WITH A NASTY MIX OF SALTY AIR, ABRASIVE ROADS AND UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER, NOVA SCOTIA’S BEEN CALLED “THE RUST CAPITAL OF THE WORLD” FOR GOOD REASON. NOW’S THE TIME TO CONSIDER THE PROS AND CONS OF CORROSION PROTECTION AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR YOUR VEHICLE.By Carter Hammett
Canada spends an average of $1billion on snow removal annually and according to Environment Canada, the Atlantic region clocks in with three of the heaviest snow falls in the country, a dubious achievement if ever there was one. In fact, between 1981 and 2010, 10
of Canada’s largest cities were walloped with over two metres of snow annually. St. John’s NF logged 335 cm and two cities in New Brunswick—Moncton and St. John—clocked in with 112.8 cm and 94.3 cm respectively.
But it actually snows most often in Saguenay Quebec, where snowfall averages 93 days in total, while the country’s 10 snowiest places register an average of 55 days per year. But with climate change looming over our lives weather patterns are growing increasingly more difficult to predict, making municipal snow cleaning budgets a crap-shoot at best.
Indeed, in January 2020, Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital endured a weeklong state of emergency after a January 17 blizzard pummelled the area with 76 centimetres in a single day. The $17.5 million set aside for snow removal was blown by over $5 million, raising costs to just over $22 million.
Newfoundland wasn’t the only Atlantic area hit hard either. Snow-removal budgets across the entire region were blown out of the water. Cape Breton was hit particularly hard with its budget blown by a staggering 60 per cent, inflating by an additional $1.5 million. Over in Charlottetown, half that city’s snow plow equipment actually broke down after 21 cm blanketed the city.
“Some of that damage was related to metal fatigue as well,” says Pierre Legere, president of Krown Halifax. “Trucks today are so specialized they’re highly connected to computer systems. Electronics rule all those trucks but electronics are highly susceptible to the invasion of salt and corrosion. Eventually what happens is they lose their ability to maintain any kind of tightness. Electronic connections are failing left, right and center. “
“All snow removal products contain some corrosive properties in it,” says a spokesperson for Rust Check, who asked not to be identified.
There’s a plethora of products available on the market, from tar-based spray to dripless oil and everything in between. With such a range to choose from it can sometimes be difficult to know what’s best for a vehicle and which products to choose from.
And if you think the damage to snow removal equipment caused by winter is bad enough, just think of the damage that can be done to your vehicle.
Back in 2015 Transport Canada issued a recall of 3,000 BMWs and Minis that had been innocently parked at the Port of Halifax during an ice storm that year. Ice however, wasn’t the problem. Salt de-icing had rendered the cars damaged so badly they couldn’t steer properly.
Because of its salt air, coarse roadways and temperatures that swing faster than mood, that make metal sweat, Nova Scotia is, not accidentally, known as the “rust capital of the world.”
“The east coast is a very corrosion-prone market,” says Pierre Legere. “The climate is much like a horrendous tropical storm, with a freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw pattern. It’s that fluctuation in temperature that makes it more challenging to plow.”
Snow and ice both contain carbon dioxide and oxygen. Road salt meanwhile, contains free radical ions that mix with the snow and ice. After continued exposure to oxygen, iron oxide forms and this is what accelerates the rusting process.
Because of ongoing exposure to road salt, the potential threat of harm faced by a vehicle is a continuous threat and due diligence is required. Road salt can affect a car’s paint, in turn causing corrosion. Rust then starts forming beneath, and the metal becomes fragile and eventually breaks free. This leaves a damaged area and holes can form as a result.
Multiple areas of the vehicle’s undercarriage can be affected as a result and it behooves due diligence on the part of the driver. Furthermore, unless located by a trained eye, affected areas can be difficult to detect and thus safety can be caused in the process when you realize that everything from brake lines, fuel tanks, exhaust systems to the body panels can be negatively impacted.
COMBATTING THE INEVITABLE
As the pundits say, “the best way to stop rust is to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
Many municipalities, Halifax included, have turned to brine to wage war on snowy roadways. These have been gaining traction because they have a lower freezing point and can melt precipitation water more quickly.
The downside to this however, is that because the chemicals remain in liquid form over a longer period of time, they are more likely to exacerbate corrosion by seeping into cracks and coating undercarriage components.
“Brine is magnesium chloride,” says Legere. “It adheres to the road in very cold conditions that we live in. Unfortunately it also adheres to the chassis, brake lines, fuel lines of plows and cares and they become adversely affected.”
“Undercoating is on the rise in part because of road brine corrosion,” says our Rust Check guy. “Brine is used and builds up on the undercarriage. Applying a layer of Rust Check prevents the build-up of brine on the undercarriage.”
New-car buyers have invariably heard sales pitches for extended warranties and protection packages that have become the bread-and-butter of many dealerships.
The most commonly recommended add-on is rust-proofing, but its value is heavily debated.
“Today’s vehicles are manufactured with good corrosion protection … rust problems have almost vanished in modern vehicles,” Consumer Reports says in its annual auto surveys show. “Standard rust-through warranties for most domestic and imported vehicles run five years or more.” But with consumers often opting for extended-term car loans that can last up to 96 months, a small investment to keep rust away may be a worthwhile consideration. This is especially true if you live in Central or Eastern Canada, where winter salt is a major cause of corrosion.
Not all rust-proofing methods are the same, and prices vary from about $100 to more than $1,000. The key to avoiding a scam is to understand your options and to ensure you are getting a fair price. Here is a rundown of the most common methods:
The technology that’s au courant in rust-proofing for the past few years is a small device in your car, known as an electronic module, which sends a mild electric current through the metal and in theory stops it from rusting (corrosion is an electrochemical reaction).
A large number of car dealerships have been leaning toward selling these modules because they’re typically easier to install and can fetch anywhere from $500 to $1,000 at a dealership. You can however, easily obtain similar products elsewhere for far less. Canadian Tire, for example, offers a module for about $300 plus installation for $60.
“The technology of the electronic module is that it could work as an enhancement to liquid spray,” says a Rust Check manager who wishes to remain anonymous. “These devices only work when they’re immersed in water. It has to be conductive through the body of the vehicle.”
Reception for the product has been decidedly mixed. Reviews of Canadian Tire’s product give it a fairly negative standing of 2.7 stars out of five on its website.
BUT WAIT…THAT’S NOT ALL!
The module is just one product out of several currently on the market and competing for your hard-earned dollars.
But before we go any further let’s take a short detour and discuss the pros and cons of rust-proofing.
Even that term’s stale-dated says our Rust Check representative.
“Rust-proofing and undercoating are expressions considered dated in the industry,” he says. “There’s really no such thing as rustproofing. The correct terminology should be ‘corrosion prevention’” he says.
It’s a sentiment that Pierre Legere agrees with.
“Undercoating’s a bygone term,” he says. “It’s not utilized in the car industry much more.”
PROS AND CONS
So now that that’s settled let’s move to some pros and cons of corrosion reduction. There are some persuasive arguments both for-and-against rust protection. Some of the pros include, not limited to: Undercoating extends the life of a vehicle. When properly applied, your car’s best-before date will be extended exponentially. Corrosion can get into your cables and wires and have a devastating impact on any part that’s made of steel or aluminum. Your transmission and engine are at risk too.
It can be applied to damaged areas – Taken over a period of time, your car is bound to encounter chips and scratches when it comes into contact with debris while driving. In the very old days when components like animal fat were used, modern methods create a true protective layer because it can spread to into the different areas where micro damages can occur.
Reduction of interior noise. Applying a layer of rust protectant creates a barrier against sound, which therefore creates an interior that is quieter. This can be great news for lightweight vehicles where noise pollution can sometimes be overpowering for some drviers.
And now some of the cons, which can include…
Anti-corrosion works best on new cars. For owners of secondhand vehicles, the cost of preparing the undercarriage against corrosion can be cost prohibitive. The best time to have a protectant applied is when the vehicle is new, because it simply offers a better level of protection.
It makes your car fat. Weeeeellllll, okay, not really. But it does add extra weight (up to 9.072 kg for most cars) which in turn affects fuel economy. The amount of kilometers lost per cubic metres has the potential to be pretty expensive over a prolonged period of time.
Many vehicles can make it to five years before corrosion starts to kick in. For those who can afford a new car every five years, rust protection may not be the best investment. It can be several years before any corrosion starts to actually show and a few years more before the car is actually negatively affected.
“Many manufacturers are producing better vehicles today” says Legere. “Today’s cars are much more rust-resistant,” he says.
How long rust-proofing lasts is based on the environment, says Mr. Rust Check. “If there’s no snow your vehicle will last potentially for years” he says, recommending at least an annual visit to an anti-corrosion specialist. He recommends getting the undercarriage sprayed at least twice a year for residents of Halifax.
Both Rust Check and Krown are known for superior anti-corrosion products and service and both offer a diversity of products that can be customized to meet your needs. The most common of these is a drip oil spray, which is flexible enough to have a greater reach to various car parts than the dripless version. Some holes still need to be drilled in specific spots on the vehicle to ensure this application makes it all areas.
Ultimately, the final verdict might be just how long you plan on keeping your car. If you are one of those drivers who stay on the road until your vehicle falls apart, a little rust-proofing will go a long way, depending of course on the cost of both the maintenance and the vehicle itself. On the other hand, if you lease, the car can always be turned in before the rust warranty expires.
Either way, some common sense, an awareness of your environment and a healthy relationship with a trusted service provider can go a long way in maintaining a healthy vehicle.
TIPS FOR COMBATTING ROAD SALT DAMAGE TO YOUR VEHICLE
Wash your car as soon as possible after each snow or ice storm. At maximum every 10 days. “ When you get home check to see if there’s salt residue,” cautions Legere. “Car wash products don’t address the salt side of the equation,” although some are starting to move in that direction.
Wash your car when temperatures reach 4.4C or higher.
Washing your car in daylight hours gives it a better chance of completely drying before temperatures drop at night.
Make sure to open and close all the doors, hatch and trunk after washing the vehicle, and lock and unlock doors multiple times. This should be done as soon as possible to prevent freezing shut.
Avoid driving in deep snow; it packs against the bottom of the car. This can contribute to rusting and cause driving hazards.