Rust may be the worst four-letter word we know. For a large majority of the U.S., it’s simply part of life. It eats away framerails, floorboards, and brake lines like they are candy. It can transform a quick part install into a full-day wrenchfest and change the way you view the importance of safety glasses greatly. Fortunately, modern painting and frame-coating practices at the OE level have made the common rotting and rust issues of older Jeeps less of an issue. Although, even the newest Jeeps are susceptible.
Dragging your rig off-road frequently can rid the steel parts of their protective coating in no time. Rust prevention can seem like a mundane affair, but keeping after it now will save you from more work later. Undercoating, anti-seize, and even a basic weekly vehicle rinse can go a long way in the rust battle. We’ve spent decades battling rust and have found a handful of simple products and techniques that make working with rust much easier.
Step By Step
Servicing your 4x4 is part of the hobby. While a thread-locking compound is a must for items that you don’t want coming loose, for other parts you service more frequently, we suggest using anti-seize. Anti-seize can be a little messy, but it’s an extremely inexpensive way to make sure your hardware will be easily removable in the future.
WD-40 is magic in a bottle. It can clean metal extremely well, remove and prevent rust, and even bring ancient parts back to life. One routine task we use it for is keeping our costly aluminum-bodied shocks in good shape. A few passes with a Scotch-Brite pad, along with a helping of WD-40, can go a long way in ridding rust and reviving the part. Fun fact, the WD stands for water displacement, while the 40 represents the 40th formula that ended up being the right one!
WD-40 is pretty powerful, but for stubborn hardware that is clearly overrun with rust, we typically turn to PB Blaster. This stuff needs time to work. It’s best to let it soak for a few hours in especially bad scenarios. Planning ahead will also help with PB. Soaking the parts overnight can make a big difference when wrenching the next day.
We all know bare metal will rust, and that’s why we paint or powdercoat our parts. The material thickness of powdercoat typically makes it the go-to for aftermarket bumpers, body armor, and wheels. While powdercoat can gouge or burr differently than a painted part, so long as you touch it up (rattle can works great) you can prevent metal breakdown.
Kill it with fire! Heat is your friend when it comes to breaking free a rusty nut or seized bolt. A small butane torch will usually get the job done, but we like an oxy acetylene torch setup in case we have to cut off the offending member.
We don’t condone covering up rust with body armor, but we get that bodywork is expensive and takes a particular skill set. The best approach is to remove and replace the damaged/rusty area to the best of your ability. POR-15 (www.por15.com) and other rust reform/preventers are great for rusty sheetmetal. Some armor may even replace the entire panel, which can be a cheaper alternative than painting and sourcing a factory piece.
Just because a part is rusty, doesn’t mean it has to be completely discarded. Salvaging rusty metal takes time and often requires stripping the part completely. Sandblasting is our top option for getting down to the bare metal, but other media blasting (i.e. baking soda, walnut shells, and so on) can be less abrasive if the part is more delicate.
We don’t put a lot of trust in rust-reformer spray paint, but we do use it from time to time. We find it most helpful on under carriage parts to keep them looking more presentable. A few bucks for a spray can save you a lot of money down the road.