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Salt or Brine? What is eating my car?

Corrosion Prevention, Protective Covers

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Winter has been especially brutal in many states this year.

Ice, snow, and rain combine to produce hazardous winter road conditions. As a Southern California native winter road hazards consist of little more than wet surfaces with the occasional black ice in the coldest of areas.

On a recent excursion to the upper Midwest, I had my first encounter with these winter road conditions. Traveling through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, I encountered a mixture of snowy and icy roads covered with salt or some other concoctions spread on the black surfaces of the highway in what must be an effort to temper the treacherous conditions that wreak havoc on motorists.

My first stop lead me to a gas station along Interstate 94, just east of Saint Paul, where I noticed a film covering my previously clean rental car. After retrieving my wallet, I began pumping gas and immediately searched Google to identify the source of this unknown film.

SALT AND BRINE

The Washington Post provided the first search response with an article entitled “Worse than salt, brine sprayed on roads will munch your car to pieces” by Ashley Halsey III. The article explains that salt and brine are spread across roads as an anti-icing agent. In most states, brine is a mix of rock salt (sodium chloride) and magnesium chloride, dissolved in water so it can be sprayed on the roads. Why is this important? Because magnesium chloride is much more corrosive when compared to rock salt according to Bob Baboian, an auto industry consultant and a fellow at the National Association of Corrosion Engineers. The article continues to explain how rock salt remains in a crystal state as long as it stays below 70 percent humidity while magnesium chloride dissolves when there is roughly 20 to 30 percent humidity. Thus, if something has magnesium chloride sprayed on its surface, it will remain wet until it is washed off in most winter climates. 

I found several sites that contain tips on how to  prevent the pesky salt buildup and how to properly wash it away. Even those living close to the ocean should beware of salt build-up. Living in close proximity to the ocean produces a similarly corrosive effect, particularly in the front and rear of vehicles as the spray settles and dries. According to the DMV, a couple of tablespoons of baking soda added to car wash water will aid in the removal of dried salt.

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

The last link led me to a how-to guide on the DMV website.  Here you can find tips to help you prevent the pesky buildup and how to properly wash it away. Even those living close to the ocean should beware of salt build-up. Living in close proximity to the ocean produces a similarly corrosive effect, particularly in the front and rear of vehicles as the spray settles and dries. According to the DMV, a couple of tablespoons of baking soda added to car wash water will aid in the removal of dried salt.

At this point, I had been sucked into the black hole of the World Wide Web for about 15 minutes longer than I had intended and it was time to get back on the road.

The bottom line: salt is not the only harmful road debris. If you plan on traveling through areas with salt, magnesium chloride, sand, or any other harmful particles, it’s important that you protect your vehicle and your exposed cargo from road hazards. You can easily wash your car, but what about that cargo? Maybe a protective cover is in order?

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