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Can Road Salt Damage Car Paint?

November 18, 2021 3 min read

road salt can damage car paint with corrosion and buildup

Each winter, road salt is used to de-ice roads so you can drive safely in cold weather conditions. Road salt can corrode your painted car parts, undercarriage, even your wheels. Though salt damage to cars is a concern, it’s worth it: using road salt can reduce collisions by up to 93% according to theAmerican Highway Users Alliance.

What can you do if you live in a state that uses road salt? The best bet is to keep your paint touched up, wash frequently, and use a road salt neutralizer to avoid salt damage to cars. And if you notice signs of rust, it’s time toreplace car parts

What is Road Salt?

Road salt is often the same type of salt you have in your pantry. It’s sodium chloride in large granules known as rock salt, or it’s calcium chloride. Using salt lowers the freezing point of water and it’s a cheap and effective way to melt snow and ice on the roads. Often mixed with sand, it can add traction to otherwise slippery conditions. 

Road salt is also effective at corroding your car or truck’s exposed metal parts. It can begin to form under paint and bubble up until the paint and metal start to flake off. Eventually, rust can turn into holes in your car’s body.

Which States Use Road Salt?

Many states in the U.S. use road salt or a salt and sand mixture in the winter months to manage snow and ice on roads, though some use more than others:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana 
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

road salt makes roads safer to drive, but can be hazardous to your car's metal parts

How Fast Does Road Salt Rust Cars?

It can take years for your car to start rusting from road salt, but it’s tough to undo the damage once it’s done. You may not notice salt and corrosion build up until it progresses into rust on exposed metal. Or you might not pay attention to a small ding in your paint until it turns into rust from road salt exposure.

How to Neutralize Road Salt on Your Car

The easiest road salt neutralizer is in your pantry:baking soda. Fully dissolve a couple tablespoons of baking soda in a gallon of water and carefully and slowly clean your car with the mixture. Then rinse well and do a complete car wash.

How to Protect Your Car From Road Salt Damage

Neutralizing road salt is just one way to protect your car from the corrosive effects of road salt in wintertime. Use these tips to prevent road salt from wearing away at your vehicle’s metal parts:

  • Wax your car before winter weather comes: Give your car a layer of protection and make it easier to remove the salt build up.
  • Wash your car frequently:Washing your car rinses away salt and grime to protect the exterior. Wash once a week if you can, or before and after winter storms and when temperatures get up to 40°F or higher. Be sure to fully dry your car after washing. Look for a car wash that offers an undercarriage spray and consider getting an undercoating treatment.
  • Protect your paint: Rust gets into exposed metal surfaces, so make sure paint covers everything it should. Usetouch-up paint to keep salt from wearing away into dings and scratches. 
  • Replace rusted parts: Once rust forms, it’s difficult to remove and can spread to other parts. You can try to remove it from the surface, but in some cases, it’s easier toreplace painted parts entirely.