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Post-Winter Car Rust Repair: 3 Simple Tips

A severely rusted pickup truck is parked by a lake.

Car rust repair is a fact of life – especially given that, in the U.S., the average age of a vehicle on the road hovers around the 10-year mark. At the end of the winter season, the spring thaw often highlights new areas where corrosion has begun to take hold, thanks to months’ worth of water and salt mixing on your metal.

Fortunately, if you catch it early, you can take care of most rust quickly. Check out these three tips for dealing with corrosion before it gets its claws too deep into your vehicle.

1. Sand It Away

Most of the post-winter car rust repair you’ll be doing is likely to be limited to small areas, such as stone chips on the hood and fenders. You may also notice surface rust bubbling up on the edge of the wheel wells. In these spots, the first step is to use small sandpaper pads to remove the rust completely. Surface rust is generally quite easy to sand away, but make sure you don’t take out any of the neighboring paint in the process.

2. Neutralize It

Rusted car

You can’t leave metal bare for too long before it begins to oxidize with the air around it, taking you right back into the car rust repair cycle. This means once you sand the area clean, you should stabilize it and protect it. You can do this by using an automotive paint primer, or a rust neutralizer that layers on top of the metal and seals it off from the atmosphere and, most importantly, moisture.

3. Paint It

Primer is great, but it’s not a long-term solution for protecting your car from more rust. Once the rust spot has been cleaned and primed, the final step is to paint it. The easiest way to do this is with a paint pen, which is a small dispenser that allows you to dab on a coat of paint in a controlled area.

Some paint pens will require multiple coats with sanding in between, which means you’ll need to check the instructions that come with yours before using it. You can almost always order a paint pen that’s the perfect match for your factory color, but remember that sun, weather and time may have lightened the hue from its original shade.

Follow these three steps for dealing with small areas of car rust and you’ll be in great shape for the rest of the summer. For larger jobs, it’s worth consulting with your local NAPA AutoCare Collision Center before making any repair decisions.

Check out all the paint & body products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car rust repair, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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