Rust is a serious issue when it comes to four wheel driving. Vehicles that have been in extremely salty conditions (for example some underground mines) can be completely rusted out within a few years (even from brand new). For the majority of recreational four wheel drivers this process is much slower, but it is still a big problem. A car that is 8 – 20 years old can require thousands of dollars in repairs if rust is found. If you see paint bubbling, there is a good chance that rust has already taken a good hold. They call it ‘cancer of the car’ and for good reason.
I’d like to suggest a few ways in which you can prevent and reduce rusting:
Electronic Rust Protection
A large majority of those that regularly take their four wheel drives onto the beach get an Electronic Rust Protection system installed. There are a variety of different brands on the market, and I have heard that they work very well. However, they do cost a little more than some of the methods that I will discuss below. Electronic Rust Protection uses power from the battery (almost nothing) to produce a small electronic field on all metal objects. This prevents/minimizes oxidization. Please bear in mind that there is a lot of controversy behind whether these really work or not, so do your own independent research!
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This is my preferred method of rust prevention because it is cheap and simple, but it isn’t a permanent fix and does have other drawbacks. Basically Lanolin is a sheep oil product, and can be purchased in a spray can for around $15 at most automotive shops. I get under my vehicle once a year and spray almost everything, except for seals and the exhaust. I let it dry for a few days before hitting the beach, and I have had very little issues with rust.
The drawback though, is that it can be very sticky. Sand will stick to it the first time you do it, and although it does fall off (or you can get a different Lanolin product to get it off), I see no reason to worry about it. What is more important is washing your vehicle correctly – see below.
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Wash your car
The best way to stop rust occurring on your vehicle is to wash it every single time you come back from the beach or four wheel driving in mud. I don’t mean giving it a quick spray, but make sure that you get right underneath and wash all of the salt off the vehicle. Some people throw a small sprinkler underneath the vehicle and leave it for 10 minutes (but this does depend on your water restrictions). Mud might look cool on your four wheel drive, but it has a decent amount of salt in it and will cause rust. By leaving mud on your vehicle you are accelerating the cancer!
Make sure no water is sitting in your vehicle
Recently I’ve read on numerous forums of different places in specific model vehicles that water tends to sit. Water is never good to have sitting in your vehicle, so if you can think of anywhere that it could sit for long periods try to get rid of it. This includes chassis rails, spoilers, roof gutters, wheel wells and anywhere else that it might sit.
Don’t drive through salt water
I’ll admit it – I have a pet hate for four wheel drive vehicles driven through water. I don’t see why it ever has to be done, and the damage done to four wheel drives by being dunked in salt water is phenomenal. Even if you give it the best wash possible, how can you wash out the inside of your panels, and all the other tiny places that water is guaranteed to get to when you go for a splash on the beach. It’s often risky to do anyway – stay out of the salt water if you want your vehicle to last a long time.
Be wary of where you buy your vehicle from
If you are careful with your inspection you should be able to tell how much rust the vehicle has, but it does pay to buy a car that hasn’t ‘lived’ right next to a beach for its entire life (unless it has been extremely well cared for). The salt in the air is enough to accelerate rust by more than what you might realize.
Owning a four wheel drive can be expensive, and I do everything I can to minimize that cost. This includes preventive maintenance – I’d rather stop the problem developing than spend money fixing it later on.