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For those of us in the Northern States, or anywhere in Canada, we’re starting to get optimistic that this winter will finally end. Now that the ice, salt, and dirt is finally coming off our cars we’re getting a glimpse at how they held up. Winter is the harshest season on your vehicle for rust, and some parts can fall victim to oxidization faster than others. is here to offer up advice on what to check for those of us living in the salt belt this spring, and how to prevent these issues from happening in the future.

Protecting Against Rust – Know Your Enemy

Pure iron can rust, but it will only really rust on it’s surface. To make iron lighter and more malleable, carbon is added, creating steel. Adding this carbon creates impurities, which can accelerate rust. Given that the majority of vehicle components are made of steel, the potential for rust is next to unlimited. The chemical reaction that takes place to create rust is accelerated by both water and salt, so driving a steel vehicle on a salted, wet road can lead to disaster. Rust will start to take hold anywhere that there is exposed, porous steel. Rust is prevented with oils, paints, electronic charges, and other treatments designed to discourage the oxidization process.

Where To Look

Any parts of your vehicle that are plastic, glass, aluminum, rubber, carbon fibre, or fabric will obviously not rust. Iron and steel are the victims of rust. Ironically, cast iron engine blocks will rust, but only on their surface, making them long-lasting. Aluminum does in fact rust (or rather corrode) but this process strengthens and protect the aluminum. With more modern vehicles shifting to aluminum frames and bodies, there are only a few places left to look for rust.

As you drive, tiny rocks and dirt are bounced up under your car. This can chip and scratch the metals under your vehicle, exposing them to the elements. While visible rust, such as that around your vehicles wheel wells and on your bumpers is unsightly, it’s the rust that forms underneath that is really dangerous.

chassis rust Chassis Parts: Due to the required strength of chassis parts, many of them are made of steel. Parts like ball joints, control arms, and sway bars, as well as suspension systems like struts and strut mounts all are able to rust. A failure in any one of these systems can lead to steering or suspension damage. Rust is especially dangerous where these components connect together. While your parts may be top quality, there may be a bolt holding them together that has some impurities, which leads to rust. Periodically checking under your vehicle for signs of rust or areas that seem to be affected is a good idea to prevent any surprises while driving.

Exhaust Parts: Connectors and bolts are areas that are prone to rust, which is why the exhaust system is also responsible for plenty of underbody rust. While modern mufflers don’t rust apart as often as older models, it’s still possible for rust to form, eating away your muffler. With rust, it’s also possible that the connectors can rust, dropping your entire exhaust system from your car.

Brake Parts: While you won’t have to worry about brake pads rusting, there are other areas that can wear out over the winter. Rotors can appear to have rusted if left wet for a number of days without use, but this wears off when the rotors are used again. Other metallic components, like bolts and cables, are also possible sources of rust, and should be examined after winter.

Body Parts: Likely the first place you’ll notice rust, the outside body panels in your car are exposed to plenty of salt over the winter, and are just as susceptible to rust. Changing out these parts is a bit more difficult, especially since they aren’t as necessary to vehicle operations.

Tips For Preventing Rust

Once rust starts to take hold in your vehicle, fully eliminating it will be incredibly difficult. The best offense for rust is a good defense. Throughout winter, be sure to give your vehicle a wash at least once a month. Ideally, many places offer discounts on car washes when you buy gas. These washes can spray under your car, removing dirt and grime and preventing buildups of salt and dirt.

While often seen as snake oil, vehicle undercoating can be valuable in the prevention of rust. If you’re reading this from somewhere that doesn’t get a lot of snow and ice, then no, maybe your vehicle doesn’t need undercoating. With an undercoating, your vehicle is protected from salt finding it’s way into small nooks and crannies where it can turn into rust.

Nothing can completely prevent rust from forming. With this advice and quality parts, you’ll be behind the wheel of your favorite car for years to come.

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