That stuff they use on the roads to eat the snow eats cars, too. So if you haven’t taken your vehicle through a car wash yet — or done it yourself — you might want to get in line.
Following last week's winter storm in Eastern North Carolina, area car washes have been busy.
“It’s picking up tremendously,” according to Earnest McCotter, owner of Prestige Detailing and Car Wash, at 1303 Hazel Ave., in New Bern.
Al Sienkowski, manager at Carolina Quick Lube at 1206 South Glenburnie Road, agreed. “It’s good,” he said of business. “Everybody’s trying to get the brine off.”
And for good reason.
Brine has become the number one method of battling ice and snow on roads: a mixture of water and rock salt, NC DOT produces it locally, pumping it into trucks that then spray it on highways.
“It’s cost effective, it’s more effective,” Gordy Eure, NCDOT maintenance engineer for Craven and Pamlico counties, said. “We get better coverage on the road” than with rock salt which can bounce off the road. He added that the trucks can start fighting ice sooner as well — rock salt is spread after the snow, but brine can be spread before the snow arrives.
But, while the brine is great at cutting back on ice, it’s also damaging to your car.
“I don’t know a single de-icing agent that’s not a little bit corrosive,” he said.
According to the American Auto Club (AAA) road de-icers overall cause $3 billion annually in vehicle rust damage. “AAA warns drivers … to take action to prevent dangerous rust-related vehicle damage to brake lines, fuel tanks, exhaust systems and other critical vehicle components,” a news release from the organization states.
“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 roadways,” the release continues. “These new 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.”
Car wash workers emphasize the need to get the brine off the undercarriage of cars.
“You have the brine underneath and that does have an effect on the undercarriage,” Sienkowski said.
McCotter agreed, and added that the recent weather can damage cars in other ways. “What happens is, you get build up, you got slush. That throws the balance off of the wheels. And when that salt gets in your brake calipers, it really messes things up.”
Prestige Detailing employs workers to hand wash cars and also has a mobile service that will bring its cleaning service to wherever a car is parked. Carolina Quick Lube specializes in an automated, drive-through cleaning service. Both offer undercarriage cleaning, but customers need to specify they want that. The basic, low-end wash doesn’t include it.
Sienkowski and McCotter both emphasize the need to get your vehicle washed soon after the snow has passed. “It’s all personal preference,” Sienkowski said. A well-maintained car won’t corrode as quickly, but on a car with rust spots or damage, “It can start rather quickly.”
And letting the car set allows the brine to set as well. “As long as you let it set,” McCotter said, “it makes it that much harder to actually come off.”
Don't think that rain predicted for Thursday and Friday will do the trick either.
David Wiggins, co-owner of The Ultimate Body Shop on W. New Bern Road in Kinston, said rain won't clean the vehicle enough, especially in the undercarriage.
“After there is salt on the road and snow and ice, anybody will tell you you need to go to a professional car wash like Auto Brite that has jet sprays to wash under the car,” Wiggins said. “ ... A lot of cars have exposed metal under the car and if it is not treated it can’t take the abuse of salt.”
He predicted rain would likely loosen the salt from the cleared roads and cause problems again but recommends people go ahead and wash their cars now anyway.
“As bad as it is right now, I would recommend that people go ahead and wash their cars,” he said. “But the first time it rains, it will do it again.”
At Emerald Oasis on Gum Branch Road in Jacksonville, the business had washed 214 cars as of 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“That's going at a pretty good clip,” said Bryan Erwin, the assistant manager. “That's a good day for us any day.”
He said a car wash starts as low as $5, with prices increasing based on various services, and drivers have access to vacuums for the interior that are free to use.
“You can run the car through the car wash as cheap as you can do it yourself at home,” he said. “It's definitely reasonable.”
He too stressed the importance of cleaning vehicles after last week's storm.
“You've got to get all that salt and sand off,” he said.