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Preventing Rust from Road Salt

The hazards of winter driving aren't limited to ice and snow. When road departments use salt to melt the freeze, that mineral can wreak havoc on your vehicle. Here, we explain what you can do to keep your car clean and prevent rust from road salt.

Why Salt Is Used on Roads

In those parts of the country with freezing winter temperatures, drivers know that warming the cars up in the morning isn't the only inconvenience. Icy roads are, too. The same chemical reaction between ice and salt that creates creamy, delicious ice cream also keeps our roads and sidewalks free of dangerous ice during the cold winter months.

A salt and sand mixture is frequently spread over roads before or after a snow or ice storm. Salt lowers water's freezing point, causing any ice already formed to melt even though the air temperature remains well below freezing. The sand helps keep the salt in place, plus it adds a bit of traction to wet and often slushy roads.

While road salting helps people travel safely, it has drawbacks. It can cause major body and undercarriage damage to your vehicles unless you take extra care and precaution.

If you're one of the many who must travel the saline streets in the land of the ice and snow, we have some great tips to help protect your vehicle from the ravages of road salt.

Risks of Road Salt Damage

Road salt, while helpful for safer driving, can cause rust and corrosion on your vehicle. Since your vehicle's undercarriage is completely exposed, this is the area most at risk from deterioration from road salt.

Parts most at risk from salt damage include:

  • Exhaust system.
  • Muffler.
  • Coil springs.
  • Subframe.
  • Hydraulic break system.

Keep in mind that rust on essential parts, from the axel to the brake system, can be very dangerous. If you live in an area where salt is used on the roads regularly, the risks of vehicle damage are much higher and should be taken seriously to protect your investment as well as your safety.

Preventing Road Salt Damage

You can't fight Mother Nature, but there are a few steps you can take before winter hits and during the winter months to prevent road salt from damaging your vehicle.

  • Wax your car before winter: While the undercarriage is the most at risk, giving your whole vehicle a good coat of wax before bad weather begins is a great pre-game step.
  • Avoid puddles and plow trucks: Puddles can hold larger amounts of salt, and driving behind the plow means you will be the first to drive through a fresh layer of salt.
  • Pretreat your vehicle's undercarriage: Collision shops offer an oil solution pre-treatment that can be sprayed on your vehicle's exposed parts. This coating will help prevent salt and water from the road sticking to your vehicle's metal parts.
  • Wash your vehicle after a snow storm: Get the salt off your car as soon as possible!
  • Use an under spray: Just washing your car isn't enough—you have to get the undercarriage clean. Choose a drive-through car wash or a hand wash that sprays under the vehicle.
  • Get a pre-winter inspection: A quick trip to your mechanic for a once-over is a great way to go into winter with a safe and fully-functional vehicle. Any indicator of wear and tear should be addressed before the temperatures drop.

Watch for Warning Signs

Modern cars are good at letting us know they're not operating in tip-top shape. If you see a red “brake warning” light on your dash, do not drive your vehicle. Have your car towed to your mechanic immediately and have your brake system inspected.

Also, keep in mind that potential dangers aren't always obvious. If you stay up-to-date on your vehicle maintenance schedule you should be ahead of the game. For more information, refer to our page about winterizing your vehicle.

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