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Why Does My Car Have Rusted Brakes After I Wash It?

Brake rotor with rust

You wash your vehicle and really shine it up good. So good, in fact, that you decide to take some pictures of it. But wait — what’s that orangey-brownish stuff on the brake rotors? Is that rust?

If it helps, rusted brakes after a car wash aren’t uncommon — you’re not alone, and you’re not doing anything wrong. But let’s look at what’s happening and what to do about it.

Rust Never SleepsBrake rotor

When you put iron and water together, you’re going to get rust, and in a lot of cases, surprisingly fast. Brake rotors are made of iron. The oxidization process begins as soon as the water hits them, and by the time you’ve got the car dry, you’re likely to see it. The good news is it isn’t deep-seated rust. Here are some tips to get your rusted brakes looking as good as the rest of the car.

Go for a Drive

Sometimes, just a few minutes of driving and using the brakes will cause that newly formed rust to simply flake off and blow away. Of course, you may be undoing some of the cleaning you just did, and there could be puddles. So let’s look at some other fixes, too.

Break Out the Leaf Blower

Get out a leaf blower, a hair dryer or your shop vac set to blow instead of suction. If you hit those brake rotors after a wash and air-dry, the rust won’t have a chance to appear.

Spray and Wipe the Rotors

There are rust inhibitors meant for brake rotors that come in a spray bottle. Just spray some on a cloth and wipe down the rotors with it while detailing your car.

Upgrade Your Rotors

A lot of drivers are upgrading to coated brake rotors, where a specially formulated polymer coating is applied to protect against corrosion — under a lot more severe conditions than your car encounters just getting washed. We’re talking about holding up to the equivalent of eighteen months of a midwestern winter, road salt and all.

What you choose will probably be decided by how often you wash your car, how particular you are about everything looking its best and how much time you have. Just know that it’s a problem everyone has who owns a vehicle with open wheels (where you can see the brakes), and there are options for making it better.

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

Photos courtesy of Mike Hagerty and Wikimedia Commons.

Mike Hagerty View All

Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and Previous outlets have included KFBK and in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and

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