The Best Way to Treat Oxidation on Cars


Oxidation on a car is a constant and aggravating process afflicting many owners. The two most common types of oxidation are the obvious rust of various metal pieces and also paint oxidation. When paint is oxidized (meaning it combines with oxygen in the air) it becomes a white powdery residue requiring removal. Wax or clearcoat paint reduces oxidation of all kinds but does not always eliminate the problem. Dealing with oxidation means some chemicals, some bodywork and some sweat.

Oxidation Sources

  • Oxidation begins when painted or sealed metal becomes exposed to the open air and water. Sometimes a simple paint scratch breaks the seal and oxidation begins. More often, though, sealing paints (clearcoat) or wax treatments fade over time and allow the paint underneath to be bare to the air. Also, winter road salt creates chemical reactions with metal under the body and close to the road. Regularly washing a car in the winter when driving over salted roads goes a long way to reducing oxidation. And remember: not only wash what you see but also where you can’t see. Wash where the salt water can seep and intrude into the metal body panels, frame and undercarriage.

Bodywork Oxidation

  • When rust hits, it’s like an infection; it just keeps growing until it’s stopped. Always treat oxidizing rust at the source by removing the oxidized metal as quickly as possible. Go as deeply into rusted metal as possible to get to clean bare metal and remove all traces of the oxidation around the edge and behind the rusted body panel. Once removed, use a factory-specified sealant to keep the oxidation from returning. After eliminating the existing oxidation, determine the needed bodywork to return the metal to original condition. Do not, however, make the erroneous assumption the oxidation will cease at some point and go no further. The chemical process of oxygen getting at the metal is never ending. It really is true that rust never sleeps.

Oxidized Paint

  • When wax withers or clearcoat fades, the acrylic auto body paint will begin to oxidize. The first thing to do is remove the oxidation. All auto supply stores stock a stripping compound for removing old wax and also the oxidized paint. Use as directed. Beware, though, that many stripping compounds will also remove clearcoat paint. Check the product for any limitations. If your car was clearcoated and the paint is oxidizing, you may want consider having an auto body paint shop reapply the clear coat. Otherwise, paint oxidation removal will be a factor in your cleaning and maintenance routing.

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