Rust on classic and vintage cars has long been one of the major problems with both maintenance and full restoration jobs. It can be an insidious disease, likened by some to a cancer on your car, and needs to be dealt with quickly and thoroughly. If you have bought a rusty old wreck as a hobby restoration job, then you will need much more help, but as long as you have invested your money in a good runner, better conditioned models will not be so difficult to look after. Your classic car should be a thing of beauty, not an old rust bucket, and it is a sorry sight to see so many once well beloved motors rotting away on someone’s front drive.
Of course some obvious prevention is the first step in winning the battle. Any small scrapes or dents on the body work will expose the steel body and give the elements access to invade and begin the rusting process. The UK is not exactly blessed with the most temperate climate to avoid rust, and many of us don’t have the facility to keep our cars in dehumidified garages. Don’t use a plastic sheet to cover the car, as it won’t keep out the moisture; in fact this can exacerbate the issue by trapping the damp inside. A quick fix touch up paint can stop the erosion, but once rust has set in it will be better to deal with problem properly or call in professional help. Keep the car clean, use a mild, non abrasive detergent and leave the doors open after washing to allow for drain off. A regular wax and polish will also help to protect the car.
Keep an eye on the issue and check all the obvious danger spots drainage channels and other places designed to be damp, plus under wheel arches which get heavily blasted by mud and grit and can often be a fault area in a classic. Different models have different weaknesses, and badly done repairs may have been covered up with a slick of filler which will still have the usual problems underneath. There are rust guards on the market too have a word with your local specialist retailer and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
If you do come across rusty areas, you need to act quickly. Painting over the rust to simply cover it up is a no no. It may keep the car looking okay, but in the long run will cause more problems, like sticking a plaster over a serious infection the rust will still be there underneath eating away at the car. Instead you need to remove the rust completely before you start repainting. The first step is to remove the rust completely, leaving you with the bare metal beneath. This can be done chemically by applying a proprietary rust remover which will dissolve the rust down to the steel. It will still need sanding to finish the surface, but can be an easier method in terms of physical labour if you aren’t lucky enough to own an electric sander. Alternatively you can remove the rot mechanically; in other words sanding it down with sandpaper or a sander. Remember to keep the edge of the bare metal smooth to the paint as this will affect the final finish. Rub with finer and finer grade to ensure the smoothest finish. Once the rust is gone, you will be ready to cover up the bare shell. Paint is easy to find via its serial number – order it in plenty of time as you don’t wasn’t to do the work of removing the rust and then having to redo the job after you have waited for the paint. Firstly, apply primer. Do this in very thin coats, building up strength with 3 coats, as this will create a stronger base. The same applies to the paint, and 3 or 4 thin coats will give you a deeper finish and better blend than one heavy coat. Make sure each coat dries properly, and leave it at least over night to fully dry out before applying a coat of polish to further protect the body.