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Winter & Road Salt: Should I Wash or Wait?

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Winter and Road Salt

As winter tightens its grip, many of us welcome the cozy comforts of home while dreading the icy challenges awaiting us on the roads. To combat snow and ice, locations often turn to road salt. While it keeps our roads safer for travel, the bitter truth is that road salt can wreak havoc on our beloved vehicles.

We know the road salt is there to keep us safe, but it is also damaging our vehicles. When salt mixes with melted snow or ice, it forms an acidic and corrosive solution that can attack all surfaces on our vehicles. Paint surfaces are protected from oxidation, corrosion, swirls, and scratches by the clear coat, but the vehicles undercarriage is one of the most vulnerable areas. As we navigate through the winter mess, the salt water splashes up and coats the underside of our vehicles, initiating the start of the corrosion process. Over time, this can cause costly repairs from part replacements, extensive body work, degraded rubber surfaces and more.

Daniel at Gyeon USA explains exactly why road salt does this on a scientific level.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a state that see’s snow at some point throughout the year, you’re also likely familiar with rock salt/anti-icing agents. While they do indeed create a safer driving experience (in most cases), they also create one big mess on the roads. The most commonly used around the country today being Magnesium Chloride – Magnesium Chloride is acidic due to the hydrochloric compound for the amplification of electrified hydrogen atoms. In addition to being acidic, it is also very hygroscopic in nature. The reason why is because it was designed to absorb moisture from the air to lower the freezing point of water and reduce ice production, the unfortunate result of this (albeit a safer winter driving experience), is that the residue is highly corrosive to just about every surface on your vehicle.

So, what can we do to protect our precious rides from the ravages of road salt? There are two schools of thought, should I wash my vehicle often during the winter months or should I wait? What one is correct … Below are a few tips!

My suggestion will always be (if living in a climate where bucket washing is not realistic in the winter) to take your car, however frequently it is needed, to a self-service “pay & spray” location & perform a very thorough rinse of the vehicle – the less residue left on your vehicle, the better. Once the weather begins to shift into spring & the snow subsides, I recommend a thorough & dedicated decontamination wash with Iron Removers, Tar Removers, & perhaps even a strip wash if the winter was particularly harsh.

Simply put:

  • Wash Regularly: Frequent bucket washing is key, but if it is too cold or not possible in your driveway during these months, make frequent trips to the local touchless car wash part of your winter routine. Do not forget to target the undercarriage as much as possible!
  • Wax On, Salt Off: While I mentioned “wax” as part of the saying here, you really want to make sure protective layers are on your pre-winter application list (Coating, Sealant or Wax). Applying a coat of protection before winter hits creates a protective barrier between your vehicles surfaces and road salt. Don’t stop there, depending on the protective layer type applied, reapply or top it throughout the winter for added protection and durability.
  • Keep It Parked: Whenever possible, avoid driving immediately after a large storm. Allow time for the plows to clean up the roads as much as possible to help limit the amount of salt that is on the roads. You can ever park your car in a garage or under a carport to shield it from the winter mess, although we know that it is not always possible for everyone.
  • Stay Vigilant: Keep an eye out for early signs of corrosion. Addressing these issues promptly can prevent further damage and save you money in the long run.

While road salt is a necessary evil for winter road safety, it is key to be mindful of the potential impact on our vehicles. As you bundle up and brave the icy roads ahead, remember to show your car a little extra love through these tougher months!

2 comments on Winter & Road Salt: Should I Wash or Wait?

  1. Ron Ayotte says:

    I am fortunate to have an insulated and heated garage and a couple of “pay and spray” self serve car washes that are not too far from my home. I live in Massachusetts between Boston and Worcester, this winter has been more wet than snowy, but with he pre-treatment of roads and salt spread during the few storms we have had, it is easy for cars to be encrusted with salt.

    My winter detail regimen is as follows:I turn on the heat in the garage, pack my wheel cleaners, iron decon chemicals, a sprayer with a solution of Optimum MDR and a couple of pump sprayers with a rinseless wash solution in a small tote. When I get to the pay and spray, I spray the MDR solution on the paint and let that work to break down the salt while I am waiting in line.. I spray the wheel cleaners and iron decon chemicals, what a few minutes and use the rinseless wash to knock down the iron decon residues. I either use my debit crad or cash and purchase $10-15 worth of time then use the rinse functions of the pay and spray to rinse the vehicle down, including the undercarriage. I then bring the vehicle to a nice warm garage, then to a proper rinseless wash and dry the vehicle.

    • Reece @ DI says:

      Ron – Thank you for sharing your winter washing process! I pretty much follow all of the same steps personally, minus the garage rinse less follow up. I do not have a garage, so this is generally performed before I leave the bay.

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