For skiers, the winter is a time to celebrate, but if you love your car, it is time to go to battle. Each year, freezing temps bring snow and ice, and each year, municipalities spread salt and other chemicals on the road to keep us from sliding to our death. Nice of them, right? Unfortunately, road salt can do almost as much damage to your car as whacking into a tree.

Why Do Municipalities Spread Salt?

If you're wondering why municipalities spread salt, the short answer is that it's cheap and effective. Road salt, or rock salt, reduces the freezing point of water to around 20 degrees. Driving on wet roads is much safer than driving on ice, and your local government is the first to hear about it when the roads become treacherous — so they send those big old dump trucks out to spread some rock salt to keep the public roadways from turning into a demolition derby.

Some municipalities will mix the salt with another chemical to lower the freezing point even more. Calcium carbonate or potassium carbonate are popular additives and can lower the freezing point of water another 15 to 20 degrees. These chemicals are pricey, though, and cash-strapped towns will often go with the cheaper option of straight road salt. Either way, these road treatments are bad for your vehicle.

What Kind of Damage Can Road Salt Do to a Car?

Road salt is a corrosive material. For those of you who didn't pay attention in high school chemistry, a corrosive material is one of the main ingredients of rust.

Rust needs three things to form: water, air, and a corrosive material. If all three of these things are introduced to a piece of metal, the corrosive material allows ions from the metal to transfer into the water and air and create a brown crusty material we call rust. The more corrosive the material, the faster the metal turns to rust.

This means anything made of metal is at risk of being damaged by road salt, like the undercarriage of your car, the wheel wells, the muffler, the brakes, and the brake lines. Even the finish of your car can be damaged.

Pre-Winter Prevention

Before winter hits, there are a few things you can do to protect your car from getting damaged by road salt. First, wash and wax your car. Take the time to do a thorough cleaning. Use a clay bar to get the really stuck-on stuff, and dry the car before you apply the wax. Use a high-quality wax that will fill any micro-cracks in your finish and keep the road salt out.

Next, to protect your undercarriage, consider having your local auto shop apply a protective coating. The service is a quick and simple process. They will use an oil to coat everything under your car, creating a protective barrier between your car and the salty road slush you will be driving through in winter.

Preventing Road Salt Damage During Winter

Once winter gets into full swing, it is a little harder to protect your car. The temperatures may make it hard to wash your car, and your hose might be buried under 2 feet of snow. This is a good time of year to use those enclosed car washes you find at gas stations across the country. Find one with a good undercarriage spray and a spray wax finish. Drive slowly into the bay so the undercarriage spray can wash off as much road salt as possible. Then, just smile like a child as the colorful chemicals are sprayed all over your car.

If the temperatures rise above freezing, use the good weather to do a mini car wash. Pay particular attention to the wheels and wheel wells where road salt and grime tend to collect. Use a wheel brush to get into the smaller areas on your wheels where gunk can hide.

When you do have to drive on those slush covered roads, try to avoid puddles of water. Salt and other road chemicals will collect in the puddles right along with the water. Hit the puddle, and all of that salt water will splash up onto the finish of your car — which means another trip through the enclosed car wash.

When Spring Returns

Once the robins return and the weather warms up, it is time to do a thorough cleaning of your car. Spray the car off first using just water. A high-powered nozzle on the end of your hose will help you remove as much loose salt and grime as possible without damaging your ride. Make sure you get the underside of the vehicle and under the bumpers. Look for any nooks and crannies road salt can hide in and hit them hard with your water spray.

Once you have gotten as much of the salt and grime off as you can with the water spray, it's time to give the car a good wash. Use a gentle microfiber mitt on the surface of your car and wash and rinse in small sections. Never let the soap dry on your vehicle. If there is gunk you can't get off with just the wash, use a clay bar to pull it from the surface and wash that area again.

Finally, it's time for a good coat of wax. Make sure your car is dry before you start the waxing process. Then, choose a high-quality wax with carnauba to protect your car's finish from UV damage. Work in small sections and buff out the wax completely before moving on to the next section.

Protecting your car from road salt damage is a lot of work, but not doing it can leave you with a rusted-out shell of a ride. Do some pre-winter care, rinse as much salt as you can off your vehicle in the cold winter months, and when spring finally makes a return, do a thorough wash and wax of your car's exterior. Visit Golden State Trading to get all the supplies you need to keep your car safe from road salt.

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