How to Prevent Road Salt from Damaging Your Car

Catherine Collins
Catherine Collins

Catherine leverages her background in education and finance to write articles that help readers make informed decisions about their insurance and finances.

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Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

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Updated February 13, 2023 | Reading time: 4 minutes

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Winter months can be especially harsh on vehicles in cities that use road salt to prevent icy roads. Road salt can cause damage that could lead to costly repairs or replacements if you don’t maintain your car during the winter. Road salt runoff also has negative effects on plants, water sources, and animals.[1] Some city governments are considering alternative ways to de-ice roads or reduce salt use in order to mitigate its environmental impact.[2]

Here are some things you can do to prevent road salt from damaging your car.

What is road salt and how does it work?

Road salt is a common winter weather solution used to melt snow and ice on roads.[3] In America, cities put 48 billion pounds of salt on the roads every year. New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio used the most road salt in the 2021–22 winter season, according to Clear Roads.[4] Salt lowers water’s freezing temperature, preventing ice from forming on roads at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t melt ice outright.[5] Unfortunately, using salt on the roads has consequences. It can be harmful to the environment and deteriorate roads over time.[6]

Learn More: Auto Body Repair Costs & Car Insurance Coverage

How road salt can damage cars

Road salt can damage your car, especially in the winter months. De-icing methods caused $15.4 billion in rust-related car repairs between 2012 and 2017, according to AAA.[7]

Road salt can cause damage to the undercarriage of your car, the paint, and other metal components. The salt corrodes metal surfaces, causing rust to form, which can weaken parts and lead to costly repairs.

See Also: Vehicle Inspection Requirements by State

How long it takes for road salt to damage a car

Depending on the environment and how often you drive in areas with road salt, it can take years for the damage to become visible. The best way to protect your car from road salt is by washing it regularly, especially during winter months when road salt is used more frequently.

If you live in an area with a lot of salt, it’s recommended that you wash your car every two weeks or so throughout the year. Taking these steps will help prevent long-term damage.

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How to prevent road salt damage to your car

It’s important to take steps to protect your car from road salt damage, rather than address damage after it occurs. Regularly washing and waxing your car is one of the best ways to prevent any long-term road salt damage. Doing this will help keep your car looking its best while also preserving its value over time.

1. Wash your car regularly in winter months

It’s important to wash your car regularly during winter months. Washing off the salt will help keep rust and corrosion from forming on the hidden parts of your vehicle.

2. Avoid driving after snowstorms

Avoid driving after major snowstorms when possible. Road salt can still stick to your car even after a thorough wash, so it’s ideal to wait until most of the salt has been cleared off the roads before driving. Driving after snowstorms is also a safety issue, as icy winter conditions caused nearly 400 fatal crashes in 2020.

3. Protect your car with wax

Add an extra layer of protection with wax. Wax creates a barrier between your car’s metal components and the corrosive effects of road salt and other debris that may come in contact with them.[8]

4. Keep your tires clean

Road salt tends to accumulate on tire rims and rubber surfaces, so make sure you give your tires a good clean every time you wash your car. It’s also a good idea to check your tire pressure during winter months, as cold air is denser and can cause low tire pressure. Adequate tire pressure is also important to maintain your steering during the winter.[9]

Check Out: Does Car Insurance Cover Hail Damage?

Road salt damage FAQs

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about road salt and how it affects your car.

  • Will road salt damage your car?

    Road salt can be damaging to cars if it isn’t properly washed away. Salt can corrode metal components and create rust, which can lead to expensive future repairs. To avoid road salt damage to your car, wash it after driving in salty conditions, especially in areas where the roads are heavily salted during the winter.

  • How do you protect your car from road salt?

    Protecting your car from road salt damage is all about regular maintenance and washing away the salt. So after driving on a road treated with salt, clean your car yourself or at the car wash to get rid of it, especially underneath your car.

  • Why does salt on roads cause cars to rust?

    Salt on roads causes cars to rust because it accelerates the corrosion process. The sodium and chloride ions in the salt reduce the freezing point of water, which then leads to a chemical reaction that speeds up the oxidation of metal. This reaction is especially damaging when metal gets wet, as it often does during winter weather. As a result, cars exposed to road salt for extended periods of time can suffer from significant chassis and engine corrosion.[10]

  • How does rust affect your car?

    Rust affects your car in a number of ways. Surface rust is the most common type, and you can find it on scratches, nicks, and other areas where the paint has been damaged. Scale rust is more serious and can corrode through the metal, creating holes and leaving body panels weak and unstable. Rust that penetrates the surface of your car can also attack your vehicle’s frame, causing serious damage.[7]

  • Is road salt bad for the environment?

    Although road salt helps make roads safer for motorists, the salt can seep into waterways, which can negatively affect the environment and drinking water. Because of this, many cities are trying to cut back on using salt in an effort to mitigate its harmful effects.[2]

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Sources

  1. Environmental Pollution Volume 221. "Investigation of road salts and biotic stressors on freshwater wetland communities."
  2. TIME. "The U.S.’ Addiction to Road Salt is Out of Control. These Cities are Trying to Cut Back."
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. "Winter is Coming! And with it, tons of salt on our roads."
  4. Clear Roads. "Annual Survey of State Winter Maintenance Data."
  5. Scientific American. "Salt Doesn’t Melt Ice—Here’s How It Makes Winter Streets Safer."
  6. USA Today. "Heavy road salt use in winter is a growing problem, scientists say."
  7. AAA. "Road De-Icers Cause $3 Billion Annually in Vehicle Rust Damage."
  8. J.D. Power. "How Often Should You Wax Your Car?."
  9. Connecticut Department of Transportation. "How to deal with ice and snow."
  10. Associated Press. "Rust on vehicles could be a result of salt brine; here’s how to stop it."
Catherine Collins
Catherine Collins

Catherine Collins is a freelance financial writer and author based in Detroit. She's the co-founder of MillennialHomeowner.com and MomsGotMoney.com, and author of the book Mom’s Got Money: A millennial mom’s guide to managing money like a boss. She has written for US News, Huffington Post, Money, Business Insider, Investopedia, Entrepreneur, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications. She currently resides in Detroit, Michigan with her boy-girl twins and a rescue dog named Julep.

Courtney Mikulski
Edited byCourtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

Featured in

media logomedia logo

Compare Car Insurance Quotes Instantly

Secure. Free. Easy-to-use.
Based on 3,806+ reviews
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