For anyone who has had to live on the East Coast or in areas with lots of snow and ice on the roads, road salt is a fact of life. Unfortunately, salt doesn’t behave very well with paint and metal. Not only is the material corrosive, it generally seems to enhance and speed up the oxidation process on exposed metal, i.e. rust.
Road salt isn’t going to go away; the material is very effective at making water “wetter” by breaking down the molecular bonds of normal water, allowing it to flow better. As a result, when put on ice, the material causes ice to melt faster, clearing up roads and highways. This is particularly useful for eliminating thick ice and black ice on critical roads. Salt alone is not the only material used for road clearance. In fact, both sand and salt are often mixed, providing traction on roads as well.
As noted earlier, salt and car parts don’t mix. Both vehicle undercarriage and body parts suffer oxidation damage very quickly if the salt is not removed. And simply drying out the car is not enough. Dry salt continues to keep corroding paint, exposing more metal and enhancing the rust cycle with simple moisture in the air.
Knowing that roads are going to be salted and treated, the best way to minimize vehicle damage is to plan ahead. Good maintenance, planning, and quick action can often reduce or eliminate salt so that it results in little damage over time. This may, in some cases, seem like a lot of elbow work, but the effort will be worthwhile in avoiding hundreds to thousands of dollars of damage after winter’s end.
The first step begins before winter starts, usually in Autumn. Waxing the car body and applying a wax sealant provides a very effective body sealant that can fend off a lot of moisture and water-borne salt in the first few weeks. Eventually, the wax will wear off by season end, but the prevention reduces exposure over the same time period considerably. This waxing process includes sealing the vehicle undercarriage. A car owner can either apply the sealant himself with car part store products or have it done by a mechanic.
One of the key actions a car owner can also take during the winter is regular washing down of the car and its undercarriage after a drive and after the car has cooled down. This may not be possible every commute day, but it should be done at least once a week with fresh, clear water from a municipal hose or tap. In commute folks who don’t have time can easily take advantage of a car wash vendor for the same benefit. It’s key to get the bottom of the car washed regularly to remove undercarriage salt deposits. The water should be mixed with soap for at least one rinse to allow it to soak in better and get to more places for washing out.
Once washed, the edged, door joints, hinges, and rubber trim should all be dried and treated either with new lubricant or protection product. This helps keep things moving, stops freezing of water deposits, and it stops the rubber parts from drying out.After drying and finishing, a general waxing should be applied again at least once a month. This helps continue the body protection to avoid the dreaded doorline corrosion that so often occurs on older cars, particularly full-metal body cars from previous years.
"You wouldn't believe some of the vehicles that we have seen come to our dealership who have seen major paint damage as a result of long term salt exposure. Its important to take preventive measures now in order to ensure that your cars paint will look great and last for the cars lifespan." stated Allen Gulajan, President of Car Smart, located in Maryland. Car Smart has been selling used cars in Maryland for years, and they've seen what road salt can do to older vehicles. Take their tips to heart, and your car will last far longer.
You don’t need to be a molecular scientist to reduce the damage of road salt to your car during winter. Performing some simple but critical pre-season work can stop a lot of damage before it occurs. Additionally, regular washing to reduce sitting salt on a car body and undercarriage will go a long ways towards removing oxidation elements before they really settle in. It’s important to apply washes soon after exposure. Oxidation on bare metal can set in very quickly, within 60 minutes, and painted material can show pitting and deterioration within 12 to 24 hours of direct salt contact. Again, a simple wash with soap water and drying can stop this damage in its tracks.