrode your car’s metal. Run it through a carwash as often as you can and pay special attention to the undercarriage.

Use Touch-Up Paint

Touching up paint on a car - 1A Auto: Repair Tips & Secrets Only Mechanics Know on YouTube.com
Touching up paint on a car - 1A Auto: Repair Tips & Secrets Only Mechanics Know on YouTube.com

Covering nicks and rock chips spots will prevent rust from taking hold of the bare metal. A few minutes can save heartache and a big bill later.

Use an Undercoat

Adding an undercoat to a vehicle - AMMO NYC on YouTube.com
Adding an undercoat to a vehicle - AMMO NYC on YouTube.com

Weigh the pros and cons of undercoating your car’s frame, especially if you live in an area where the county uses road salt. You should only apply an undercoat to new metal.

Start from Scratch

Woman driving in her vehicle
Woman driving in her vehicle

If you have an old car that’s worth restoring, you’ll want to take everything down to the bare metal and repaint it. It’s expensive, but newer paint technologies will help preserve your ride.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially related to getting rust off of your car and keeping it that way. If you take care of your vehicle with a few visual inspections and washes each month, your vehicle will take care of you.

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Steven Mitchell
Steven Mitchell

Steve's first car had pedals, and he's been filled with passion for four wheels ever since. He lives and breathes the car life as a technologist, futurist, and writer while keeping up with the whys, hows, and plans of the automotive industry. His automotive journey began with a fully restored Triumph TR3b that he sadly never appreciated until decades later. Ownerships of X-1/9's, BMW's, an SVT and a Dodge Ram Hemi have given way to the house of Audi Sport. You'll also find him as an endurance athlete on the bike in SoCal, but you'll know he's thinking about cars.

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