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How Can I Protect My Car from Road Salt?

Cedar Rapids residents experience snow and ice every winter, resulting in hazardous road conditions that can cause vehicles to skid out of control. To help keep people safe, road crews usually spread sand, road salt, or a combination thereof on the roadways. And although road salt helps keep motorists safer by improving traction, it can do serious harm to your car if you’re not careful. Here are several ways to protect your car from road salt damage.

How Does Road Salt Work?

Road salt, or rock salt, contains sodium chloride that lowers the freezing point of water. Because water normally freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, when snow or ice are exposed to road salt, they need even colder temperatures to stay frozen. The more salt on the roads, the harder it is for ice to form. Road crews can even pre-treat the pavement with a water and salt mixture (brine) to make the salt more effective. But on some bitterly cold days temperatures drop so low that road salt doesn’t work at all.

Road Salt Targets These Areas

Even though road salt helps keep you safer, it’s not safe for your car. That’s because the chemical reaction that takes place can corrode exposed metal that it comes-in-contact-with. If the corrosion continues unimpeded, it eventually causes rust that not only looks bad, but can also lower your vehicle’s resale value.

Road salt typically targets these areas of your car:

  • Body panels

  • Exhaust system and muffler

  • Coil springs

  • Subframe

Your undercarriage takes the brunt of the salt invasion as sodium chloride-filled slush gets sprayed underneath your vehicle while in motion. Once corrosion starts eating away at your axle or brake lines, it can place you at risk for a future accident. And, unless you check under your vehicle you won’t even know that it’s rusting until it’s too late!

Preventing Salt Damage

When rock salt gets run over, it’s splintered into tiny particles that get lodged in hidden cracks and creases found in your car’s metal parts, like seams where body panels come together. Here are several reliable ways to protect your vehicle from salt damage:

  • Early in the fall, give your car a good washing and waxing. For added protection, apply a sealant over the new wax. There are even high-tech ceramic coatings available that provide a longer-lasting protective barrier.

  • Before winter weather arrives, get your car inspected to make sure any rusted out components are replaced.

  • Repair any noticeable chips, deep scratches or rust spots before the first snowfall.

  • Stay back several car lengths when following snowplows that are putting down road salt so that your vehicle doesn’t get pelted.

  • Wash your car regularly all winter long. Run your car every few weeks through a car wash that also thoroughly cleans the undercarriage, and make sure to do so right after a large snowfall has hit your area.

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles that are exposed for 8 years or more to road salt are at higher risk to develop corrosion. If you own an older vehicle give it some extra care in the winter.

  • Once spring arrives, detail your car thoroughly inside and out, as road salt can also damage interior components like carpeting, floor mats and exposed metal.

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