Depending on where you live, winter driving may be a frustrating part of your life. If so, then rust damage is another. Preventing rust from damaging your car in the winter will help maintain resale value and keep your vehicle looking nice.

If you are someone who lives in an area where winter is relentless, you know your car’s exterior takes a beating. Salt, rocks, and chemicals corrode the paint and create micro dents and abrasions. Worse than that, they slowly eat away the metal on your vehicle.  

You can’t sit back and wait for Mother Nature—and the Departments of Transportation de-icing methods—to rot your car away.

What is Car Rust?

Rust, or iron oxide, is a molecular compound that occurs when iron and oxygen bond. This bond happens effortlessly; nearly all naturally-occurring iron is a form of iron oxide. 

Iron is the main ingredient in steel and is the bulk of what your car is made of, including the engine and transmission. Experts say that 65% of your car is metal. That means most of your car is susceptible to rust.

What Causes Car Rust?

The paint on your car is the first line of protection against all the elements. Actually, it’s the clear-coat paint finish that provides the barrier. Before anything caustic can reach the metal, it must go through the paint and whatever protectants you have over it, like a clear coat or wax.

Environmental factors will lead to corrosion. Heavy wind and rains, thunderstorms, winter snow, and even the summer sun can impact the integrity of your vehicle’s exterior. Besides inclement weather, other environmental factors include:

  • Bird dropping
  • Tree sap
  • Dust
  • Humidity
  • Coastal air (caused by sea salt)

External factors that cause rust damage are just as troublesome. When your vehicle is exposed to these things without preventative measures, it can lead to rust. Scratches, dents, or anything else that breaks the paint exposes your car to corrosion. External factors include:

  • De-icer
  • Road salt
  • Gas, oil, and brake fluid
  • Coffee and soda
  • Dirty rags

Now that you know the leading causes of car rust, how do you prevent it?

5 Areas to Inspect to Help Prevent Rust on Your Car

Inspection is the key to prevention. You can better assess your risk for rust if you know the condition your car is in.

Some of the places that you will be checking may surprise you. Corrosion doesn’t just happen to the parts of your automobile you can see—in fact, most rust damage can’t be seen from the outside.

When inspecting your vehicle, be sure to be thorough. You do not want to overlook anything.

1. Body of the Car

When first assessing your car’s exterior, take some time to get a thorough look. Do not cut corners or scan over any part. Examine carefully every nook and cranny. Make sure to run your hands over the surface, too; you should get a feel as well as a good look.

Salt and chemicals will attach themselves to the body of the car. For this reason, washing your car regularly in the winter will help to reduce the damaging effects these particulates will have. 

2. Bumpers, Wheel Wells, and Tires

Car experts say that rust occurs most commonly in the wheel wells. The salt and chemicals that the Department of Transportation uses on the road can oxidize the metal on your car. The tire kicks it up from the road and splashes it into the wheel well. That is why keeping this area free from buildup when driving in snow is necessary.

Bumpers are another area that snow can collect. Anything that sprays up from the road contains the caustic elements that eat away at your car.

3. Doors, Hoods, and Trunk 

Another place corrosive materials collect is in the areas around the doors, windows, the hood, and the trunk. Inspecting these places for rust should inspecting the hinges. You want to make sure that all areas of your car will function as they were designed to do.

4. Any Place With a Metal-to-Metal Seam

Any place your vehicle has a seam is susceptible to rust, like where the bumper connects to a front panel or the side panel joins the roof.

5. Drains, Oil Pans, and Chassis

Inspecting these areas is another good time to clean them. Determining whether you have rust isn’t the only reason you are examining your car—preventing rust from occurring is the real objective. So, upon inspection, clean the drains, oils pans, and hose down your chassis if you can.

When Car Rust Prevention Doesnt Work

Preventing rust is the best way to ensure that your vehicle retains value, looks good, and runs well. Regular cleaning, consistent engine maintenance, weekly wax treatments, and, if possible, parking in a garage will keep rust from eating away at your car.

But what can you do if you see that rust has begun to form? You’ve already done the inspection, and you can see you have a problem.