How to Protect Your Car From Rust in Winter

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CARS.COM — We’re about a month away from the official end of winter, but even after the weather warms up, your car could continue to feel the snowy season’s sting. Travel-services provider AAA this week released survey results showing that damage from newfangled road de-icing methods cost U.S. drivers more than $3 billion a year in rust repairs.

Related: Video: Get Your Car Ready for Winter

“In recent years, many state and local transportation departments have shifted from using rock salt to liquid de-icers to combat ice and snow on the roadways,” AAA said in a statement. “These newer alternatives are more effective than traditional salt because they can be applied before a snowstorm, have a lower freezing point, and melt ice and snow faster.

“However, these same characteristics can be even more damaging to vehicles since the chemicals remain in liquid form longer and are more likely to coat components and seep into cracks and crevices where corrosion can accelerate.”

As a result, cars incur rust-related damage to brake lines, fuel tanks, exhaust systems and other critical components, AAA said. In the past five years, researchers noted, 22 million drivers have paid an average of nearly $500 to fix problems caused by rust from road de-icers — rivaling that other wintertime car foe, the pothole, which cost 30 million U.S. drivers between approximately $250 and $1,000 per incident in 2016.

Telltale signs of such damage include a spongy brake feel, loud exhaust or fumes around the vehicle, a gas or diesel smell when the vehicle is parked or running, and, of course, in-dash warning lights for susceptible vehicle systems.

Here’s what AAA recommends you do to prevent these problems wherever possible:

  • Limit driving immediately before, during and after winter storms, when road de-icers are at their highest concentrations.
  • Clean your vehicle’s exterior, particularly the undercarriage, frequently in winter with a quality car-wash solution to get rid of salt and de-icers.
  • Immediately repair body damage and touch up paint scratches that expose metal to rust risk.
  • Give your car a thorough wash and wax before cold weather comes, and again in the spring (remember, don’t neglect the undercarriage).

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