How to Protect Your Car From Rust

fender with rust around the well

Rust on a vehicle not only looks unsightly, but also reduces the value when selling the vehicle or using it as a trade-in to purchase a new car.

Once in place, rust eats away at the surrounding metal. Over time, the rust patch grows bigger and bigger, and depending on where it is located, can cause major cosmetic and even mechanical problems with your vehicle.

Once a car starts to rust, the damage can spread quickly, which is why preventing it in the first place is of utmost importance. Here are some simple steps that you can take to keep your vehicle rust-free.

Part 1 of 4: Wash your car regularly

Some of the biggest causes of rust are salt and other chemicals on the roadways, which get on cars in cold weather. Dirt and other debris can also damage your car and cause rust formation.

  • Tip: If you live by the ocean or in an area that experiences winter weather, make sure to wash your vehicle on a regular basis. Salt from the ocean or the roadways promotes the formation and spreading of rust.

car being washed by hand

Materials Needed

  • Bucket
  • Car wax
  • Detergent (and water)
  • Garden hose
  • Microfiber towels

Step 1: Wash your car on a regular basis. Wash your car at a carwash or clean it manually at least once every two weeks.

Step 2: Wash off salt. Wash your car once a week in the winter when salt has been put on the roads to prepare for harsh weather days.

  • Tip: Washing your car regularly keeps the salt from corroding the paint on your car and eating into the metal underneath.

underneath drain holes

Step 3: Keep your car’s drain plugs clear. Check your vehicle’s drain plugs and make sure that they are not blocked with leaves or other dirt and debris. Blocked drain plugs allow water to collect and cause rust.

  • Tip: These drain plugs are usually located around the edges of the hood and trunk and along the bottoms of the doors.

Step 4: Wax your car. Polish your car with wax at least once a month. Wax provides a seal to help keep water off your vehicle.

Step 5: Clean up any spills. Wipe up any spills inside the car, which can also lead to rust. The longer you let a spill sit, the harder it is to clean up.

  • Tip: Make sure that the inside of the car dries out thoroughly anytime it gets wet. You can also help speed up the drying process by using a microfiber towel to remove most of the moisture before allowing the rest to air dry.

Part 2 of 4: Use products to prevent rust

Materials Needed

  • Anti-rust spray like Jigaloo, Cosmoline Weathershed, or Eastwood Anti-Rust Aerosol.
  • Bucket
  • Detergent and water
  • Garden hose
  • Microfiber towels

  • Tip: In addition to washing your vehicle regularly, you can have your vehicle pre-treated to help prevent rust. Have this done by the manufacturer when first buying the car. Another option is to treat suspect areas whenever you wash your car with an anti-rust spray.

close up of bubbling paint

Step 1: Inspect for rust. Inspect your vehicle and check for rust on a regular basis.

Look for chipped paint or areas that look like bubbles in the paint. These areas are an indication that rust has begun to corrode the part of the vehicle just under the paint.

  • Tip: You’ll most often see rust or bubbling paint around the windows, along the wheel wells, and around the fenders of a car.

Step 2: Clean the affected area. Clean the area around the bubbling or chipped paint. Allow the vehicle to dry.

Step 3: Rust-protect your vehicle. Apply an anti-rust spray to your car to help prevent rust damage before it begins.

  • Tip: Ask the manufacturer to apply a rust coating before you purchase the vehicle. It will cost extra, but it can help your vehicle last longer.
  • Tip: If you plan to purchase a pre-owned car, get a certified mechanic to inspect the car and check for rust damage before you buy it.

Part 3 of 4: Wipe down car surfaces

Material Needed

  • Microfiber towels

In addition to cleaning and treating the outside of your vehicle, you should also wipe down your vehicle's surfaces when they become wet. This can prevent the formation of oxidization, which is the first step toward rust developing on your car's body.

person wiping down car with a dry towel

Step 1: Wipe down wet surfaces. Use a clean cloth to wipe down surfaces when they become wet.

  • Tip: Even a vehicle kept inside a garage should be wiped off if it’s been out in the rain or snow before being parked.

Step 2: Use wax or lacquer. You can also use a wax, lubricant, or lacquer to prevent the water from gaining access to the body of the car.

Part 4 of 4: Treat rust spots early

Rust spreads if left untreated, so deal with it when the first signs appear. You should also consider having rusty body parts cleaned of rust or replaced entirely. This can prevent the spread of rust totally as it is removed from your car.

Materials Needed

  • Primer
  • Paint for touch ups
  • Painter’s tape
  • Rust Repair Kit on eBay or Amazon
  • Sandpaper (180 grit, 320 grit and 400 grit)

Step 1: Rust removal. Remove rust on your vehicle with a rust repair kit.

  • Note: The rust repair kit works only if the rust is minor.

car being sanded

Step 2: Use sandpaper. You can also use sandpaper to sand down the rusted area. Start sanding with the roughest grit sandpaper and gradually move on to the finest.

  • Tip: You can start with 180-grit sandpaper, followed by a 320 and then 400 grit size as the 180 grit sandpaper is more rough than the 400 grit sandpaper.

  • Tip: Make sure to get the right grit of sandpaper to avoid making deep scratches.

car being sprayed with primer

Step 3: Prep the area with primer. Once you have removed the rust by sanding, apply primer to the area. Make sure to let it dry completely.

Step 4: Re-paint. Apply touch-up paint to cover the treated area and match it to the body color.

  • Tip: If it is a larger area or close to the trim or glass, make sure to tape off and cover the surrounding areas to avoid getting paint on those areas.

  • Tip: You also need to reapply the clear coat after the paint has completely dried.

If the area affected by rust is very small, you can repair it on your own. If the rust has eaten through the metal or if the damage is extensive, you’ll need to turn to professionals for help. Take your rust-damaged vehicle to a professional auto body shop to get recommendations on how best to deal with the rust damage.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

More related articles

Insurance Requirements for Car Registration in Kentucky
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet requires that all drivers in Kentucky carry liability automotive insurance, or “financial responsibility” in order to operate a vehicle legally and maintain vehicle...
Rules of the Road For Iowa Drivers
Driving on the roads requires knowledge of the rules, many of which are based on common sense and courtesy. However, even though you know the rules in...
The Traveler’s Guide to Driving in Malaysia
CraigBurrows / Shutterstock.com Malaysia is a popular destination for many tourists today. The country has amazing sights and attractions that you will want to explore....

Related questions

Q: Touching up paint chips on a 2009 Charger Super Bee

If you want to show it, get a professional to do it. You cannot touch up paint chips. Even a pro can't do it that well. Unless he sands down the whole area, buffs it up, and repaints the whole...

Q: Fixing seat belts that don't retract well

Those things are just ratcheting devices. When you pull them up, there is no ratchet inside and it goes "click, click, click." Then, when you slam on the brakes, they've got a little swing with a little pendulum. When they...

Q: Paint is not holding up to normal use on the road

The paint on your car is a multiple layer paint process that starts with a thorough cleaning of the surface to be painted. The primer coat is supposed to adhere to the surface and provide and adhesive surface for the...