Salt was first used to de-ice roads in the United States in 1938 and about 5,000 tons of salt was spread on the highways of the country by the winter of 1941-1942. Today, approximately 10 to 20 million tons of road salt is used in a year [1]. This massive use of salt on roads is increasing the salinity of the water, creating a negative impact on aquatic life and human health.

Although salt is commonly used as a deicing chemical on roads, it can cause severe damage to your vehicle and eventually a lost in your investment. Given that road salt is really harmful to your vehicle, proper care must be taken to avoid any accidents. But why salt affects your vehicle? Let’s find that out.

The Effects of Road Salt on Cars

We know that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is the freezing point of water. At this temperature, water molecules organize themselves into crystal structures. It is a concept called “freezing point depression” because when salt is added on the road, it starts to interrupt the crystallizing process by lowering the freezing point of the water. Which means that the introduction of road salt makes sure the layer of water cannot freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit anymore.

However, once the temperature gets below 16 degrees Fahrenheit, the real issues with using road salt starts to appear. Salt becomes quite useless after it has done its magic. After the exposure with the water, the chloride molecules in salt remain separated and start to create a negative effect on the environment. These chloride molecules are also corrosive to metal and wheels of cars –causing extensive damage to vehicles.

Rust is one of the biggest threats salt poses to a vehicle and the repeated exposure only accelerates this threat. Although modern cars come with a certain level of rust protection (e.g. body paint), over time the metal structure of the car starts to come in contact with air, moisture, and salt. This causes the oxidation process and the resulted rust starts to damage your vehicle. Given that the underbody of a vehicle is wide open, it becomes difficult to detect the rust as most of the salt damage starts occurring underneath the car. The real problems start when drivers pull their vehicles into their garages after driving on salt treated roads. It is because the snow and salt sit underneath their cars and starts rotting away car under components, slowly and gradually. As a result of this corrosion or rotting, a severe damage is caused to the car’s exhaust and muffler systems along with the springs and the frame as well.

Risks of Road Salt Damage

Here are parts of your vehicle that are most likely at risk from salt damage:

  • Exhaust system
  • Muffler
  • Hydraulic brake system
  • Coil springs
  • Subframe

It is important to keep in mind that rust on essential parts (axel to the brakes) of your vehicle can be very dangerous. Therefore, if you’re living in an area where road salt is used regularly, it is imperative for you to take proper care of your vehicle to avoid an accident from happening.

How to Prevent Road Salt Damage

Driving on roads treated with salt means that you cannot consider any other option. That’s why you need to look for ways to prevent road salt from damaging your vehicle. Here are some of the most effective ways that can assist you in your fight against road salt car damage:

  • Get a Pre-winter Inspection

If you want to keep on using your fully functional vehicle, it is best to plan a quick trip to your mechanic. It helps in addressing any undetected issue that may cause more trouble when the temperature drops. When you do get a pre-winter inspection, make sure you have the brakes fully checked.

  • Wax Your Car Before Winter

If you really want to ensure your car gets adequate protection against road salt, the best approach for you is prepare before the snow falls. Which means that you need to thoroughly wash your car, the underneath included, and apply a much-needed coat of wax.  Make sure that you follow it by a wax sealant because it makes the wax is adhering to the vehicle’s paint.

When you are sealing the underside of your vehicle, it is extremely important that you do not neglect the fuel lines and brakes. It can increase their chances of failing if neglected for too long.

  • Regularly Wash Your Car

It might look like a ridiculous solution to wash the car knowing that it is inevitable to keep it clean. But it is important to understand that washing your car regularly is one of the most effective ways of combating rust and corrosion on your vehicle. If you cannot wash your car on regular basis then try to wash it once every 2-3 days. Make sure you don’t use cold water to wash your car because it will get your car frozen.

  • Fix the Scratches Immediately

Small scratches can also play a huge role in instigating rust and damaging your vehicle. When you notice scratches on your vehicle, don’t make the mistake of ignoring them, especially if you are living in an area where salt is used for the roads. It is because the oxidation process of the rust starts to happen as a result of water, moisture, and salt exposure to the metal surface of your car. You can use touch-up paint or go to a professional to fix the scratches or paint chip.

The Bottom Line

There is no denying road salt helps in providing better driving conditions, but it is very important for you to pay close attention to small details as well. Make sure you have your car checked once every 1-2 months and try to wash it on regular basis.  It can be really helpful if you apply wax after every 3 months. Stay safe!

References: [1]: https://www.caryinstitute.org/sites/default/files/public/reprints/report_road_salt_2010.pdf