Rust is just a part of vanlife, if you’ve bought or are considering buying an old van, there will likely be surface rust in some places. This could be in places where the paint cracked or chipped off, near the gutters, inside doors and other areas where water has gathered and not drained.
Surface rust is not only unsightly, it could also be a cause for concern if left untreated. Treating surface rust as soon as possible will prevent it from spreading or going deeper into the metal causing holes and potential structural weaknesses in your van.
Usually, if you spot surface rust, there’s more hiding behind the paint as well. To treat the rust thoroughly, you’ll need to uncover the rust behind the paint too before starting to treat it.
In my LDV Convoy minibus, there was a fair amount of surface rust visible. I knew these vans rust, and was aware of rust issues when I bought the van, but I was unaware of the scale of the rust, which really took me by surprise.
Firstly, to uncover the surface rust on the van’s body, I looked for brown marks, bubbles under the paint and flakes. Be sure to look in non-obvious places: inside the van, the footwell, steps, wheel arches, behind the dash and under any old plastic trim or flooring for example.
Scraping off all the paint and taking the rust flakes and dust with it, until I got to bare metal. I also made sure I removed paint all around the rust till I saw shiny metal with no signs of rust, to ensure I didn’t miss any rust hiding behind the paint.
Once the rust was off and we were down to bare metal (looking black and uneven where the rust was most prominent, and silver around the rust areas where the metal wasn’t affected), I applied Hammerite Kurust rust converter with a paint brush.
The rust converter has an off-white appearance when it first comes into contact with the rust and metal, and forms bubbles when painted on. once the rust converter gets to work, it turns blue where it comes into contact with rust, then eventually black.
Once you’ve painted on the rust converter, leave it for a day to fully dry. Once it’s dry, you’re ready to continue. In some areas on the outside my van, where the rust caused the surface of the metal to be uneven, I applied a small amount of body filler and sanded it down to smooth out the surface. In areas that won’t be seen or will be covered up, like the inside of the van, I didn’t bother with any body filler.
Then it was on to painting, since my van is white, I just went for Hammerite smooth white metal paint. This paint can technically be applied directly to rust, but I wanted to make sure the rust was properly treated before painting, hence the previous step.
Hammerite paint also has no need for a primer first, so it’s ok to apply straight to the metal once the rust has been treated. I simply used a paint brush or roller to apply the paint to the affected areas. The finish wasn’t as smooth as the original paint, and the colour was only slightly off, but for me it was more about having a van that will last than aesthetics.
If a perfect finish is important to you, I’d recommend getting it professionally sprayed, or you could use coach paint and apply it with a foam roller. This will have less of a shine and more a matt finish, but it should be even and smooth.
Once you’ve removed the rust, treated it with rust converter and painted it, you can have peace of mind that the rust won’t spread or create holes.
Having said that, rust treatment is an ongoing process, and one that you’ll need to stay on top of, so it’s important to keep an eye out for surface rust periodically and treat it when you spot any new rust. For this reason, I always keep rust converter and paint in my van.
If you’re lucky, this is where rust treatment ends for you. But if like me you’re not so lucky, your search for rust has led you to uncover holes in your van. Treating rust holes is a whole other ballgame and I’ll cover it in detail in the next post (coming soon).