How to Repair Rusted Wheel Wells

Rust damage is a problem that is easily overlooked but can lead to serious and sometimes irreparable consequences. Rust is often difficult to detect, mostly because it tends to appear in spots that are far from plain sight, and once it gets a foothold it's pretty hard to stop. If rust makes it to the frame and suspension components, it can compromise the car's structural integrity and safety—and in an older vehicle, this can mean the end of its life cycle and a trip to the crusher.

There are several areas where rust can appear on a car, such as the chassis, the engine compartment, the hood, the fenders, and the wheel wells. Wheel well damage is particularly easy to miss, as there is usually no need to inspect them too often. And what's more, wheel wells are almost constantly exposed to dirt, salt, and moisture, which makes them more susceptible to corrosion.

Vehicle System
Wheels & Tires
Skill Level

This is a project that needs some know-how

Time to Complete
15-20 hours
  1. Inspect the affected areas and determine the scope of the damage so you can make a more precise estimate on how much time and exactly which tools and materials you might need.

  2. Lift the car up using a jack. Remember to support the car on jack stands and chock the wheels that aren't raised.

  3. Remove the wheel from the affected wheel well. 

  4. To start the repair, take the grinder and use it to remove the rust off the well. You need to make sure you get all of the rust off, so take your time and try to grind the entire affected area.

  5. After you're done grinding, get a wire brush and run it over the same surface so you can make sure you clean the spots that could not be taken care of with the grinder. This is where you can use sandpaper, too, in order to get a smoother surface. 

  6. Pro Tip

    The grinder and wire brush can take off a lot of material. You can also use a sanding disc on a die grinder to clean the rust, then follow up with sandpaper.

  7. Once the rust has been removed, it's time to protect it from future rust damage. Make sure to clean it first before applying primer. You can apply primer paint with a spray gun, which will help make the surface even smoother and serve as an undercoat for the paint. 

  8. Cover the entire area with paint. These final details will protect the surface you just removed rust from, making sure no salt, rocks, moisture, or mud gets to the metal. Since this isn't an area that's easily visible, the paint job doesn't have to be perfect.

  9. Repairing rusted wheel wells is not one of the most exciting DIY projects, but it's absolutely necessary nonetheless. Detecting the issue at its early stages and resolving it in a timely manner is crucial for preventing it from spreading to other areas of the car's body, and for preserving the car's structural stability. The good news is that a repair of this kind doesn't take too much time to complete and doesn't require a high level of expertise, so there is no reason to postpone it.

    Have you ever dealt with rusted wheel well repair? How did it go? Share your tips with other drivers in the comments below.

Last updated June 22, 2018