Bust the rust: prevention tips for your camper trailer and car

Rust is an ever-present threat to your car and camper trailer, but there’s plenty you can do to stem its advance. Oxidation occurs when metal is exposed to water and oxygen, but of the meeting of the three, metal is the one that comes out worse for wear – it corrodes and forms iron oxide or more commonly, rust. Generally speaking, any ferrous metal – those which contain iron – left without protection will eventually rust, and like any chemical reaction, certain substances can act as a catalyst, speeding up the transformation. Although there are many ways to ‘rustproof’ metal, the term is a bit of misnomer as there is really nothing that can be done to prevent rust from eventually forming. All metal components on your vehicle and your camper trailer will rust eventually if left, but there are many simple maintenance techniques you can employ to delay its onset and slow the process down. Avoiding environments that encourage the formation of rust, like the beach or areas with lots of river crossings, will go a long way towards keeping your pride and joy in tip top shape, but that also defeats the purpose for which you bought your rig and that great camper in the first place – off-roading and exploring this vast country of ours. However, just about every dirt or sand surface you drive on is pressing the fast-forward button on the rust reaction threatening your vehicle.

Prevention – Prevention – Prevention

As with everything else in life, prevention is always better – and in this case, cheaper – than cure. Buying your camper trailer from a reputable dealer that provides a superior finish with chip resistant paint, a hot dip galvanized chassis and extensive structural warranties will leave you plenty of time to avert disaster once you start using your camper off-road. Understand that salt, sand, stones and gravel are the biggest hazards your setup will face and that cleaning both your tow, and your tug when you return from a fun day out or a weekend away is of the utmost importance. The reality is that regardless of how you enjoy using your rig off-road, if the trip doesn’t end with a good tub down in the wash bay – using a specialised soap like Salt Assault or CT18 truck wash to remove sticky salt deposits – or a hose down on the lawn, you’re inviting trouble. Metal cancer doesn’t discriminate between vehicles, so be diligent with cleaning every time and add some extra protection with these trusted techniques.

beat the rust

Fish oil is the old school classic in rust prevention that is a tried and true method and reaches hard to get at areas of the vehicle. After a thorough cleaning to remove any residual contaminants, fish oil spray can be applied to any surface that may be exposed to the elements. The fine viscosity and chemical make-up of the oil allows it to penetrate the metal and form a barrier of protection against the atmosphere and provide repellence to water. Depending on how you use your vehicle and camper trailer, fish oil needs to be reapplied every 6-12 months in high exposure areas such as wheel wells and the chassis rail. When it becomes necessary to reapply, residual oil can be removed with a wax and grease remover so that you maintain a clean surface for the next coat. Both your rig and your trailer will have a sharp pong for at least a week after application – unless you’ve invested in an odourless variety – but that’s a small price to pay for proven protection.

Lanolin spray is a naturally derived product from sheep’s wool that is like fish oil in its protective properties. Due to the waxy nature of lanolin, the spray works by displacing water away from any metal surface and provides a corrosion barrier. Spray on preventatives can access areas that are hidden behind panels and inside chassis rails to prevent rust-causing factors like oxygen and salt from gaining direct access to the metal’s surface. The effectiveness of spray on treatments depends entirely upon the quality of the application and consistency in keeping them maintained, so if you lack enough mechanical nous to get door trimmings and dress panels off and on again, many professional car repair centres offer these services and will do it for you. Reapply lanolin every 3-6 months, especially if you live in an environment where corrosion is more prevalent.

Any damage to your car or camper trailer’s paintwork should be repaired as soon as possible. If the key to stopping metal cancer in its tracks is protecting metal from contact with the environment, you cannot go past a decent coat of paint. However, stone chips and scrapes expose vulnerable steel and the protection is lost, so not only will a great paint job turn heads when you’re out and about, but it acts like a knight’s armour in deflecting the onslaught of the elements to your vehicle’s vulnerable metal; it’s one of the best value for money investments in your car and camper trailer’s rust protection arsenal.

Petroleum, wax-based treatments – such as Valvoline’s Tectyl – are designed to military specification and last for up to five years which keeps your maintenance schedule more manageable as you don’t have to top it up regularly like fish oil and lanolin sprays. However, extensive users should give their camper trailer and 4WD a once-over more frequently to maintain coverage.

Electronic rust prevention systems (ERPS) have been around for decades but are a division of rustproofing that is subject to a fair amount of controversy. As rust is the result of an electrochemical process that removes electrons from the metal, electronic prevention systems operate on the theory that if a negative change is created on the vehicle’s metal surface – with the car’s paint holding the charge static – then the capacitor in the system will work to constantly replace lost electrons on the vehicle’s body thus preventing rust from forming. Most units will detect faults and current leakage due to poor or broken contact between the device and the metal parts of your vehicle or trailer. Sufficient paint coverage with zero damage or chips is essential to the success of this style of product, so efficient maintenance is still necessary to ensure there are no breaks in your rig’s armour. Some swear by them and others say they’re just another snake oil cure, so a certain leap of faith is required, but you may feel that it’s worth the investment.

Maintenance is the key to keeping on top of rust formation, but making good choices when you’re looking to buy can also make a difference. Disc brakes, for example, are more corrosion resistant than drum brakes because of their open design and by comparison, there are fewer areas where moisture can pool. These are an easy upgrade choice when purchasing your camper trailer and you will save a lot of money in the long run, plus you’ll retain a good resale value if you can keep your vehicle rust free too. It goes without saying that for a regular beach fishing enthusiast, the measures to prevent rust will be far more demanding than an occasional-use rig. But when it comes to rust, there’s no such thing as too much protection, so don’t be afraid to use a combination of treatments. That way you’ll spend your weekends out and about, instead of home in the shed, repairing the rust.

At Mars Campers we work hard to develop the best value for money camper trailers with a view of helping you create memorable experiences with your loved ones.

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