While a rusted old car might make for a charming family photo backdrop, we don’t necessarily want to drive one around. Rust isn’t just unattractive, it is also a sign of deterioration and corrosion. Luckily, it is both preventable and treatable. Understanding what causes it, the problems it can solve, and how to prevent or treat it can keep the rusty problems at bay.

How to Prevent and Treat Rust

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What Causes Rust?

To keep it simple and go back to science class: Rust is a simple chemical reaction between iron and water. That blend creates oxidation, and oxidation means corrosion and that unique red color. This corrosive damage is usually caused by a few main factors:

  • Weather: The climate you live in will have a huge impact on your battle with rust. If water causes it, then inclement weather will play a part. If you live in a rainy or snowy area, then rust might be a real problem. Snow has an extra layer of risk due to the fact that salt on the icy roads can speed up the wear and tear on your car.
  • Time: There’s a reason those old cars are rusty. Time takes its toll. The older the car, the more it has experienced, and more experience means more water. More water? More rust.
  • Materials: This one is affected by time as well. Newer cars have coatings in vulnerable areas, such as wheel wells, that lend themselves to be less reactive to the chemical reactions that cause rust. Older cars weren’t so lucky. Reactive materials mean a rusty reaction in older cars.

What Makes Rust So Bad?

Sure, it might not look nice, but is rust really all that bad? If it was only an appearance problem, then it could be ignored more easily. But rust means corrosion, and corrosion means trouble. When things start breaking down or wearing through because of rust, then the function and safety of the car will be at risk. These risks vary, depending on the location and severity of the rust. There are a few levels of rust, ranging from “not a big deal” to, “Wow, I can see the road through that hole in my car while I drive. That’s fun.”

  • Surface Rust: This is pretty much what it sounds like–rust on the surface. This rust hangs out on the paint level of your car and is most commonly spotted near nicks, dings, and scrapes, where moisture has gotten under the paint and started rusting the surface beneath. This is the stage where you want to catch the rust and treat it quickly.
  • Scale Rust: This is the next level of rust, where it has gotten below the paint level and started to corrode the body panels of the car. If you drive on roads that are salted in the winter, this is a rust that might rear its head.
  • Penetrating Rust: This rust sounds intimidating. It doesn’t mean you need to immediately haul your car to a junkyard, but this does mean that the rust has severely affected the integrity of the structure and an entire part or body panel might need to be replaced.

How do I Prevent Rust?

Now that you’re convinced rust is a real problem, how can you keep from having to deal with it in the first place? We’ve got you covered:

  • Wash Your Car: This isn’t just a to-do task for good looks; a clean car means it is getting rinsed regularly, washing away that dangerous salt if you drive on snowy roads. A regular wash also means a regular inspection. If you are washing your car weekly, you’ll be able to spot rust troubles earlier.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Mr. Miyagi was onto something, and it wasn’t just impressive karate skills. Waxing your car protects the paint and puts one more layer between moisture and your car’s body. Maybe find a local karate studio and ask for volunteers. (Kidding. . . )
  • Keep the Inside Clean Too: Spilled soda or water might not seem a big deal once you’ve soaked up the biggest puddles. But, that moisture is making its way through your carpet. . . and maybe even deeper. A spilled drink can mean water getting to your undercarriage, which can cause trouble. So, unless you want to run your car around like Fred Flintstone, make sure those spills are soaked up and cleaned thoroughly.
  • Know Before You Buy: If you are looking to purchase a used or rebuilt title car (also known as a restored title car), ask about the rust. Look for any mismatched paint that might indicate rust has been an issue. Take a good look at any accident damage. Those minor bumps and bruises might not look bad in the beginning, but they can become pockets of rust down the road.

How do I Get Rid of It?

If you catch it early enough, you might be able to repair the rust damage yourself. Be warned: you will need more tools than you might think. There will be more than just sandpaper involved. Check out this list of supplies:

  • Angle grinder and flapper wheels
  • Wire brush
  • Fiberglass epoxy gel
  • Body filler
  • Various grade sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Primer and base coat paint
  • Clear coat paint
  • Masking materials (paper and tape)
  • Rubbing compound
  • Mineral spirits
  • Rags

Intimidated? You don’t need to be. Look up some videos and research the process. It might be easier than you think. But, if it still seems like too much, or the rust is extensive, then it might be a good idea to check in with a few experts and get some estimates. Read reviews and shop around until you get the price and service that’s right for you.

As charming and endearing as rust might be on old cars, it is best to keep it to the photo backdrops and keep your vehicle running smoothly and rust-free! Keep it clean, keep your eye on it, and you should keep it rust-free for a good long time.


We don’t necessarily want to drive a rusty car, even if it may make a lovely backdrop for a family photo. In addition to being unsightly, rust is a sign of deterioration. Fortunately, it is avertible and manageable. By understanding what causes rust and how to restrain it, future problems can be avoided.

How to Prevent and Treat Rust


How to Prevent and Treat Rust