Brine on the Roads?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Tom asks: I had a 2000 LeSabre that was done in by the brine on the streets, rusted through the rear frame until it cracked; rusted the shock towers, too. Is there any way, short of taking it to the local car wash (which will wash the undercarriage with diluted saline recycled water) to wash the brine off? If it’s above freezing I could get a rig to rinse off the underneath, I guess, but what about below zero temps?  Thanks.

My reply: Road salt – and the new brine mix they’re using now – has always been bad news for cars. The good news is that cars built since the ’80s are much less vulnerable to rust than the cars built since. It used to be common for a car to develop rust perforation in as little as three or four years from new. Some will remember this.

But rust is inevitable, even so. It is just a question of when.

You can delay the onset by trying to avoid driving just after it snows, or even just before – whenever you know they are brining the roads. You can often see the little stripes in the road.

Of course, not driving is often not possible.

So, the next best thing is – try to wash off the mess as soon as you feasibly can. Car washes are supposed to filter the water they use – but I agree with you in re the water they use possibly making things worse.

I prefer to wash the car myself. Not pleasant when it’s cold out, but I’d rather subject myself to that than the cost of rust repairs (or a rust-ruined car).

You could – and should – also wax the car’s exterior, to help protect the exterior metal and immediately repair any chips, because if you don’t rust will start there and get worse, fast.

Another trick – that works – is to coat the underside of the vehicle, the frame and the inner wheelwheels and so on with a film of oil. Do this when the vehicle is completely dry, obviously. It’s messy, yes – and the Friends of the Earth just had a conniption fit – but the film of oil over metal parts will retard rust formation.

Finally: You can have the car treated professionally – if you do so when the car is brand-new, just off the truck. But forget about it if the car has been driven in the rain already. If so, all the rust treatment will do is seal in the rust which has already begun its dirty work!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Second that Mark, I had a ‘75 Dodge Dart that you could poke your finger through the sheet metal on even though it was ZieBarted. I junked it when the frame rusted so much that the torsion bars broke loose.

  2. While still living in Ohio I bought a 1974 Fiat x-1/9 in July ’74, brand new. When I traded it in in March of ’77 you could check the tread depth on each tire by simply looking through the top of the fenders.

    Somethings about the Good Ol’ Days ain’t so good.


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