How the Northern Salted Roads Rust-Out Cars

In the North, salted roads are a way of life. The winters are harsh and it’s one of the easiest ways to keep the roads ice-free. While salt may lead to ice-free roads, one thing that is rare is a rust-free car after that car has endured a few winters. The salty brine that is present on almost every road will splash the underside of a car and start eating away from the bottom up.

I was at Walmart in my hometown of Marshfield, Wisconsin, and I didn’t have to look far to see the damage caused by salt. I took the following two pictures standing in about the same spot in the parking lot.

Salt will eat away wheel wells.

It will eat away pretty much any part that it comes in contact with.

It will even eat away at the electrical components of a car. I had to replace a license plate light due to corrosion caused by salt.

The corrosion was so bad that simple cleaning of the terminals wasn’t good enough. When I tried that, the terminal crumbled.

My 2007 Focus was mechanically sound when it hit 250,000 miles (400,000 km). I mean it still had the original clutch in it, didn’t burn a drop of oil, and the first time it left me stranded was at 247,000 miles (398,000km) when the original alternator went out.

The underside was another story.

It was ultimately corrosion that did the 2007 Focus in. At around 261,000 miles (420,000 km), the thermostat went bad. Honestly, it’s great it lasted that long and a thermostat is a relatively cheap part to replace. In the case of the 2007 Focus, it was a pain to get to, but I was able to get to it.

When you’re working with cars with a lot of corrosion, it’s important to spray the heck out of bolts and let them soak in penetrating oil like PB Blaster. I did this and let it soak a while. I then started taking the bolt off and, SNAP! The bolt broke. This is a nightmare of any person working on a Northern car.

It got to the point where my tools and expertise were surpassed by what I needed to do to drill out the remaining stuck threads of the bolt. There was a lot of other stuff that was pretty worn out. For example, I had to use a screwdriver to turn the heat either fully on or fully off and it only worked on vent. I decided that it was time to say goodbye. It technically was a mechanical failure of the thermostat that caused this series of events, but ultimately if the bolt didn’t snap due to corrosion, I probably would have been able to keep the car running a bit longer.

I know for my Northern readers, I’m preaching to the choir. This is just a way of life. To my Southern readers, this may be something completely new to you. In some ways maybe this will create a buyer beware if you see a used car originally from the North for sale in the South. On the flip side, to my Northern readers, if you want a rust-free used car, come visit down South.

One of the things I do like about living in Texas right now is knowing my 2017 Focus has barely seen any salt. There’s only been a couple of short trips up north in the winter. I made sure to get a car wash right away to get rid of the salt. Maybe with my 2017 Focus, it’ll actually wear out before it rots out.

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