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Old 02-23-2018, 11:03 AM
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Is road salt worth it?


https://www.straightdope.com/columns...-of-road-salt/
Has there ever been a study about how many lives a year road salt saves?
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Old 02-23-2018, 11:20 AM
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I've suggested this needs a forum change to Comments on Cecil's Columns.
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Old 02-23-2018, 11:34 AM
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I doubt that that data exists outside of fairly speculative statistical inference for drivers.

Conditions differ greatly across the country, and some places use magnesium chloride in place of sodium chloride and they both have very different properties and effective temp ranges.

Sodium chloride, which would be road salt only really works in areas where temperatures stick around close to freezing as it rapidly loses effectiveness as the temperature drops. At 30F 1lb of salt melts 46 pounds of ice, but at 10F it only melts 5 pounds. In Minneapolis they had to resort to potassium acetate on some of the bridges due to this issue.

With those caveats called out, this study claims around an 88% reduction but their dataset is pretty small, so I would take their numbers with a grain of salt.

http://www.trc.marquette.edu/publica...ntrol-1992.pdf
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Old 02-23-2018, 11:44 AM
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I've suggested this needs a forum change to Comments on Cecil's Columns.
Indeed. Done.

samclem, moderator.
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Old 02-23-2018, 12:14 PM
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I was born and raised in snow country, and there isn't any doubt in my mind that it is literally a life saver.
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Old 02-23-2018, 12:48 PM
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I was born and raised in snow country, and there isn't any doubt in my mind that it is literally a life saver.
Agreed. Living in snowy and icy winters the only question becomes whether there are environmentally safer alternatives than sodium chloride, not whether road treatment is necessary. Plows don't leave bare dry pavement, so the highway plows I see are invariably dump trucks with salt spreaders at the back. Besides melting residual snow and ice, salting is also necessary to deal with conditions that create treacherous black ice, a rare but dangerous condition where a road looks normal and clear but is actually covered with a thin super-slick layer of ice that provides almost zero traction. For all these reasons, roads have to be treated. The environmental effects are unfortunate and so is the effect on car bodies, but any alternative would have to be cost-effective in large volumes.
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Old 02-23-2018, 02:40 PM
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Ignored in the article and almost ignored in the comments is the impact - through acid-induced rust - on car bodies.
I suspect that the cost to the community (not strictly to the environment, admittedly) is massive. Think of the energy required to mine the ore, refine it, press body panels, etc
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Old 02-23-2018, 02:50 PM
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Ignored in the article and almost ignored in the comments is the impact - through acid-induced rust - on car bodies.
I suspect that the cost to the community (not strictly to the environment, admittedly) is massive. Think of the energy required to mine the ore, refine it, press body panels, etc
I keep my cars six years. I've owned a Saturn, a Cavalier, and an Elantra, and I've never seen a speck of rust on any of them. Of course, I wash my car (with under carriage wash) frequently in the winter every time the weather gets above freezing, so I'm sure that is a factor.
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Old 02-23-2018, 03:17 PM
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I keep my cars six years. I've owned a Saturn, a Cavalier, and an Elantra, and I've never seen a speck of rust on any of them. Of course, I wash my car (with under carriage wash) frequently in the winter every time the weather gets above freezing, so I'm sure that is a factor.
Road salt is intrinsically a corrosive substance and bad for car bodies. That cars last much longer than they used to is due to better engineering both in the bodies and the drive train, with lots of anti-rust components especially around the underbody and wheel wells. These days you would expect a six-year-old car that had been reasonably cared for to look and function almost like brand new, but salt is still a contributing factor to rust and general deterioration.
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Old 02-23-2018, 04:26 PM
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I keep my cars six years. I've owned a Saturn, a Cavalier, and an Elantra, and I've never seen a speck of rust on any of them. Of course, I wash my car (with under carriage wash) frequently in the winter every time the weather gets above freezing, so I'm sure that is a factor.
I own a 16 year old Cavillac (Cavalier) and it only has one rust spot on a quarterpanel, which I will be fixing when it gets warmer. Regular car washes work wonders getting rid of salt.
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Old 02-23-2018, 06:05 PM
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Most larger departments of transportation are trying to substantially reduce the amount salt they apply: see for example Minnesota's approach:
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/0...back-road-salt
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Old 02-23-2018, 06:59 PM
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There's something about bulldozing a 60 foot wide strip through the middle of paradise ... dumping 24 inches of crushed gravel ... laying down 4 inches of asphalt ... running carbon-polluting cars back and forth ... people throwing garbage out the windows ... building hotels, rest stops, signage, overpasses, culverts, fences, utility poles, and what not ...

Yeah ... an occasional sprinkling of salt is BAD for the environment ...
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Old 02-24-2018, 03:08 AM
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Road salt is intrinsically a corrosive substance and bad for car bodies. That cars last much longer than they used to is due to better engineering both in the bodies and the drive train, with lots of anti-rust components especially around the underbody and wheel wells. These days you would expect a six-year-old car that had been reasonably cared for to look and function almost like brand new, but salt is still a contributing factor to rust and general deterioration.
I've got a 15 year old car, 250k miles, that has spent it's entire existence in snowy climates. Yes, salt does still cause some rust on modern cars, but other wear and tear will kill my car long before the salt does.
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Old 02-24-2018, 12:16 PM
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Bend Oregon (Mount Bachelor)


In Mount Bachelor, the road salt was replaced with sand for the environmental reasons described (mostly concern for the deciduous trees).

I suspect that it does not work as well. While you'll always see cars sliding on icy roads, there were a lot more per mile than I had seen in other mountainous areas.
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Old 02-24-2018, 01:04 PM
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I can't link to the story from my phone but Lake Simcoe, in Ontario, had a salt concentration of 10 micrograms per litre in the 1970s. The concentration is now 50 micrograms per litre. And Lake Simcoe us pretty decent sized. While I don't doubt that salt makes roads safer it does come with a cost.
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Old 02-24-2018, 02:03 PM
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I can't link to the story from my phone but Lake Simcoe, in Ontario, had a salt concentration of 10 micrograms per litre in the 1970s. The concentration is now 50 micrograms per litre. And Lake Simcoe us pretty decent sized. While I don't doubt that salt makes roads safer it does come with a cost.
Possibly this:
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/Pages/Salt.aspx

It may not be what you were looking at but it contains the same information.

I think part of the reason is that southern Lake Simcoe is within a rapidly growing population area. It's just beyond the northern part of the Greater Toronto Area, close to the city of Barrie and the towns just outside the GTA that are experiencing population booms. I don't know what the hydrology of the area looks like, though, but no doubt there is considerable drainage into the lake.
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Old 02-24-2018, 02:10 PM
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Most larger departments of transportation are trying to substantially reduce the amount salt they apply: see for example Minnesota's approach:
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/0...back-road-salt
I see a lot of efforts to reduce salt usage. Not necessarily practical and effective efforts, but at least they're trying.
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Old 02-24-2018, 05:38 PM
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I've got a 15 year old car, 250k miles, that has spent it's entire existence in snowy climates. Yes, salt does still cause some rust on modern cars, but other wear and tear will kill my car long before the salt does.
Yep. Despite being in New Hampshire and Maine for its whole "life," the 2007 I just traded in had one spot of rust on it the size of a quarter. This is a massive improvement over the car I had before it that was just six years older.
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Old 02-24-2018, 08:15 PM
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I live in the Midwest and the frame of my previous car (a 2000 Ford Focus) basically rotted away.
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Old 02-25-2018, 01:14 PM
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Agreed. Living in snowy and icy winters the only question becomes whether there are environmentally safer alternatives than sodium chloride, not whether road treatment is necessary. Plows don't leave bare dry pavement, so the highway plows I see are invariably dump trucks with salt spreaders at the back. Besides melting residual snow and ice, salting is also necessary to deal with conditions that create treacherous black ice, a rare but dangerous condition where a road looks normal and clear but is actually covered with a thin super-slick layer of ice that provides almost zero traction. For all these reasons, roads have to be treated. The environmental effects are unfortunate and so is the effect on car bodies, but any alternative would have to be cost-effective in large volumes.
Thirded. Minnesota simply would not be driveable in the winter without some kind of ice melter. Plows can scrap off snow but ice gets bonded to the pavement and cannot be cleared mechanically.
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Old 02-25-2018, 03:12 PM
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I doubt that Montana is any better than Minnesota, climate-wise, but Bozeman didn't salt the roads as of when I was there. People just learned to drive on ice.
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Old 02-25-2018, 03:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Hussman35 View Post
In Mount Bachelor, the road salt was replaced with sand for the environmental reasons described (mostly concern for the deciduous trees).

I suspect that it does not work as well. While you'll always see cars sliding on icy roads, there were a lot more per mile than I had seen in other mountainous areas.
In the mountains, when it gets really iffy, drivers who want to get home alive typically use traction devices (chains or studs). In some parts of the country, where the land is primarily flat, those types of traction devices are not even legal to have on your tires.
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Old 02-26-2018, 12:07 PM
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I doubt that Montana is any better than Minnesota, climate-wise, but Bozeman didn't salt the roads as of when I was there. People just learned to drive on ice.
I can't speak to all of Montana, but my formative years in the eastern half (northeastern quarter, really) taught me that life if apparently cheaper than road salt.

And since the snow never really stopped anywhere*, there wasn't much on the roads anyway.

* I suppose it must have stopped somewhere in North Dakota. It sure as hell never landed on the ground in any great profusion.

Last edited by gnoitall; 02-26-2018 at 12:09 PM.
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Old 02-28-2018, 11:47 AM
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People just learned to drive on ice.
Is it really driving if it's on ice? Or is it "sliding"?


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Old 02-28-2018, 12:40 PM
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It surprises me how many people insist that road salt is required to drive safely during the winter. In northern Canada, road salt isn't used, because it's worse than useless when it gets really cold due to refreezing. Gravel is used for traction, and black ice is why I've had a bag of sand or cat litter in the back of every vehicle I've owned.
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Old 02-28-2018, 01:46 PM
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Sand can be effective when you get enough sunny days, even if cold, that the sand absorbs enough sunlight to help evaporate the ice. Here in Minnesota we get enough consecutive days of overcast in the winter that I've bitched the state ought to be renamed Mordor.
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Old 03-04-2019, 08:57 AM
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Sand changes the texture of snow and ice even when it's night. In some places it's mixed with salt -- the salt for warm weather, the sand for cold weather.
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Old 03-04-2019, 11:24 AM
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Sand changes the texture of snow and ice even when it's night. In some places it's mixed with salt -- the salt for warm weather, the sand for cold weather.
That's certainly what's done here on my part of the Great Plains.

While I agree that over salting can be wasteful and destructive, when used properly, it's borderline essential. The alternative would require a major shift in what we collectively consider safe traveling conditions as well as a good deal of understanding about what can't happen in the winter. Does your boss want you to stay home from work for the next few days because of glaze ice on the roads? Can you convince him that it's best for everyone if the shipment doesn't get through until next week or maybe next month?

I'm glad the days of mindlessly shoveling salt everywhere are mostly done. Like any tool, it needs to be used with an awareness of it's uses and limits.

BTW, I don't give a fig if your car rusts out. I'd rather have a functioning winter economy.
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Old 03-06-2019, 07:54 AM
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Salt and sand together is ideal. Our community here in the Midwest tried no salt for a year or two and it was a nightmare. Salt melts ice and that saves lives. Thank God city government came to its senses.
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Old 03-06-2019, 09:05 AM
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It surprises me how many people insist that road salt is required to drive safely during the winter. In northern Canada, road salt isn't used, because it's worse than useless when it gets really cold due to refreezing. Gravel is used for traction, and black ice is why I've had a bag of sand or cat litter in the back of every vehicle I've owned.
Different climate, different properties of water one has to deal with. And also mandatory snow tires up there due to that.

I remember the days long ago driving in rural Quebec and all they seemed to do is put down a single strip of sand on the center line. Usually when 2 cars coming from opposite directions approached each other I noticed the pattern that the apparently more capable vehicle was the one who ventured off the center line to allow safe passing.
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Old 03-06-2019, 09:07 AM
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I keep my cars six years. I've owned a Saturn, a Cavalier, and an Elantra, and I've never seen a speck of rust on any of them. Of course, I wash my car (with under carriage wash) frequently in the winter every time the weather gets above freezing, so I'm sure that is a factor.

Another is if you use a heated garage. My Dad had several rust issues over the years (PA) but I haven't had a single one; the only difference is his garage is part of the house and heated and mine is detached (when I use it) and unheated. The constant freeze/thaw seems to not just make it worse in places that use rock salt but those that do not as well.
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Old 03-07-2019, 09:41 AM
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I can only comment from personal experience. Having to be at work by 6:30 am, I'm on the road by 6:00 at the latest so, when there has been snow or freezing rain during the night, I often encounter road conditions that haven't been treated yet. Having to deal with that as opposed to treated roads has shown me that there is a world of difference between the two.
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Old 03-11-2019, 01:16 PM
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New York uses a mix. Here in NYC, we generally get salt, treated salt, and/or abrasives (sand). Occasionally liquid calcium chloride, liquid magnesium chloride and/or salt brine will be used here; I'm guessing it's more prevalent north of NYC (which is all the rest of NYS). Rock salt (usually sodium chloride or calcium chloride) works well until it gets to about -6F, which is fine for NYC 99%+ of the time. Albany and Buffalo aren't so lucky.
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Old 03-19-2019, 09:25 AM
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Sodium chloride (common table salt) is the most common type, and may be applied to roads as rock salt or brine. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are sometimes called alternatives to road salt, but chemically, they are also salts. The sodium ion is particularly hard on woody plants.
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Old 03-20-2019, 09:32 PM
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My area has experimented with non-food grade beet SUGAR, which like salt is also abrasive and lowers the melting temperature. IDK how well that's worked out.
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Old 03-20-2019, 10:40 PM
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Is Vermont the only place that undercoats cars with oil? I get it done every fall. They don't just spray the bottom, they drill holes and spray into all the body panels, etc. Seems to prolong the inevitable.

I've noticed that rust from salt starts INSIDE, and by the time you can see it on the surface, all that's holding the car together is paint. Seriously, you see a little bubble under the paint on a fender, start scratching it, and next thing you know a square foot of sheet metal is missing and you can see the suspension. The most common fix for this is expanding foam sealant to pass inspection...
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Old 04-16-2019, 08:56 AM
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Not only does salt effect the terrestrial roadside vegetation it also has an impact on emergent and submerged aquatic plants. Salt leaves the road and enters the environment by splash and spray from vehicles, transportation by wind, snow melt into the soil and as runoff to surface waters.
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