How to Remove Rust From Your Car

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

byMay 13, 2020 7:00 AM
How to Remove Rust From Your Car
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You say your car has some 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.

If you’re looking at minor surface rust, or non-penetrating "scale" rust, we can help. For holes (aka "penetrating" rust), it's best to take your car to a professional for panel-welding work. If your car already looks like Swiss cheese or a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving, it might be time to send it to the scrap yard.

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

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 3 to 4 hours depending on the severity of the rust

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Exterior 

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Safety

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.

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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 

  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper in a selection of grits (i.e., 40, 320, and 1000)
  • Several microfiber cloths
  • Prep solvent
  • Primer (epoxy and lacquer)
  • Paint
  • Clearcoat
  • Polish and wax

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.

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Arranging Your Workspace

Make sure your workspace is in an open environment with good ventilation. Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

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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. Feather the paint edges using 120-grit sandpaper, and finish with 220 grit for maximum smoothness.
  7. Wipe area clean with a damp microfiber cloth. 
  8. Wipe dry with a separate, dry microfiber cloth.
  9. Apply prep solvent as recommended by the paint manufacturer.
  10. Apply epoxy primer as directed. Let dry.
  11. Sand with wet, 1000-grit sandpaper.
  12. Wash area with clean water and let dry.
  13. Apply lacquer primer as directed. Let dry.
  14. Sand with 320-grit sandpaper.
  15. Apply paint as directed.
  16. Apply clear coat as directed. Let dry.
  17. Wet sand with increasingly higher-grit sandpaper, as directed.
  18. Apply polishing compound using a polishing pad (or buffer), as directed.
  19. Wax to finish.

You’re done, congrats!

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Tips From a Pro

For this job, we asked our friends the Ring Brothers, Jim and Mike Ring, makers of 1,000-horsepower monsters, beautiful Blazers, and some of the raddest rides in town, to give us their top tips on what to do when you encounter rust and how to fix it: 

  • "For smaller spots, I like to use the tip of an air cut-off saw, gently working away the rust through vibration of the tool against the rusted spots. Chad, one of our paint and body workers, prefers to use a wire wheel to achieve the same result."
  • "Then we treat the area with Skyco Rust-i-Cide rust destroyer with some 3M Scotch-Brite in it. Rub the infected area and let set for 24 hours, then sand off with some 3M Cubitron. Epoxy and body work over."

Life Hacks

Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • You can remove some surface oxidation—a fancy word for rust—with diet Coke by soaking a sponge in the cola and scrubbing the affected zone with it. Wash afterward and polish.

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Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note:guidesandgear@thedrive.com

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