Driving Through Road Salt in Winter Is Like Making Your Car Smoke a Pack a Day

  • Road salt helps melt compacted snow and ice on roads
  • Use a DIY car wash to thoroughly rinse your car’s wheel wells, door jams, and undercarriage
  • Salty roads are necessary to keep the roads safe in winter

Driving in winter sucks. It’s hell on your nerves, because, let’s face it, who trusts other people not to hit you? It’s also hell on your car. You’ve got to spend extra money on the best winter tires you can get, and the road conditions leave your car dirty all over. And who wants to wash their car in the freezing cold? Well, turns out, road salt means you definitely should.

A snow plow spreads road salt over a snowy road
A snowplow lays down road salt | Patrick Pleul via Getty Images

Is road salt bad for your car?

Put plainly, the salt we use to help roads defrost is like making your ride smoke a pack of cigarettes every day. This stuff is cancer for your car. It’ll eat anything it touches alive given enough time. Obviously, that means more upkeep for your car. Here’s how it works. Road salt is so bad for your car because metals like iron and steel will rust in the presence of moisture and salt.

Obviously, winter weather brings an abundance of both. Anything that’s not painted and left wet and salty will eventually rust. That’s why, when you buy a car from the northeast, one of the first things you ought to check for is rust. It will be there. You’ve just got to get a pre-purchase inspection and look hard enough. So, what can you do about it? Turns out, it’s pretty simple.

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How can you keep your car clean in winter?

The view of a car in a carwash through the front windshield of another
Washing a car | Arne Dedert via Getty Images

Wash ya car. Yeah. That’s it. I know it’s cold. I know you’re busy. So am I. I should’ve washed mine weeks ago. But washing your car is the only way to keep that grime from eating away at your car’s bones. A quick spritz through your local gas station wash isn’t going to cut it, either. You need a real car wash. If you can, go to a DIY wash. The one you pop quarters into. That way you can thoroughly inspect your car for evidence of road salt.

This stuff will sit anywhere water drains. I like to watch where the water I spray on the car ends up running out. That’s where you need to look for the salt. Get that pressure washer up in there and spray the salt out of your wheel wells, undercarriage, and door jams. It’ll be in all of those places. For bonus points, you can even make sure to run some water around your lights. Those will often pool water under them on account of the panel gaps found there.

Road salt is a necessary evil

A man stands in front of a massive pile of road salt
A man stands in front of a pile of road salt | Patrick Pleul via Getty Images

Unfortunately, road salt is a necessity in winter. Without it, the roads would stay icy and covered in snow for weeks on end. More to the point, it’ll get compacted and slick when everyone drives over it on the way to work. As soon as the roads start to dry after a storm, go get that wash in. It’ll help keep your car rust-free and help your resale value. No one wants a rust bucket.

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