Does Washing A Car Prevent It From Developing Rust? (Rust Prevention Steps Included)

Does Washing A Car Prevent It From Developing Rust?

Where water and iron are, rust can develop. Does this mean washing your car sets rust in motion? 

But car care experts say a regular car wash helps minimize paint damage and corrosion. Which is which?

In this post we’re going to talk about:

  • How rust develops
  • If a car wash prevents or speeds up rust build-up
  • Preventive measures you can take to avoid rust from developing

If you’re keen on limiting long-term damage to your car and eager to avoid making it look old and worn, this post is for you. 

Stick around to learn how to keep corrosion away. 

How Does Car Rust Develop?

With everyday use, cars get exposed to different kinds of elements that make them vulnerable to rust. 

During winter, salt and calcium chloride are common to melt away the snow. Thus it covers your car in a film of salt or other chemicals used to treat the road. 

While these chemicals help you get safer on the road, it poses a risk to the protective covering of your car and paving a way for oxidation and then corrosion to seep through its metal parts. 

Even during other seasons, cars are still exposed to road grime and other road elements, when left on the surface a long time cause rust build-up. Think too, about bird droppings and bug guts that release amino acids. 

Recommended Reading: How To Remove Bug Guts And Splats From Your Car

This implies washing away those contaminants should be a regular practice. But does a car wash do more harm than good?

Does A Car Wash Prevent Or Speed Up Rust Build-Up

John Ibbotson, the chief mechanic for Consumer Reports, says rain and bird residue, including road grit should be removed immediately because it leads to paint damage and corrosion. Removing it means getting it a car wash. 

But washing the car isn’t just limited to cleaning the paintwork. Getting the undercarriage a good wash also prevents rust development especially because this part of the car is closest to the road.  

It gets exposed to mud, road grime, and other road dirt that either bounces off from the road or the wheels. 

Yes, a car wash exposes the metal surfaces to water. But it’s better than having road grime and dirt on it. You can simply wipe away water, but with road dirt, wiping away will still leave traces of chemicals that will destroy the protective layer of the car. 

Now that we’ve established that a car wash will do more good to prevent rust build-up, let’s go over rust prevention steps you can easily follow. 

3-Step Rust Prevention

Here are 3 simple steps you can follow to keep the rust away. The first step is a no-brainer. 

Step 1: Car Wash

A car wash should be part of the routine. As we’ve mentioned earlier, it helps wash the contaminants away, not giving it the chance to seep through the paintwork. 

car wash to prevent rust build-up

But what is an ideal car wash routine? 

For average climate areas, a car wash can be done every 2 weeks. But if the area is exposed to lots of contaminants, doing it every week will be better for your car.  

The same goes for the winter season, weekly is ideal. We’ve talked extensively about how salt and other road treatment chemicals cause oxidation so you have to get rid of it as often as possible.  

One main concern during the winter season is water freezing. So here are 3 tips:

  1. Drive the car around the area enough to get the engine warm enough.
  2. Turn the heater on so you can use warm water when washing. It doesn’t just prevent freezing, it also melts salt, sand, and other road grime stuck on the surface. 

When washing the car, give extra attention to corners and crevices. Dennis Taljan, a director for automotive coatings, says about the importance of getting to the nooks and crannies. 

Sometimes, these areas get ignored and it becomes a breeding ground for oxidation with the contaminants stuck on them. Especially when the undercarriage gets neglected, structural integrity and safety problems might arise.  

Tip: Use baking soda to neutralize the salt. Add a bit of it to the water and cleaning solution when washing the wheel wells and undercarriage. 

A solution to this is using pressure-powered cleaners like a car cleaning gun. It’s a double power cleaning tool. Air pressure is utilized when applying the cleaning solution so it can reach even the tightest spots giving no room for contaminants to destroy the metal parts. 

After washing the car, don’t forget to rinse thoroughly. Dried shampoo or cleaning solution can eat away protective layers or make the paintwork dull. 

And when drying the car, open the doors, trunk, and hood. Water puddles or droplets can be left on those areas and this moisture will cause rust to develop. 

Step 2: Do An Inspection

Sometimes, rust develops on inconspicuous areas that’s why doing a thorough inspection is needed. 

Check the following for signs of rust developing:

  • Tires
  • Wheel wells
  • Bumpers
  • Doors
  • Hood 
  • Trunk
  • Undercarriage
  • Fenders
  • Frame 
  • Chassis
  • Engine
  • Exhaust system

Typically, check every part where 2 pieces of metal meet. If these 2 parts rub against each other, chances are the paint wears away exposing the metal layer, causing rust to develop with constant exposure to water and other contaminants. 


Car rust develops where metals meet

When you do find rust formations in these areas, it’s time to move to step 3. 

Step 3: Preventing Rust Spread

Don’t think seeing signs of rust development is the end for your car. You can still take steps to stop its spread. 

Here are 5 things you can do:

Scrape the rust spot 

For this, you can use fine-grit sandpaper or a razor blade. Scrape the rust off while being careful not to damage the paintwork surrounding it. 

Scraps car rust spot using sandpaper

If the paint is starting to flake this means it’s no longer stuck to the metal. It’ll fall away eventually so you can scrape this off too. 

Apply Rust Arrestor

On the scraped area, apply a rust arrestor. It usually comes with an application brush, if not, use a Q-tip. Use it to apply a thin coat to the area. 

Let The Rust Arrestor Dry 

Let it dry completely, depending on the brand, a thorough dry can take up to a few hours. Read the instruction it comes with and follow accordingly just to be sure. 

Apply Primer

Using another applicator brush, apply primer over the thoroughly dried rust arrestor. Coat it thinly, but completely so it won’t drip. You can use a cloth to dab up the extra primer and let it dry completely. 

Apply Automotive Paint

Be sure to get the right color. To do this you can:

  • Provide your car’s VIN to car manufacturers. They can give you a bottle of touch-up paint.
  • Find the paint code (usually near the VIN) and show it to the paint dealer when buying paint. 

After getting the right paint, apply it over the thoroughly dried primer. Dab it in the middle of the area you’re working on and let it spread evenly. Again, avoid getting paint drips. 

Additional tips:

  1. Apply wax or ceramic coating on the paint layer for extra protection. Investing in this is better than spending on rust repair. 
  2. Keep the car interior dry. Spills can seep under the carpeting. Use rubber mats to prevent this from happening

Recommended Reading: 4 Practical Tips To Clean Floor Mats And Car Carpets

Now you’ve got a list of preventive and repair measures you can do to prevent rust from developing on your car. 

But as said prevention is better than cure and a thorough car wash using equipment like car cleaning guns is part of the prevention process. 

Following the steps provided will help you avoid the hassle of spending too much on rust repair and best of all, it’ll help keep your car looking good and brand new for a long time. 

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