If there is one four-letter word a car owner never wants to hear, it’s “rust.” Also called oxidization, rust occurs when air and water chemically react to exposed, iron-based metals. If you live near the ocean or in an area where salt is used on the roads to combat snow and ice, you are even more susceptible to rust damage. That’s because salt exponentially accelerates the chemical process that causes rust. Because rust is so pervasive and destructive, it’s far better to practice rust prevention than be faced with restoration down the line. If you do have metal on your vehicle that has started to oxidize, there are steps you can take to help neutralize the chemical process and stop the problem from worsening.
Your engine bay, trunk, wheel arches and rocker panels are the most vulnerable exterior parts of the car. Washing your car regularly and keeping it waxed is your first line of defense. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with areas on your car that might collect water during heavy rains or after you wash your vehicle. Most vehicles have drains to channel water through various parts of the body of your car. Learn where these drains are located on your vehicle, and make sure they are free of debris and are working properly. Inside the car, using rubber floor mats can help keep excess water off your floorboards. Be sure to quickly clean spilled drinks, which can creep through carpets and rust your car from the inside out.
Rust can also begin after minor body damage has left your paint cracked or chipped. Over time, the injured area may appear to bubble or crack. If the rust is allowed to remain unchecked, it can cause body panels to become so oxidized that they are no longer structurally sound. To prevent rust after a fender bender, apply a small amount of clear automotive paint to any freshly exposed metal. This will protect it until you are able to properly repair the car.
Though your car’s body typically receives the most attention, the underside is actually most at risk for rust damage. Dirt, water and other abrasive materials constantly bombard your undercarriage. These areas are also more difficult to clean and maintain. Factory- or dealer-installed undercoating offers some protection, but these are not designed to last the life of your vehicle.
The best way to inspect for undercarriage damage is with a lift, though you can also slide under the car while it remains on the ground. If you find rust, you can prevent further corrosion by apply a coating of liquid rust treatment. Body undercoating, which often comes in spray form, can also be applied in your wheel wells, door skins, undercarriage and other vulnerable locations to protect against rust.
Although it might seem like a losing battle against the forces of nature, a little bit of prevention goes a long way toward stopping iron oxidization before it starts. By keeping the rust away, you’ll be protecting not only the structural integrity of your vehicle, but its overall value as well.
Check out all the body and chassis parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on rust prevention and rust damage, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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As a freelance automotive writer, I create articles, how-to guides, web content and white papers for online magazine site and automotive companies. I passionately believe that cars and motorcycles should be appreciated for the works of art they are, and fantasize about owning a white Ducati 899 Panigale to display in my living room. I am currently the Corvette expert at About.com, cover alternatively-fueled vehicles and technology at HybridCars.com, and hold the imaginary title of Formula One test driver on the back roads surrounding my Oregon home.