Fight Rust This Winter – Wash Road Salt Off Your Car

Row of cars with ice on them.

Row of cars with ice on them.

Summer has its bugs, tree sap, sun, acid rain, bird droppings, grease, and grime, but winter has… SALT. All these elements (plus more) work on the paint that covers your car.

Your car is a significant investment.  Most people nowadays are taking out bank loans to pay for their vehicle so that it’s more than they might even make it a whole year.  That’s enough reason to make sure that you clean it up so that the resale value remains as high as it can.

A good paint job can impress, make your car the envy of your friends but it protects the metal that makes up your vehicle as well. If salt and other enemies of your car’s paint job are allowed to work their chemical “black magic” on that protective barrier, while not causing immediate damage, will eat through and cause fading, flaking, corrosion and finally rust holes.

While failing to wash your car won’t result in immediate damage, over time the elements will corrode your vehicle, along with its potential re-sell value. — Art of Manliness [1]

So, what can you do to slow down the effects of time and corrosive elements? The general rule of thumb is to wash your vehicle every two weeks (less often if you don’t drive that much and the car is garaged etc.) [2], but what if you live in an area where there is an excess of salt? An area that sees an excess of those elements that attack your auto?

Wash Your Car ASAP

As soon as you drive through snowy weather where the roads have been salted, find a car wash and use it.  Remember that the spray from the salt brine is all over your car and you’ll need to wash the underside too.  You don’t have to become a fanatic about it, but, as the bible says, ” Moth and rust doth corrupt…”, so it’s good to get to the car washed as soon as possible. Maybe not everytime you drive to work.

Handheld Pressure Wands Are Best

But, what kind of car wash?  The sort of car wash that has a handheld pressure wand is best.  The reason is that we are focusing on washing off the salt and want to watch from the top down instead of splashing salt water everywhere.  Just wash your car as you’d typically wash it.  And then finish with a rinse that starts from the top and washes and sprays down so that you get all of the salt out of all of the crevices (think fuel cap door, behind bumpers, door cracks, wheel wells, etc.).

Detail, Detail

After your wash is finished, consider whether your car needs to be polished or not.  A good practice would probably be to wax or polish your vehicle in the fall before bad weather hits. That way you’ll be good for six months or so.

A good way to test whether your vehicle needs a coat of polish or wax is to, when it’s dry, throw some water on the surface of your vehicle.  If it beats up and slides off, then you’re good to go.  Otherwise, you need to wax or polish your vehicle soon to protect your finish from all those nasty corrosive elements that are trying to turn your car into a mottled, ugly mess.

Think of rust-preventative car washing like brushing your teeth. If you do it on a regular basis, you won’t get cavities. And even if you do get a cavity, getting it drilled and filled as soon as you can will help keep the cavity from getting worse. Rust on metal works the same way.–NYTimes [3]

How Much To Clear Missouri Roads?

How much does Missouri spend on salt on roads? How much salt is used? According to Fox2Now in St. Louis, Missouri spends about $45 million a year fighting snow storm. The St. Louis Metro area alone stockpiles over 30,000 tons of salt [4].

MoDOT spends about $43 million each year to keep roads clear in the winter and help ensure motorists get to their destinations safely and quickly. In an average winter, MoDOT employees plow about 6 million miles of snow and ice, which is enough to go to the moon and back 13 times [5].


  1. ^“Car Care: How to Take Care of Your Car | The Art of Manliness.” Art of Manliness, 20 Aug. 2012, Accessed 5 Jan. 2019. (go back  ↩)
  2. ^Care, Meineke Car. “How Often Should You Wash Your Car? – Meineke Car Care.” Meineke, Meineke Car Care, 9 Oct. 2018, Accessed 5 Jan. 2019. (go back  ↩)
  3. ^Preston, Benjamin. “Wash Your Car to Keep Rust Away.” N. Y. Times, New York Times Company, 12 Mar. 2014, Accessed 5 Jan. 2019. (go back  ↩)
  4. ^“MoDOT prepares for winter conditions with annual ‘Winter Weather Drill’.”, 7 Nov. 2018, Accessed 5 Jan. 2019. (go back  ↩)
  5. ^“Statewide winter weather drill set for Nov. 7 | Missouri Department of Transportation.” 5 Jan. 2019, Accessed 5 Jan. 2019. (go back  ↩)

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