How Much Does It Cost To Fix Rust on a Car?

in Ownership
Rusty car

Photo by Kevin Clark on Unsplash

At best, rust on a car might be annoying or embarrassing. At worst, rust can be a sign of car-destroying deterioration. So, understand what’s involved, whether you’re dealing with corrosion on your vehicle or considering buying a rusty car. But, before we provide an answer to “How much does it cost to fix rust on a car?” Let’s review some basics.

What Causes Rust?

Rust occurs when iron-containing metal, particularly like the steel used in a car, gets exposed to moisture and starts to oxidize. As iron is the principal metal used in steel alloy, think about how much potential it is for rust to develop on a car. Every steel component in your vehicle is a candidate for oxidation, the chemical process that causes rust.  

Sure, your garage-kept car may have a shiny coat of protective wax, but what about the parts you cannot see or protect? For example, Chevrolet Corvettes have been made from fiberglass or plastic composites since they first hit the streets in the 1950s. This includes the inside of body panels and the vehicle’s frame.

And while Corvette bodies are impervious to rust, the undercarriages are not. In other words, a rust-filled disaster could be lying underneath a seemingly great-looking car.    

Other factors can accelerate oxidation, including moisture and salt. If your car or the car you’re considering is from an area with salted winter roads, then you should be on the alert for rust. The same can be said for vehicles near saltwater, as ocean air can also advance rust.  

And not to trivialize a severe medical condition, but rust is the automotive equivalent of cancer. Once it gets hold of a car, it will spread until it eats away at everything until the vehicle is beyond repair.

Thus, rust needs to be stopped as soon as you can. In addition, if you are buying an older car, particularly one exposed to salt-covered winter roads, then the pre-purchase inspection should check for rust as well.


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How Do I Prevent Rust?

One way to not have to ask the “How Much Does It Cost To Fix Rust on a Car?” question in the first place is through prevention. A few steps now can eliminate rust headaches later on.

  • Regular car washing and waxing: Ongoing exterior cleanings will not only keep your car shiny but prevent oxidation from occurring (at least on the body). Depending on how seriously you take your car care, you may want to consider applying a ceramic coating to the paint surface to protect the finish further.
  • Use a garage: When possible, park your car in a garage or covered area. The less the vehicle is exposed to the elements, the better.
  • Undercarriage washing: Get in the habit of taking your vehicle through a car wash that includes an undercarriage wash. A DIY car wash is great, but it won’t help clean the hard-to-get-to areas underneath the car. This step is critical after driving on salt-covered roads in wintertime.
  • Regular Inspection: While you’re washing or waxing your car, look for rust-trouble areas. A small ding or nick with exposed bare metal is a prime target for oxidation. Clean it up and seal it with touch-up paint. Additionally, every time you have the car’s tires rotated, ask the mechanic to visually inspect the undercarriage’s rust.
  • Keep drain plugs clear: Drain plugs are located along with door frames, trunk and hood lips, and moonroof openings, allowing water to move along the surface of your car efficiently. Regularly inspect and clean these openings. A clogged drain plug allows water to accumulate and creates a perfect setting for rust to form.  
  • Watch for interior moisture: Liquid in the passenger compartment can also foster rust. Water and car cabins don’t mix! Don’t let a spilled drink absorb into the carpet as moisture can gather on the floor pan. At the same time, be aware of a leaky moonroof or a bad door or window seal.
  • Coat with WD-40: We’ve all seen the jokes about how WD-40 fixes everything, but there’s a grain of truth to them. WD-40 is one of the best rust prevention lubricants you can buy – if not the best. It keeps moisture off the metal surfaces of your vehicle. Before application, make sure you wash and clean the car for the best results. In addition, ensure you spray the WD-40 not just on the exterior but also on actual rust-prone areas like the vehicle’s underside.
  • Seal it up: Deep scratches and rock chips are known to be rust catalysts. They strip and slice away the paint and reveal the metal surface underneath. Before you know it, a simple paint chip may have graduated into a small rust spot over time. Before rust gets a chance to build up, you should seal these blemishes up using a small paint pen or chip-correcting system. Use a sanding stick or a small sandpaper square to remove the surface rust if it’s too late. Then, you may use your paint to seal the chip or crack.

Overall, being vigilant and doing regular inspections can go a long way in preventing rust from ruining your ride.


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Repairs: How Much Does It Cost To Fix Rust on a Car?

Let’s break down rust repairs into three types, based on the level of severity. 

Minor Rust Repairs

Minor rust damage typically involves an affected area that’s less than two inches in diameter without perforation of the metal. In these situations, a DIY repair is usually all that’s needed. You can pick up a rust treatment kit at an auto supply shop for about $30.

The kit will contain different solutions to remove the rust, clean the affected area, and seal the spot to prevent the return of rust. An autobody technician would charge around $50-$100 for the same work. If the repair involves repainting, expect more supplies or autobody shop work costs.

Moderate Rust Repairs

A larger rust-affected area that’s six to twelve inches in diameter is considered a moderate repair. This may also involve multiple more minor spots. Additionally, moderate rust repairs may involve deeper surface penetration but without perforation. In these cases, the rust repair kit should still be an adequate solution for DIY work.

Depending on the corrosion depth on an exterior body panel, you may need to use a filling compound (like Bondo) to flush the treatment area with the adjacent surface. Not including paintwork, expect an autobody shop to charge $200-$300. A small can of Bondo will run $10-$20.


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Major Rust Repairs

A significant repair involves a rusted surface greater than a foot in diameter or where the rust has caused perforation of the metal surface. In general, these types of repairs are best handled by an autobody professional. As such, asking “How much does it cost to fix rust on a car?” becomes very important.  

Depending on the severity of the damage and location, there are two ways to deal with significant rust repairs. First, the damaged area is cut away, creating a hole or a clean area around a pre-existing rust perforation.

Next, a matching metal panel is cut and welded to fill the void. The site is refinished to match the surrounding body surface. It may cost less to replace an entire body panel in some cases. This approach makes sense, for example, if a severely rusted fender can be swapped out for a clean replacement.  

Excluding repainting expenses, a major rust repair can run from $400 to $2,000.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vehicle Rust Repair

Q: What factors influence the cost of fixing rust on a car?

A: The cost of fixing rust on a car can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the extent of the rust damage, the location of the rust, the type of repair needed, and the rates of the repair shop.

Q: What are the different options for fixing rust on a car?

A: Options for fixing rust on a car range from DIY methods like sanding and repainting for minor surface rust, to professional repairs such as patching, welding, or even panel replacement for more severe rust damage.

Q: Why is it important to fix rust on a car promptly?

A: Rust can quickly spread and cause more serious damage if left untreated. It can compromise the structural integrity of the car and lead to costly repairs down the line. It’s also important for maintaining the car’s appearance and resale value.

Q: Can I fix rust on my car myself?

A: Sure, minor surface rust can often be treated at home using a rust converter, primer, and paint. However, more severe rust damage typically requires professional repair.

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