Remove rust from a car

How to Get Rid of Rust From a Car

Rust on your vehicle isn’t just unsightly—it’s a sign your car needs help. This article cuts straight to the chase, offering hands-on solutions for how to get rid of rust on a vehicle. No gimmicks or detours; just practical, step-by-step guidance to tackle rust effectively and maintain your vehicle’s durability. Let’s dive in.

Key Takeaways

  • Prevent car rust by keeping the vehicle clean, using rust-proofing methods, and ensuring metal surfaces stay dry — especially due to winter road salt exacerbating corrosion.
  • Safety during rust removal is crucial, so wear protective gear and prepare your workspace for good ventilation, cleanliness, and appropriate masking to shield non-working areas.
  • To effectively get rid of car rust, you’ll need to identify the rust type, employ the correct removal technique, apply filler and primer properly, and finish with precise painting and blending for a seamless look.

Understanding Vehicle Rust and Prevention

We begin with the main issue: rust, also known as iron oxide. It’s the product of a chemical reaction where iron and oxygen interact in the presence of water, electrolytes like salt, and the presence of a cathode and anode. Ever noticed how rust seems to thrive in winter? That’s because road salt mixed with moisture accelerates the corrosion of the vehicle’s metal surfaces.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Vehicle manufacturers have our backs. They apply paint to all metal surfaces of a car to provide a protective barrier against rust formation. As vehicle owners, we can join the fight against rust. Here are some ways we can keep our vehicles rust-free:

  • Regular cleaning
  • Using rust-proofing sprays
  • Using rust inhibitors
  • Applying undercoating
  • Keeping metal surfaces dry

Tools and Materials Checklist

Before delving into the rust-fighting action, we must ensure that we have the necessary tools for the task. You’ll need automotive soap or a grease-cutting dish detergent to clean the vehicle’s surface before rust removal. A scraper will come in handy to remove any blistered paint from areas where rust has formed.

Sanding is a crucial part of rust removal, and for this, you’ll need a DA sander and fresh sandpaper. Body filler is necessary to fill any pits that were caused by rusting in the metal. Follow this up with epoxy self-etching primer for a strong bond, followed by lacquer primer to hold the paint. Lastly, you’ll need automotive touch-up paint, matched to the vehicle’s original color, for covering the repaired area.

Safety First

As we initiate the rust removal process, safety becomes our primary concern. Protective gear, such as gloves and safety glasses, is a must to protect your hands and eyes from debris and dust. Don’t underestimate the power of dust! Tiny rust particles and paint dust can be harmful if inhaled, so respirators or masks with appropriate filters are essential.

Don’t forget about your skin. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants provides protection from metal shards and corrosive chemicals. Remember, safety is not just about being cautious; it’s about being prepared.

Preparing Your Workspace

Once your safety gear is in place, we can proceed to prepare your workspace. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Ensure that you are working in a well-ventilated area to minimize dust and fume accumulation during rust-removal activities.
  2. Open the garage door to allow fresh air to circulate.
  3. Turn on fans to further improve air circulation in the workspace.

Next, lay a tarp below the car and seal it with painter’s tape to define the work area. This keeps paint, rust particles, and other contaminants from spreading. Also, cover any parts of the car that are not being worked on with paper and masking tape to shield them from sanding residue and potential overspray. With these measures in place, your workspace is primed for rust removal!

Identifying Types of Rust on Your Car

Now, let’s change our focus and discuss the main adversary: rust. It comes in three types, each more menacing than the last. Surface rust is the entry-level villain, revealing itself as a slight discoloration or light orange tint, usually on beefier components like drive shafts and axles. Rust spots, a common manifestation of surface rust, can also be found on various parts of a vehicle.

Ignore surface rust, and you’ll soon be dealing with scale rust. This is where the rust starts to pit and blister the paint surface.

The final boss in the rust game is penetrating rust, the most destructive form of rust that completely corrodes metal, leading to holes and structural failure. But fear not! With the right knowledge and tools, you can tackle all the rust, including all three forms.

Step-by-Step Rust Removal Process

Alright, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and begin. Begin by using a pressure washer to clean the rusted area, removing loose scaling rust, dirt, and oily residues. Follow this up with a thorough cleaning using automotive soap and water to eradicate any loose dirt and debris.

Next, pre-treat the rusted surfaces by spraying them with a lubricant such as WD-40. This will help loosen light surface rust and minor oxidation. Before any rust conversion or protective coating applications, make sure the metal surface is meticulously cleaned and prepared. This will ensure a good primer adhesion.

For rust removal, you can use the following methods:

  1. Utilize a dual action sander or a handheld grinder with a flap-disc, beginning with 60-80 grit, to strip away paint, primer, and any loose rust.
  2. Treat pitted metal by using a grinder or drill with a wire wheel attachment.
  3. Apply a chemical rust remover with a paintbrush for targeted application.

Finally, apply a rust converter to any remaining rust to transform it into a black primer finish that is ready for painting after it dries.

Removing Light Rust

For light surface rust, sand the affected area with fine-grit sandpaper until bare metal is exposed. To effectively remove light rust and smooth out the surface, utilize a combination of 40-, 600-, and 1,000-grit sandpaper alongside a sanding block.

Remember, the goal is not just to remove rust but also to prepare the surface for the next steps of the process. So, take your time and make sure you’re happy with the results before moving on. To effectively remove rust, patience and attention to detail are key.

Treating Heavier Rust Areas

Heavier rust areas require a bit more elbow grease. Start with an air-powered surface sander or angle grinder to remove heavy rust. Remember to move the tool slowly back and forth, avoiding digging into the metal.

Once the bulk of the rust is gone, switch to a wire brush attachment at a 15-degree angle with light pressure, lubricated with oil or WD-40, to remove remaining rust without overworking the metal.

Finally, eliminate swirl marks from the wire brushing with a sander, using progressively finer grits of sandpaper until the metal surface is smooth.

Applying Fillers and Primers

Once the rust is removed, we can proceed to fill in the gaps. Before applying body filler, use a piece of spring steel or a similar tool to gauge the amount of filler needed to even the surface. Thoroughly mix the body filler with hardener until a uniform color is achieved, indicating that it’s ready for application.

Apply the correct amount of body filler using a plastic squeegee, ensuring not to use an excess amount or too little. Once the filler has been applied, prep the surface with a Scotch-Brite pad or equivalent to ensure proper adhesion of the primer. Apply an etching primer or primer formulated for direct metal contact to ensure it’s ready for further repair or painting.

Finally, apply three coats of primer, allowing each coat to properly dry and sanding between coats as necessary.

Smoothing the Surface

Once the body filler has hardened, we proceed to the next round of sanding. The optimal thickness for applied body filler is about six layers of paper, or approximately 0.029 inches. Allow the body filler to cure properly before sanding, using a heat lamp if necessary in cold temperatures.

Continually check for an even surface during sanding to prevent over-sanding or missing low spots. If the sanding reveals low spots, apply additional filler carefully, varying application direction with each layer to avoid re-sanding. Use a guidecoat to keep track of your sanding work and identify any remaining high or low areas that need further attention. When working with wet sand, it’s essential to maintain a consistent pressure and motion to achieve the desired smoothness.

Primer Application Tips

Applying primer is an art in itself. For a uniform and sufficient coverage, lacquer primer should be applied in even and thin coats. Each coat of primer should be given adequate time to dry, following the manufacturer’s recommendations, to ensure proper curing and adhesion for subsequent coats.

After the primer application, follow these steps to prepare for the topcoat:

  1. Sand down the primer with appropriate grit sandpaper, such as 320-grit. This will help in creating a smooth base for the topcoat.
  2. Follow the technical instructions tailored to the epoxy primer used, such as PPG’s CRE-X21. This will ensure strong corrosion resistance, adhesion, and a smooth sandable base.
  3. Use a high-build filler primer to cover any fine scratches prior to painting.

By following these steps, you will achieve a smooth and professional finish for your project.

Painting and Finishing Touches

Once the primer is set, the painting process can finally commence. But before you start, use tack rags and microfiber cloths to remove dust and lint from the area. This will ensure a clean surface for the paint to adhere to. After the surface is clean and prepared, apply the touch-up paint to cover any chips, scratches, and body damage to prevent rust.

Once the paint is applied, protect it by applying a clear coat lacquer. This will add shine and durability to the vehicle’s finish. After the clear coat has been applied, polish and buff the painted area with a polishing compound and microfiber cloth in circular motions to ensure it matches the surrounding paint.

Masking and Protecting Adjacent Panels

Before you start painting, remember to protect the surrounding areas of the car. Use the following steps to shield the car’s undamaged areas from overspray:

  1. Use poly sheeting and painter’s tape to cover the areas you don’t want to paint.
  2. Lay a tarp below the car and seal it with painter’s tape to define the work area.
  3. This will prevent paint, rust particles, and other contaminants from spreading and damaging the car.

To properly mask adjacent panels, leave ample space for blending—around 12 inches for solid colors and 18 inches for metallics—to prevent color build-up on far edges. For creating minimal paint edges in tight spaces and trims, the ‘pull-off’ technique using masking tape is recommended, with the tape being removed while the clear coat is still wet and sticky.

The Art of Paint Blending

Achieving a seamless paint job is an art. Begin by selecting a matching color variant of the existing paint using a variant chip deck for comparison. Use a slow or very slow reducer in the basecoat to prevent dry edges and ensure proper orientation of metallic flakes.

Apply the initial basecoat to just the primed area and then extend the application area slightly with each thin coat to avoid creating any stop/start lines. Inspect the blended area after achieving coverage and use a blending agent or intercoat to correct any shade differences that may arise.

Complete the paint job by applying clear coat over the entire panel. This prevents the visibility of transitions and yields a uniform finish.

Maintaining Your Rust-Free Vehicle

With the rust problem resolved and your car looking pristine, the final step involves maintenance. Regular car washes and undercarriage cleanings are vital for reducing potential rust build-up from exposure to snow or salt water. Waxing your car every six months adds an additional layer of protection against moisture and prevents rust formation.

Regular inspections of rust-prone areas along with the use of protectants such as car covers or CarCapsule can enhance rust prevention efforts. For minor paint damage, use a touch-up paint pen, apply paint for larger chips with a brush, and always finish by waxing to blend and protect the new paint.


And there you have it! A comprehensive guide to tackling vehicle rust. From understanding rust and rust prevention, to identifying the tools and materials needed, all the way through the process of rust removal, applying fillers and primers, and finally, painting and finishing touches. With this guide, you’re fully equipped to maintain a rust-free vehicle and keep it looking its best. So, grab those tools and let’s make rust a thing of the past!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth fixing rust on a car?

It might be worth fixing the rust on your car if the vehicle is under 5-10 years old, has low mileage, and the cost of repairs is reasonable, but consider the level of rust and structural integrity before making a decision. For older cars you're better bet is to sell the junk car for up to $1,000 or more.

What is the easiest way to remove rust from a car?

The easiest way to remove rust from a car is to use fine-grit sandpaper or a razor blade to eliminate the rust, followed by treating the area with a spray-on rust inhibitor and applying primer and touch-up paint to cover it.

What causes rust on vehicles?

Rust on vehicles is caused by a chemical reaction between iron, oxygen, and water, which is accelerated by the presence of road salt and moisture. This process leads to corrosion of the metal surfaces. Watch out for road salt and keep your vehicle dry to prevent rust.

How can I prevent rust on my vehicle?

To prevent rust on your vehicle, regularly clean it, use rust-proofing sprays, rust inhibitors, undercoating, and keep metal surfaces dry. These steps will help to keep your vehicle rust-free.

What tools do I need to remove rust?

To remove rust, you'll need tools such as a pressure washer, automotive soap, a scraper, a DA sander, sandpaper, and body filler. Good luck with your project!