Hidden Hazards of Road Salt: Car Corrosion Can Take a Toll

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
February 5, 2014; 5:37 AM ET
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With winter in full-force across much of the nation, salt crews have been on the go prepping roadways before, after and during inclement winter weather. Although road salt is essential for safe winter driving, it can also lead to numerous car troubles.

Road salt lowers the freezing point of water, according to Manager of Vehicle Services at Firestone Complete AutoCare Joe Roger.

"It chemically turns that ice back into water so that the car tires can then reach the pavement for traction, instead of just sliding on top of the ice," Roger said.

While road salt is imminent to safe winter driving, it is also extremely corrosive and over time it can cause extensive damage to vehicles.

The biggest threat salt poses to a vehicle is rust, which is accelerated by repeated exposure to salt. Rust on certain parts of a car can create a slew of problems ranging from hydraulic brake system leaks to subframe damage.

Due to the construction of a vehicle with most of the underbody being wide open, most salt damage occurs underneath the car and as a result can be difficult to detect visually.

"Underneath most cars is wide open and subject to everything and all of the elements," Roger said. "All of the water and salt that can be kicked up and sprayed up underneath the vehicle are just going to stick, sit there and corrode."

After driving on salt treated roads, many drivers then pull their vehicles into a garage, which allows the ice, snow and salt from the roadways to sit underneath the car and rot away at the car's under components.

This rotting or corrosion can harm the car's exhaust and muffler systems, coil springs and the frame of the car. Damage to the subframe of a vehicle is common in the snow belt areas in the Northeast, according to Roger.

The necessity of road salt makes it hard to avoid these issues but visiting a car wash frequently during the winter months can help car owners battle salt's detrimental effects.

"Go through a car wash that has an under-spray," Roger said. "That will try to reduce the chances that all that salt and salt water will get on the vehicle and start to corrode."

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Vehicles can also be taken to a collision shop prior to the winter season to have their vehicles pre-treated with an oil solution under-spray to help fight winter road salt damage.

As driving on road salt is fairly common during the winter months, drivers should be aware of potential damage and never drive a vehicle with a red brake warning light on. This light indicates a low fluid condition and can lead to severe consequences if driven without immediate consultation.

If drivers experience any other maintenance issues involving the brake system during the winter months, immediate attention should be sought after.

While all damages are not necessarily visible, the best way to ensure that a vehicle is and will continue to function properly is to have it checked by a professional before the winter season or whenever it is also due for an oil change.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at Kristen.Rodman@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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