How to Remove Light Surface Rust From Your Car

Blast ugly and invasive surface corrosion before it eats your car alive.

byJonathon Klein|
Maintenance & Repair photo

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You say your car has some light surface rust and you'd like to remove it? You’ve come to the right place. The Drive’s crack How-To department is here to help get that corrosion dealt with and your car's body straight as an arrow and shiny once again. Rust is the enemy of your vehicle, so let's attack it at the first sign of trouble.

It's important to understand that rust issues exist on a scale, from light surface rust all the way to parts rotting away. That means the right approach is going to depend on how bad the rust you're faced with is.

If you're looking at minor surface rust or non-penetrating "scale" rust, we can help. The approach is actually very simple, and you won't need to bust out the cutting tools or welder to deal with it. Those bigger tools are necessary for holes (aka "penetrating" rust), which we'll come back to in a future guide.

Here’s how to get rid of surface rust from your car’s exterior:

Probably not worth saving..., Depositphotos


Working on your car can be dangerous, especially when you’re dealing with inhalable solvents as well as bare metal, paint chips, and rust fragments, which can chip off, get airborne, and cause eye damage, among other injuries. Here’s what you’ll need to stay safe.

  • Mechanic gloves to protect your hands
  • Long-sleeve shirt to protect your arms
  • A respirator to prevent inhaling harmful fumes and particulates
  • Safety Glasses

Everything You’ll Need

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done: 

Tool List

Parts List 

You’ll need a flat surface such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. If you’re in a garage, open the door to let in as much fresh air as possible. If you're using the street, check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.


Here’s How To Remove Rust From Your Car

Let’s do this! 

Surface / Scale Rust

  1. Wash the area thoroughly, removing any dirt and road grime.
  2. Dry thoroughly.
  3. Use painter’s tape to mark off the section of rust you want to remove.
  4. Use a hand scraper to remove any paint chips or blisters to get at the rust underneath.
  5. Using 40-grit sandpaper or the abrasive wheel, sand the area down to bare metal. 
  6. Thoroughly inspect the affected area. Any signs of severe rust will require you to take additional steps to fully remove the rust so it doesn't come back. Again, we'll cover how to deal with more severe rust future guide.
  7. Feather the paint edges using 120-grit sandpaper, and finish with 220 grit for maximum smoothness.
  8. Wipe area clean with a damp microfiber cloth. 
  9. Wipe dry with a separate, dry microfiber cloth.
  10. Apply prep solvent as recommended by the paint manufacturer.
  11. Apply epoxy primer as directed. Let dry.
  12. Sand with wet, 1000-grit sandpaper.
  13. Wash area with clean water and let dry.
  14. Apply lacquer primer as directed. Let dry.
  15. Sand with 320-grit sandpaper.
  16. Apply paint as directed.
  17. Apply clear coat as directed. Let dry.
  18. Wet sand with increasingly higher-grit sandpaper, as directed.
  19. Apply polishing compound using a polishing pad (or buffer), as directed.
  20. Wax to finish.

You’re done, congrats!

Video on Rust Removal

The more visual aids you can lean on, the better. After all, we are dealing with aesthetics here. That's why we've included a video that will help you prepare your panels. Take note of the many steps involved and how the host gets creative when up against problems unique to the panel he's working on, as they may help you work more efficiently. That said, this does cover getting the metal prepped, with finishing work saved for another clip.

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