Salt: Good on Roads, Bad on Cars

By Gina Cherundolo, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
11/30/2011 9:16:54 AM

Winter is in full swing in the Midwest, East and even places in the South, and many drivers are thankful for the melting salt crews spread on the highways and roads during inclement weather.

Road salt is used to create a lower freezing temperature on road surfaces, leading to less ice on roadways. While this salt can save countless lives during snowstorms, it could also shorten the life of your car.

Salt is corrosive, and after time, it can eat away the paint on your vehicle, lead to rusting problems on the frame and even damage the undercarriage.

This concern leads many people to head to the local car wash during the winter months, including our AccuWeather.com meteorologists and AccuWeather.com Facebook fans.

Facebook fan Laura S. learned about the effects of salt the hard way.

"I've had two farm trucks in the past 10-12 years in which the brakes failed due to the lines breaking or leaking," she wrote. "The salt embedded itself between a clamp that held up the line, and because they weren't washed often enough, the salt mixed with dirt rubbed right through the hose."

AccuWeather.com meteorologists advise drivers to avoid driving right after salt is spread on roads. Not only is it safer not to drive in inclement weather, it also minimizes the amount of salt picked up by your car.

Many drivers wait for a break in the winter storm activity or a brief warm-up to wash their cars.

"We run our vehicles through the car wash at least once a month during the winter," wrote Facebook fan Heather R. "We just wait for the temps to be above 20F to avoid having our doors frozen shut."

AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines says he looks at the weather patterns before deciding to wash his car.

"If there's another winter storm coming, I wait, because there's going to be more salt spread on the roads anyway," he said.

Although it can be frustrating to head to the car wash only for the vehicle to be covered in salt the next week, some commented they wash their cars anyway for aesthetic purposes.

Yikes! My car needs a wash, especially the undercarriage. Salt can eat away at the paint and metal on your vehicle. (Photo by AccuWeather.com's Gina Cherundolo.)

"Whether it is necessary or not, I just can't stand looking at it coated in salt," wrote Facebook fan Alex G. "I wash it every few weeks in the winter just so it looks good once in a while."

Consistent car washes during the winter can add up over time, but some drivers deem it as important as any other car cost.

"Auto car washes [are] part of our winter budget," AccuWeather Facebook fan Cyndy E. wrote. "Consider it required maintenance."

While some people regularly wash their cars, others choose to wait until spring. Salt is activated by heat, so the corrosive effects speed up when the weather is warmer.

Whenever you choose to wash your vehicle, it's a good idea to do so as the next season sets in.

"Once spring comes around, it is imperative to give the undercarriage of your car a thorough wash," said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews. "Salt sucks up the moisture in humid air, which could lead to even more problems once the weather heats up."