Is It Worth It To Fix Rust on Your Car?

August 11, 2023

Last updated on February 2, 2024

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So you’ve noticed a dusting of orange along the side paneling of your car? Rust may have found its home, but hopefully, it’s a small patch. Is it worth paying attention to? Fixing it now could prevent a headache later. 

It might be worth it for you to fix the rust on your car if the vehicle is under 5-10 years old and has low mileage. Other factors like the level of rust, cost of repairs, and structural integrity of your car can also help you decide whether a fix is worth it. 

Keep scrolling to learn more about rust and the restoration options available to you. 

What is Rust?

We have all witnessed rust form on knives, razors, chains – types of metal. This occurs when a chemical reaction takes place between oxygen, iron, and moisture. It’s a type of corrosion that is academically referred to as ‘iron oxide’ and can form on other metals like steel and cast iron as well. 

Rust isn’t contagious so don’t fret about rusty metal touching an unscathed piece of metal. It can’t jump to another surface like that. However, it does spread and the rate at which it eats across metal depends on how much humidity is present. 

The phrase ‘rust rot’ is spoken among body shop technicians because it’s unfortunately true. Once rot sets in it’s hard to get ahead of it. 

The 3 Kinds of Rust Damage

To decide if rust is worth fixing it’s important to understand the level of rust you’re dealing with. There are 3 levels of rust damage: surface, scale, and penetrating with penetrating rust being the most severe. 

  1. Surface Rust – This level impacts the top layer of your car and is the easiest to fix. It appears like orange dust and can be scraped off using a rust remover like WD-40. Repairing surface rust is manageable and affordable compared to other levels of rust.
  1. Scale Rust – Scale rust forms when surface rust is left untreated. At the site of the rust, the paint takes on a bubbling appearance with chunks flaking off. These flakes expose bare metal and indicate that rust has reached below the surface. 
  1. Penetrating Rust – Penetrating rust is what occurs when that exposed metal meets the elements. Once moisture gets in, rust eats deeper, penetrating the metal further. This is the most difficult rust to restore and in some cases is not worth the hassle. 

Here’s a reminder that road salt can worsen rust. 

Structural Integrity

Penetrating rust carves holes in metal. This can interfere with the safety of a vehicle, especially if the rust has compromised the fuel tank, the exhaust, or exposed wires. Holes in the exhaust pipe can lead to inhalation issues. 

Car rust restoration may be worth it for these reasons. Largely consider where the rust is occurring and whether its severity has impacted the structural integrity. 

If you live in a state where the government requires car inspections, then severe rust must be rectified before taking to the road if it is a hazard to you and others. 

Retaining Your Car’s Value

How old is your car? Consider the age and its market value if the car needs rust restoration. If the vehicle is over 15 or 20 years then the value may not be worth much. It might be better to consider buying a new car instead.

The car’s value also depends on how much mileage and existing damage there is. Would you be spending more money to fix it than the car is worth? Kelly Blue Book is a fantastic tool to help you decide if your car will retain its value.

Cost of Repairs – Rust Repair Kit

You have decided to fix the rust on your car. If it’s surface rust then you’re in luck. For $25.00 you can buy a rust repair kit with instructions for how to sand, place body filler, sand again, and repaint (sold separately) your car.

When the rust is more severe than on the surface level, you should consider a body shop technician for repairs. Search for ‘car rust repair near me’ and find a body shop willing to help.

If the rust has deteriorated entire car panels, then a full restoration process is necessary and will require more expertise. This entails removing the affected panel, ordering matching metal, and welding it to the site.

The prices for full rust restoration range from $400 to $2,000, depending on the area and materials. To find an affordable and trustworthy mechanic, you should get referrals and research your area.

Prevent Rust in the Future

To prevent rust from forming on your car, you’ll need to keep it clean and dry. Keeping it dry is imperative. You don’t want moisture to linger in any nooks and crannies.

Adding a coat of wax after each cleaning will create a protective layer on the paint to better prevent rust. You can also get a ceramic coating, which provides even more protection.

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