Rust and Your Car

Your car may be in top running condition, but its body might be crumbling before your eyes as rust consumes the sheet metal, bumpers, undercarriage and other key parts. Preventing rust will go long in preserving your vehicle. Fortunately, cars that have already started to rust are usually not beyond redemption. We’ll examine how rust occurs, what you can do about it, and whether your repair efforts justify the cost.

What is rust?

We see rust and know it isn’t a good thing. But what exactly is it?

Rust is another word for corrosion, or the oxidation of iron and its alloys, including steel. Most car bodies are steel intensive and that means they’re prone to rust. Rust happens due to changes in temperature, elevated humidity, and the impact of local conditions such as the vehicle’s proximity to salt water, wind, and moisture, including rain. The combination of iron, oxygen, and water leads to rust when electrons from iron transfers to oxygen.

You may have noticed more rust-prone vehicles nearer the coast as salt increases the speed of the reacting process. At the same time, owners who drive their vehicles on sand or into the ocean water will face an increased likelihood of rust occurring than other drivers.

Rust prevention measures

Corrosion occurs on the surface of a car and may begin when a scratch or a dent isn’t repaired in a timely fashion. It occurs in crevices, such as the gap between a nut and a bolt, and in areas that come into contact with the rust. As you might already know, rust easily spreads if it’s not aggressively contained.

One of the best ways to prevent rust is to regularly wash and wax your car. Following a cleaning routine will greatly reduce the chances that an ugly reddish-brown film won’t take residence on your car’s body. If possible, include an undercarriage wash to help remove dirt, grime, and salts that contribute to rust.

You can also check underneath your car and inspect the drain holes along the rocker panels and at the base of the doors, which allow moisture to flow out. A tool as simple as a pipe cleaner can unclog drain holes.

Another step is to utilize a rust inhibitor or a rust-preventing spray. Follow the directions to determine how and where to use these products.

Corrosion response essentials

You can’t always avoid rust. In fact, you may already own a vehicle that’s under assault. Or perhaps you’re considering purchasing a well-worn used car with obvious signs of rust. If so, your battle has begun.

First, determine the extent of the corrosion. Minor surface rust is the easiest to treat. Here, you’ll need to isolate the affected area with paint-appropriate tape, then apply a rust remover. After a few minutes, wipe off the residue with a clean rag. The rust should be gone. If not, use sandpaper to finish the job. Lastly, clean the affected area and apply a coat of wax.

If the job entails removing more widespread rust, you’ll need a variety of tools to get the job done, including a grinder with a sanding wheel, fiberglass-reinforced body filler, primer, paint, a face mask and gloves. Attacking an entire steel bumper will most certainly require this kind of extensive response.

What if the repairs are too extensive to handle with the tools available? If the corrosion involves a part, such as trim on a rocker panel, replacing the entire part may be the best approach. New parts are typically available through an auto parts store. However, if you’re restoring a classic car with an eye on using only original parts, your quest may involve searching auto salvage yards for what you need. If you’re a car collector, reach out to classic car clubs for guidance as their members can provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences.

Is it worth saving?

Before you begin any restoration project you need to ask yourself an important question: is my car worth it? That worth may be measured in a variety of tangible ways, including cost, time and the vehicle’s value after restoration. An intangible measurement is its sentimental value.

Your cost will depend in part on how much of the work you plan to undertake yourself. If the work is extensive, you’ll spend many hours on the project. Otherwise, add outside labor costs to your expenses.  Budget your projected costs, then determine if the work is worth your time and energy. If you intend to sell it, then subtract these costs from your estimated profit to determine whether you’ll come out ahead or lose money. Finally, add in your storage, insurance and upkeep costs, especially if you plan to keep your car.


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