Protect Your Vehicle from Winter Salt and Sand

When it comes to winter, we tend to obsess about snow, ice and cold. But what about all the salt and sand that come with these often nasty elements? Yes, we appreciate that they serve in the interest of public safety—the salt helps melt ice even if it’s freezing, and the sand keeps salt in place. But they can really inflict some major punishment upon a vehicle, destroying its finish, increasing rust and even hurting driving performance. Doors, fenders, hoods and tailgates are most vulnerable to rust because they retain a lot of moisture.

So when the season starts for those wintry mixes, consider these steps from the experts at dmv.org:

Wax before the winter

Wax protects the paint surface like an invisible shield. Be sure to apply a good, strong coat before the winter season starts to guard it from corrosive salt. Seal the undercarriage as well, either on your own or via a car-care professional.

Keep clean tires

Before winter starts, make sure your tires are clean and salt-free. Then keep checking and cleaning throughout the cold months. Otherwise, they’ll kick up bad winter “stuff” that will pummel your vehicle’s body.

Don’t count on the car wash

We’re usually big fans of recycling. But we make an exception for the water used at car washes. If it’s “repurposed” water, then it may contain traces of salt. To ensure total quality control, use a DIY car wash with high-pressure hoses, so you can spray the salt off hard-to-reach areas—like beneath wheel wells and behind fenders. Hose off the undercarriage too. (Or, when you get home, take a lawn sprinkler and turn it on underneath for a few minutes. Change its position accordingly to get the entire undercarriage.)

Dodge “salt magnets”

Watch out for driving through large puddles of water. Not only do they pick up a lot of slimy dirt, but they’re also magnets for road-crew salt.

Avoid prime salt times

If you have to get on the road in bad weather, avoid doing so right before and after a storm, because you are more likely to run into fresh road salt at those times.

Fend off fresh snow

For both car care and safety reasons, don’t drive in deep snow. For starters, you can get stuck and stranded. And deep snow can pack salt into the undercarriage, where it’s difficult to remove. This often leads to corrosion and even drivability problems.

Wash while its warmer

In washing salt off in wintertime, do so during the day so the vehicle has time to dry. You don’t want the wet stuff to freeze on your finish after temperatures fall. The outside temperature should be 40°F or higher. To guarantee a “clean machine” all season long, repeat every 10 days. To avoid having the locks freeze, open and close the doors after the job is done.