Why Do Sprinter Vans Rust?

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A close up of a rusted metal surface

Sprinter vans are very common among those who love to travel cross country but do not want to commit to a full-size RV. Many people who enjoy visiting campsites will take a new or used Sprinter van and convert it into a fully functional camper van. It can be an affordable investment that costs much less than a traditional recreational vehicle.

Sprinter vans are great for those who love the outdoors because they are the ideal combination of toughness and style. But one common issue that many Sprinter van owners complain about is all the rust. This problem can make the Sprinter van difficult to maintain, and it can hurt the vehicle’s resale value.

What Causes Sprinter Vans to Rust?

If you are thinking about purchasing a Sprinter van or have recently bought your first one, one thing to be on the lookout for is large or progressed rust spots.

When you buy a used Sprinter, you may save a lot of money upfront, but you could also end up with a long list of repair issues that will cost you more in the future. And problems with rust are often one of the main issues all Sprinter owners experience.

Rust is iron oxide, which is a chemical reaction that occurs anytime metal encounters oxygen and moisture. It is very common to find Sprinter vans in otherwise great shape with large amounts of corrosion on their exterior.

This corrosion can also be found on the floor, roof, doors, and even the van’s interior.

Once rust starts to set in, it spreads quickly until the main issue is addressed. We all may be familiar with older vehicles being covered in rust, but why is it so common for practically new Sprinter vans to rust easily?

When a brand-new Sprinter van leaves the factory, it has a metal-to-metal interior framework and seams and gaps. The van’s metal wall panels feature V-shaped pouches that can trap water easily.

Sprinter vans are designed without the finishing touches that other vehicles have, which help absorb condensation and provide protection to the metal framework. If any moisture remains on the Sprinter’s framework for long, it will start to rust quickly.

Sprinter vans are commonly used as delivery vehicles for businesses, and therefore they need to be versatile enough to work for all industries. That’s why the interior of the Sprinter is so customizable with metal arches, pockets, and areas where you can add optional windows.

The unfinished design of the Sprinter makes it easier for those who want to create a fully customized camper van to do just that. But it also allows all that exposed metal to be susceptible to rust.

Will Exposure to the Elements Contribute to the Sprinter Van’s Rust Issues?

How is the weather in your area throughout the year? Is it humid often? Or do you get a lot of rain and snow? Snow can be dangerous for vehicles when it comes to rust, but warmer weather in the summer can be just as harmful to your vehicle.

Because Sprinter vans are designed for commercial use, they are not often found stored away inside a warm garage.

That is why it’s important to pay attention to the outdoor elements your van is exposed to. That can help you determine the cause of your rust issues.

Winter Weather or Road Salt?

It is not so much the cooler temperatures that you have to worry about in the winter but the road salt.

When your roads are icy and covered in snow, rock salt is applied to the road to prevent serious accidents. This salt may be essential for the safety of all the vehicles on the road, but it can also cause damage to your vehicle’s undercarriage and paint job.

The combination of salt and water, known as brine, is commonly used in many cities because it is more affordable. But it is also very corrosive and is one of the leading causes of rust.

Taking time to wash your vehicle more often when there is salt on the road is a great preventative measure. If you try to remove the spray from your Sprinter van as quickly as possible, you will help prevent rust from spreading and many other costly damages caused by road salt.

Summertime Heat and Moisture

To be successful with your fight against rust, you have to understand what causes it to form and thrive. That is the best way to stop rust before it starts. The weather and all the outdoor elements are not kind to any type of metal.

Salt and water contribute to a poor environment for Sprinter vans. That is true whether you are dealing with road salt in the winter or saltwater from your drive to the beach in the summer.

If you are visiting the beach in your Sprinter van, keep in mind that these vans do not do well when excessive moisture is in the air. That is because of the condensation that can form on the inside.

Because of the gaps in the metal framework and lack of moisture-wicking insulation layers, the moisture that gets inside tends to stay longer inside a Sprinter than in other vehicles.

While having your van out in the heat and humidity can help combat the excessive moisture, too much exposure to the sun can also be harmful to the paint and lower your Sprinter’s defenses against rust.

How to Protect Your Sprinter Van from Harmful Weather

The best way to protect your Sprinter van from the outdoor elements is to store it in a place where it will not be exposed to the sun and moisture.

Placing your van in a garage when it is not in use will prevent it from prolonged exposure to heat and humidity. It will also prevent the color of your van from fading.

Washing the exterior of your van often, especially in the winter when it is exposed to road salt, will remove the unwanted grime and debris from your vehicle. It is recommended that you wash it at least once a week for best results.

To make your washing efforts easier and cut down on your visits to the car wash, you can use a power washer to get the job done.

A washer with at least a 25-foot high-pressure hose and a spray gun that is easy to hold is ideal. Still, a traditional bucket and standard wash kit will also do the trick.

How Do I Treat Rust on a Sprinter Van?

It is possible to treat rust on a Sprinter van all on your own. To do this, you will need a few tools on hand. Before you get started, you should have the following.

  • Protective Eyewear
  • A Dust Mask or Respirator
  • Gloves
  • A Long Sleeve Shirt and Long Pants
  • Clean and Dry Rags
  • Masking Tape
  • Electric Drill with a Wire Brush Attachment
  • Sanding Block
  • Sandpaper and Fine Grit Disks
  • Rust Removing Spray or Gel
  • Wax and Grease Remover
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Applicators

Step-by-Step Guide to Removing Rust On Sprinter Van

  • Get prepared with all your gear and protective clothing
  • Start with a clean, dry surface and tape off the area you are working on
  • Follow the directions on the rust remover product carefully
  • Sand the area and use wax and grease remover
  • Allow the area to dry
  • Sand and dust the area
  • Prime it and then paint the area

To effectively strip the paint and rust off, you can use Scotch-Brite discs, which fit into standard drills. If you need to buy sanding discs, many excellent multi-piece sets are available that can help you sand down and smooth rough areas.

Using a prep spray before you start painting can be helpful. And before you start to repaint your van, make sure the surface is free of oil, wax, or grease before you get started.

When choosing the best rust treatment for your Sprinter van, Rustoleum Rust Reformer is an excellent product to use.

It works to stop rust in its tracks and is highly recommended by many Sprinter owners who have used the product over the years.

Should I Contact a Professional?

If you are not confident about your ability to effectively remove rust and repaint your Sprinter van, there are many professional body shops out there that can help you get your Sprinter van back to its original beauty.

If you have a limited budget, you will want to ask around to find the best mechanic in your area who can take care of your rust removal needs for less. You don’t have to take your van to the most expensive body shop in your area to eliminate rust and corrosion effectively.

Ask other van owners and campers that you know who they would recommend.

There are plenty of professionals who operate out of their garages at home and do bodywork as a part-time job. And they tend to offer their services at a more reasonable rate than others who provide the same services full-time.

How to Prevent Sprinter Van Rust

You can do a few things to help prevent the onset of rust with your Sprinter van. Being proactive when it comes to stopping rust and corrosion before it starts will help you save a lot of time and money in the future and prevent a lot of headaches.

Utilize Your Garage

If you have a garage filled with everything except your automobiles, it is time to clean it out or at least clear out a space large enough to store your Sprinter van when it is not in use.

Set aside some time to eliminate clutter, and you will be grateful when your Sprinter van has fewer and fewer rust issues.

Prevent Moisture

Products that absorb moisture can be very beneficial to your Sprinter van. Consider using moisture-absorbing packets inside your van or purchasing a portable dehumidifier to help reduce the amount of moisture.

Keep An Eye on Your Paint

When you start to notice your van’s paint bubbling up or see a small rust patch forming, you should take care of the issue as soon as possible before it has a chance to get out of hand.

Do a look over at least once a month to check for rust on your van to help prevent the spread.

It can be a challenge to effectively remove rust on any vehicle once it starts forming. Therefore, preventing rust before it starts is your best option. Rust will often develop without any warning signs. It will start with bubbles that appear below the paint’s surface.

That is the first indication of moisture finding its way underneath the paint and making a connection with the vehicle’s metal surface. You can check for damage to your Sprinter van’s paint by using a flashlight and searching for any bubbles, bumps, or dark spots.

You should also look for nicks and scratches in the paint that can lead to additional damage if not taken care of.

The next phase will involve flaking and chipping of the paint. When that occurs, the oxidation process has already started. You should thoroughly inspect your doors and other areas for worn or damaged paint at this time.

In areas like the undercarriage of your van, rust will be even more visible. To effectively get rid of this rust, you will need to place your van on jack stands or consult a professional.

Reapply a Clear Coat

Make your van look as good as new by refreshing it with a new clear coat to help prevent rust. You can do this yourself or visit your local body shop.

Sprinter vans have become part of the #VanLife revolution in recent years because of their appeal to commercial van users and campers alike. While they may not make vehicles like they once were many years ago, with a little extra care, you can get plenty of enjoyment out of your Sprinter van while also making sure it always looks it’s very best.

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