How to Handle Rust and Dents

February 10th, 2011 by

A close up shows rust on a car wheel well.

On paper, the most important things about your vehicle might be its performance or the kind of towing capacity it has to offer, specs that really impact your experience on the road. That being said, the look of your vehicle is also quite important to you, so you want to protect and maintain the exterior of your car, truck, or SUV. As your Cincinnati Chevrolet dealer, we get that – the look of our vehicles is just as important to us, and we work hard (both professionally and privately) to keep our rides looking flawless.

But no matter how hard we work, accidents happen, and problems still arise. In a perfect world, every car would look just as spectacular ten years after it was sold as it did the day it rolled off the assembly plant. But this is far from a perfect world, and things like rust and dents can cause serious damage to our beloved vehicles, even creating safety hazards. So today, we’re going to take a look at how best to avoid rust and dents and how to handle them when they do occur – because some things are simply inevitable.

Best Ways to Avoid Rust

Here in Cincinnati, and throughout the rest of the Midwest, rust is a serious problem that can be a huge issue for a lot of drivers. Without getting too deep into the science of different materials and why rust forms, suffice to say that rust occurs when iron breaks down due to oxidation. Basically, oxygen reacts with iron to create a molecule known as iron oxide, which we commonly refer to as “rust.”

That’s right; it’s just iron and oxygen – so unless you can keep the metal in your vehicle away from all oxygen everywhere, rust is going to happen eventually. Since this is an electrochemical reaction that occurs, certain things can actually encourage or speed it up, such as dirt and salt. That’s why rust is so hard to fight against here and in other areas with cold weather that use salt on the roads to combat ice in the winter.

The best way to avoid rust and protect your vehicle is to keep oxygen away from the iron and prevent this reaction from occurring in the first place. That’s what rustproofing is all about – it’s a coating on the iron that keeps oxygen off of it. When your vehicle comes out of the factory, it’s been dipped in rustproofing agents to protect the metal, but this wears off with time, which is why you should have new rustproofing applied to keep your car protected.

Beyond this, there are also some simple things you can do to help avoid rust as much as possible. Although all metal parts of your vehicle can rust, the underside and the wheel wells are the most at risk. Whenever possible, avoid parking over water – the water will evaporate and create moisture on the underside while carrying pollutants and other things with it. Park in dry areas, especially avoid parking on wet grass, and wash your vehicle regularly. When you wash your car, be sure to get the underside and spray out the wheel wells to clean off dirt, salt, and other particulates that can encourage the formation of rust.

A close up shows a rusty wheel well on its way to visit a Cincinnati Chevrolet dealer.

Best Ways to Handle Rust

The golden rule when handling rust is to act as soon as possible. In other words: the best way to deal with rust is to prevent it and to eliminate it immediately. Rust will typically start to form on the underside of your vehicle first, so be sure to check that often to look for early warning signs of rust. The sooner you catch it, the easier it is to treat and prevent much more serious issues.

At first, you’ll see surface rust, which is a problem, but it’s easy to handle. You can clean off surface rust with an abrasive wheel or sandpaper to get the rust and corrosion off the surface. This might remove paint, but that’s just how it goes. You want to clean surface rust off completely, treat the area with a couple of coats of a rust inhibitor, and then you can apply primer and paint if it’s a visible area.

If you don’t handle surface rust promptly, then you’ll get scale rust that looks like visible bubbling or roughness on the metal. You basically want to do the same thing to clean this off as surface rust, but it’s going to take more work to clean it off completely – you’ll probably need a wire brush or grinding wheel to get it. Ignoring scale rust can lead to penetrating rust that eats away at the metal, creating holes and other problems. At this point, it’s time to call a professional.

Best Ways to Avoid Dents

Although rust and corrosion might be inevitable, due to the unstoppable force of entropy in our universe, dents and dings are not. You can avoid dents to your vehicle in a number of ways, though even your best efforts can still be undone by someone else’s recklessness. For starters, don’t treat your vehicle like a shelf or a table. Setting items on top of your car is a great way to ensure you’ll scratch or dent it eventually, so don’t do that.

When parking your car, do your best to avoid parking next to others and objects that you can easily strike while opening your door. This also gives other people fewer opportunities to open their door into your car and create a dent or ding. Of course, even if you park far from others, there could still be someone who decides to park next to you and ding your vehicle. So while you can do your best to avoid this kind of damage, dents might still occur.

A close up shows a dent in the door of a car.

Best Ways to Handle Dents

For minor dents to the exterior of your vehicle, such as a small dent to your bumper or body panel of your car, you have a few options to fix them yourself. We suggest buying a dent removal kit or tool, as these typically work the best and can help you avoid accidentally causing more damage to your vehicle. They are pretty easy to use, and a one-time investment will help you if future dings occur down the road.

A dent on your bumper can sometimes be fixed by pouring boiling water over the damaged area to soften the plastic, then reaching behind and pushing the dent out. You can then pour cold water over the area to harden the plastic again when you get the proper shape. Similar dents on bumpers and body panels can also potentially be pulled out using a plunger to create suction and pull the area back into place.

Small dents to sheet metal can sometimes be fixed by heating the area for 30 seconds with a hairdryer, then spraying it with condensed air or rubbing the area with dry ice. This use of hot, then cold, can get the sheet metal to pop back out and fix the dent, though it’s certainly not guaranteed. Just be careful when using any of these methods not to cause further damage. Also, if the dent or ding has scratched the paint, then you’re going to need to do more than just pump it a few times with a plunger to get it as good as new.

Know When to Go with a Pro

When handling rust and dents, it’s important to know when it’s time to let a professional deal with things. A small area of surface rust is pretty easy to fix, but widespread scale rust or damage from penetrating rust is better left to professionals. Similarly, a large dent can be an easy fix for a professional, but trying to handle it yourself might lead to further damage. And whenever paint damage comes into play, a pro can fix the problem and have your car looking good as new in a way that most of us can’t do at home. Our certified service experts are here at McCluskey Chevrolet and ready to help you with everything you need.