Many people living and travelling with a van or other camper vehicle are keen action sports enthusiasts. Surfing, skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and so on.

Surfing, in all it’s forms and crafts, is almost a national sport in Australia and one that is the core pursuit for many vanlifers around the world. ButAs nice as it is to camp next to a beach to wake up, check the surf and go for a dawn session before the crowds arrive, there is a serious downside and byproduct of this constant close proximity to the ocean: iron oxide, aka ‘rust’.

Left unchecked, rust can turn your pride and joy into an unroadworthy, worthless, hunk-of-junk in a short amount of time. Serious rust can form and develop within weeks in areas of high exposure. And while it will be possible to fix, the worse it is, the more expensive and difficult it will be to do so.

We’ve spent our whole lives living in coastal town and cities. Plus a combined 13 months living on the road spending most of our time parked up near to the coast. Rust is a serious issue. These are some of the solutions we’ve found to prevent it from forming, and fix it before it gets out of control:

High pressure fresh water rinse:

montero sport before wash

Our Montero Sport camper after 1 week on the road..

Wash the car once a fortnight at least, preferably once a week if the salt spray has been bad. Take it to a service station or self service car wash and give it a freshwater high pressure rinse. Yes it will cost a few dollars, but it’s well worth the minor expense.

Ensure you wash from the roof down, and give the roof, gutters, sides, all nooks and crannies a good blast, and then spray the underside last to get rid of any mud, road grime and salt residue.

Rinse, wash and wax:

montero sport washed

…5 minutes and $4 later!

Once every four to six weeks you should give the vehicle a proper wash with car detergent,
and then use some cleaner wax and another layer of straight wax on top while it’s clean and dry. The wax forms a protective skin over the paint that protects it from salt and sun damage, therefore rust.

The basics you will need is cleaner wax, wax applicator pad, some cheesecloth (to buff off the wax), microfiber cloths (buy multipacks cheap from a supermarket), suds wash, bucket and a big sponge. It will cost few dollars all up, but will last years and keep your vehicle looking good!

Also, I found a clay bar and detailing spray works really well as getting rust and stubborn stains off the paint. I use the clay bar once every six to eight months when I do a major clean and wax on the car.

Rust conversion:

Use a rust converter, such as Ranex (sold in Australian hardware stores) to directly target any rust spots that develop on the paint or underside. Do so with caution as it’s highly corrosive! Dab it directly to the rust spots with a q-tip, let it dry for the day, then use a white paint pen or enamel touch up paint pen to cover the exposed metal to prevent further rust forming.

Another option if it’s really light surface rust on your paintwork is to use a standard polish on the affected areas, then wipe it clean and apply touch up paint immediately. Ranex converts the rust doesn’t remove it, so can look unsightly on your bonnet or roof if the surface is lumpy. Whereas polish will remove it and leave a smooth surface ready to be painted, provided it’s only a small spot.

Rust prevention:

I also spray the side steps, tow bar, the bare metal floor, wheel well, and chassis/underside of the car with deodorised fish oil once every six to twelve months to prevent any rust forming on the chassis or underside of the body panels.

Fish oil can be bought in a tin to paint on or spray, or you get it in an aerosol can for easy application. It’s smelly, sticky stuff though so make sure you wear goggles/glasses and a mask.

Also be pre prepared to have stray animals hanging around for the next few days, because your van will smell like anchovies for a bit. It’s worth it though to prevent rust.

It probably sounds like more work than it actually is. Essentially you will need to spend five or ten minutes a fortnight giving it a high pressure wash, and maybe two or three hours every six months doing a thorough wash, polish and wax. It’s really not so bad. The most difficult part is reaching the roof to wash and wax if you own a tall vehicle like the Delica.

It’s well worth the small investment of time and money to do this though, than deal with the ‘cancer of cars’ later on. Just do it!

What’s your trick to keep your vehicle clean and rust free? Leave your tips in the comments below or our Facebook page.