What Exactly is Rust and Why Does Washing Your Car Help Prevent It?

January 31st, 2013 by

Washing a CarI don’t know about you, but I know that, from an early age, I was taught one simple thing about rust: it was bad. I don’t know that this is something a kid needs to be told, considering that it’s this almost blood-colored jagged mess of stuff that shows up on metal – particularly on cars – and nobody seems to like it.

But that’s all I, and I presume many kids, knew about rust for some time.

While that extreme view of what rust is isn’t quite accurate, it is still pretty honest for what car owners think of it. In reality, rust is a process just as natural as almost anything else in nature; we just aren’t too happy with what it does to our cars.

When iron – or an alloy with iron in it – has been exposed to oxygen in too great of a concentration or simply for just too long, the oxygen rips electrons off of the iron atoms and bonds with it. And from there, it’s almost like a chain reaction, though it’s certainly in slow motion.

Like a gangrenous limb, preventing the spreading of rust is generally best done by removing the offending hunks of metal, which is why you should always keep vigilant for any specks of rust showing up on your car to prevent significant damage later on.

You might be asking yourself how it is that the oxygen got at the iron of your car’s body, considering that it’s covered in paint, and the most common culprit is a single word: salt.

The same chemicals that keep our roads safer to drive on during the winter are incredibly corrosive to finishes and paint jobs, often getting kicked up under wheel wells and slowly eats away at protective coatings unseen.

The clear solution to preventing rust is to make sure that your vehicle is regularly clean; also, since scratches and dings can expose raw metal to the air, you’ll want to be sure to treat any of those as soon as possible.

Rust is an interesting phenomenon, and when it occurs in nature or in old piles of scrap metal, it can actually look pretty neat. When it makes a home in your car, though, well, that’s clearly another story.