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How to Remove Rust from Car Metal and Protect Your Vehicle

When your vehicle spends hours moving around the city and perhaps even more time parked outdoors, you’re bound to notice the impact of the elements. Rust spots are one of the most common impacts Mother Nature can have on your car. While it’s completely natural, you don’t want the rust to stay. Learning how to remove rust from cars can help you protect the health and integrity of your vehicle’s metal.

Adding rust prevention and removal to your car maintenance schedule is a great way to protect your car from expensive damages over time. By being proactive, you can catch rust long before a part needs to be completely replaced.

Keep reading to learn more about car rust and how to get rid of it for good.

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What Causes Rust on Cars?

How to remove rust from carCar rust can be caused by a handful of environmental factors, with ongoing exposure to salt and water two of the most common. Salt accumulation often leaves vehicles more susceptible to rusting, while any type of moisture reaching your car’s metal can lead to oxidation — the main cause of rust.

As a result, drivers who live by the seaside may notice light rust more often than others due to the high levels of salt and moisture in the air. Driving in rainy or snowy states (especially where road salt is frequently used) can also lead to more frequent rusting.

However, more often than not, rusting is simply the result of poor maintenance. Even with environmental factors, it’s actually simpler than you think to prevent rust. We’ll dive more into prevention tips later, but the biggest takeaway here is you can act before rust becomes a major issue.

How to Remove Rust from Car

The process to remove rust from a car depends on the severity of the damage. In this section, we’ll guide you through the steps to remove surface rust or major rust damage.

Surface Rust

How to remove rust from car: Headlights of classic carWhen rust sits on the surface or a shallow area of your car metal, it’s actually quite easy to remove. This means you can easily get rid of the issue and prevent a painstaking removal. In order to remove this minor rusting with minimal effort, gather these materials from your garage or auto parts store:

  • Masking tape or painter’s tape
  • Safety gear (including gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask)
  • Rust remover, such as Rust Converter ULTRA
  • Clean cloth
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Grease and wax remover, like this Dupli-Color product
  • Primer
  • Automotive spray paint (matching your car’s paint color)
  • Spray-on top coat (sometimes known as a clear coat)
  • Paint brush for liquid rust removal

Then, follow these directions to get rid of surface rust:

  1. Use your masking tape or painter’s tape to protect a few inches of space surrounding your car’s rust spot.
  2. Put on your safety gear to avoid contact with the rust removal solution.
  3. Following the directions on the rust removal product, apply the solution to the affected area. You may need a paint brush to apply liquid remover instead of remover in a spray can.
  4. Let the rust remover sit as long as recommended on your product’s directions. Some products may recommend a second coat or a longer curing time.
  5. Use your clean cloth to wipe off the rust remover residue.
  6. If any rust is still on the surface, use your sandpaper to gently remove it.
  7. Clean the area with your grease and wax remover, which can also help paint adhere to the surface better.
  8. Spray a light coat of your primer, then wait as long as the product’s directions recommend. Repeat two more times.
  9. Spray a thin coat of your spray paint to cover the full area. Wait for it to mostly dry before applying a new coat to prevent paint from running. Repeat as needed for full coverage.
  10. Spray on your clear coat as recommended on the product’s directions.

Most body shop experts recommend waiting a few days after applying the product to wash your car and at least a few months to wax your car.

Major Rust Damage

Old red VolkswagenIf the rusting on your vehicle has gotten deeper over time, you’ll want to add a grinder and sanding pads and a metal-reinforced body filler like Bondo to your shopping list. You’ll also want to switch out your basic primer for a self-etching primer, which is best to use on top of bare metal. Then, follow these steps instead of the ones for surface-level removal:

  1. Use your masking tape or painter’s tape to protect the space surrounding your car’s rusted area, covering a significant area around it.
  2. Use your grinder and sanding pads to sand away as much of the rust as possible, working gently to ensure you don’t remove more than necessary.
  3. Clean the area with your grease and wax remover.
  4. Use your body filler to fill up holes and dents left behind from the sanding process. Then, let it cure as long as recommended on your product’s directions. You can expect this step to take quite a bit of time.
  5. Using your sandpaper (not the grinder), smooth out the filler.
  6. Clean the area with your grease and wax remover.
  7. Tape off the section of your car you want to paint.
  8. Spray a light coat of your self-etching primer, then wait as long as recommended on your product’s directions.
  9. Spray a thin coat of your spray paint to cover the full area. Wait for it to mostly dry before applying a new coat (this will prevent the paint from running), then repeat as needed for full coverage.
  10. Spray on your clear coat as recommended on the product’s directions.

Avoid washing and waxing your vehicle for as long as you would after a surface rust removal project. So again, wait a few days before washing your car and a few months before waxing it.

How to Prevent Car Rust

Surface rust may be easy to remove, but preventing rust accumulation is always the best way to keep your vehicle healthy and up to your rider’s expectations. Here are a few easy ways you can prevent car rust:

  • Park in a garage or under a carport whenever possible.
  • Wash your vehicle every two weeks. This will remove any contaminants on the surface of your car before they contribute to rust. This is especially important if your car accumulates salt. You can use our guide to learn how to wash a car by hand for the best results.
  • Wax your car three times a year. Wax acts as a protective coating that prevents the elements (including moisture) from reaching your actual car metal. You can use our guide to learn how to wax a car effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

Beat-up car sitting in desert

When you know how to remove rust from cars, you essentially get contaminants off your car’s surface before they eat away at your metal over time. To learn more about rust removal, here are our answers to frequently asked questions:

1. Where can I go for professional rust repair services?

Most auto body shops should be able to help you out when rust gets too extensive for you to fix yourself, or if the cost is worth the amount of time you’ll save. Rust repair services can run as high as $500 to $1,000, and it can cost more depending on the severity of the damage.

2. Can I just paint over rust to prevent it from spreading?

Rust must be treated before you paint over it. This will ensure it doesn’t continue to damage your car any further, whereas painting over it will simply be a cosmetic fix.

3. Can I use any household items to clean off rust?

Baking soda and vinegar can substitute for a dedicated rust remover when needed. Some DIY enthusiasts will even use Coca-Cola to remove rust. However, household solutions will only work for very minor rusting. We always recommend purchasing car rust removal products for a more effective, damage-free solution you can use again in the future. It’s a good investment that career drivers can use as a tax deduction.

Protect Your Car Metal

There’s no avoiding the outdoors when you own a car, especially when you’re driving it as a part of your gig. Learning how to remove rust from cars — and prevent rust altogether — can help you protect the integrity of your car metal, no matter where you’re taking your vehicle. With our step-by-step process and prevention tips, you’ll save hundreds that you would otherwise have to spend on body shop visits.

If parking in a garage or under a carport isn’t possible for you, you can still actively prevent rust by simply putting a layer of protection over your car. Read about the best car covers for any situation to get our top picks.

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