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Is salt brine bad for your car? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Is salt brine bad for your car?

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Rust is one of the biggest problems Amy Mattinat sees at Auto Craftsmen in Montpelier. She says in the past few years it has only gotten worse.

"I'd say three, four cars a week where people come in, the engine, the transmission going nice and strong, but it's just completely rusting away," Mattinat said.

She shows us her own car, a 2002 Honda CRV that she says probably doesn't have more than two years left because the foundation is getting too rusty.

Mattinat says a rust problem is nothing new in Vermont, but she believes it has gotten worse since the state started using salt brine.

"It's just spraying up and getting into more of the cracks and the crevasses, whereas the salt before was chunkier and it was easier to get off," she said.

But mechanics also acknowledge that it's too early to say for sure that brine is causing more corrosion. And the state says regular road salt has always had to dissolve into water to be effective. Now they're just making that solution of salt and water ahead of time so it can act quicker.

"Because you're putting liquid on the road, it does make sense that it could spray up. However, the dry salt only works when it melts snow and ice, turns to water, turns to brine on the road, so it becomes a liquid on the road anyway," said Scott Rogers, the operations director for VTrans.

But the mixture of salt and water is also what causes the corrosion on cars. UVM Chemistry Professor Chris Landry told us the bottom line is that iron is iron, and it's going to rust when it comes into contact with salt water of any kind, brine included.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Would it make any difference for corrosion on vehicles?

Chris Landry: I think that process would also be accelerated because salt has to be dissolved for that to work as well.

But car washes say there is a difference.

"With the salt brine it just seems to be leaving a really nasty, oily film on the cars and it's tricky to get it off," said Chris Chicoine, the manager of Seaway Car Wash.

They say gone are the days of spraying cars down and sending them through the wash. They say vehicles that do a lot of interstate driving have to be scrubbed down, taking more time, products and labor.

"It's been an absolute nightmare," Chicoine said.

It's a sentiment shared by mechanics.

"I think the brine is holding the salt to the vehicle, just like it holds the salt to the roads," said Ray Kaigle of Kaigle's.

Kaigle says recently, they've condemned more cars than ever because of corrosion. Part of that, he says, is also because of stricter standards.

"What used to be normal corrosion is now failed for inspection," Kaigle said. "We're seeing more frozen brake pads in the holders, in the brackets, more broken brake lines and more broken fuel lines."

All of which are a financial burden for the car's owner. Some parts cost hundreds of dollars to repair, and a brake line could cost up to a thousand. Any bare metal is at risk.

But VTrans says people are too quick to blame brine for rust damage and studies don't support it.

"Everything we've found suggests that there's no increased corrosion due to salt brine," Rogers said.

Rogers points to a University of Maine study that said corrosion is due to the amount of salt in the environment, not the method by which it is applied. He says the study also notes that within the last decade, most automakers stopped using Hex-C, a material used to coat and protect the bottom of the car from rusting because it causes cancer.

"Some of those vehicles that used to have that protection no longer have it," Rogers said.

He says VTrans is also keeping an eye out for any problems caused by brine. After all, no one is closer to it than their trucks.

"We don't have any indication yet that salt brine has accelerated corrosion on our plow trucks," Rogers said.

Five of the eight VTrans districts now use salt brine, but Rogers says they sometimes get complaints about it from areas where it isn't being used.

"I think there's some level of public perception or misconception or paranoia that there's something new happening and must be affecting me as a taxpayer badly," Rogers said, "but we're not seeing it."

Mechanics say if you're concerned about rust, the best thing you can do is get an underbody wash every couple of weeks, especially when the temperatures climb above freezing, because that's when the chemical reactions start to happen.

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