Is it really worth it to put salt on roads?

My car does okay driving in dry snow. If it gets slushy, I skid like crazy. I have sometimes driven at the peak of a blizzard and had no issues. The next morning, after the storm is over and the roads have been treated, they seem much worse. Salt also rusts cars, harms wildlife, and takes money that could be used on better things.

What alternative do you suggest when there are places that are below freezing for several months of the year so the ice isn’t going to melt on its own?

And your problem driving sounds like a lack of snow tires, not treated roads.

I’ve recently been informed that the entire bottom of my car is severely rusted (not the visible body though). Gotta get a new car, thanks to winters here.

As a resident of the great white north, who has driven in cities that don’t plow (Calgary I’m looking at you) and ones that often just can’t keep up (Ottawa, Montreal) there are a variety of tools available to make winter driving safer.

If the roads aren’t plowed there’s really not much use throwing down salt. Salt is most useful on almost bare roads to keep the residue from turning to black ice. I suspect if it’s fairly deep slush, the sun is responsible for the melt not salt.

Also when it gets extremely cold, salt is not enough to melt the remaining residue as it can only lower the melting point so far. At that point sand is a better traction material but even that isn’t ideal. Extreme cold and a thin layer of snow/ice on the road is just miserable all around and is definitely the road conditions I avoid the most. The fact that I prefer to not go outside during an extreme cold warning is just a side benefit.

It’s a safety issue. What is the economic value of safety?
On the French island of St Pierre, off Newfoundland, they don’t even plow the roads. The drivers there just put chains on their drive wheels, and drive over the snow, which gets packed down by traffic. Not a problem.

One could argue that salting the road causes more property and environmental damage than it protects.

I, for one, am glad I live in a region of the country that never salts the roads. To be fair, we don’t get quite as much snow and freezing temperatures as, say, the Midwest, but we get plenty.

Agree, I wish we would at least use it more sparringly. Too often in iowa winters we put a salt brine down for a storm that starts as rain and just washes it off before it snows. Also agree that when its below 20°, I believe, salt is not effective.

Colorado Springs uses sand, not salt. The city has also started using a liquid de-icer that they try to put down before the snow sticks.

There’s very large main artery highway in NJ that runs east to west (one end connects to the Holland Tunnel) that comes to mind. For a few years, I noticed that it was the least salted, least plowed, least safe highway in the entire state in the mid to western portions during a snow storm.
I pointed that out to someone from that area who told me that the local towns demand that taxes be so low out there that snow removal and salt are intentionally set to a low priority.

“The people who live in this area have cars that are fully capable of handling snow, so its a waste of money”, was how he put it.

I struggled on that road for a winter or so… and I cursed the thoughtless SOBs who were too cheap to pay the right amount of taxes needed clean their roads properly, but drove better cars than I did.
A few times I did see cars in bad accidents and one time I saw a 7-Series that had made firewood of 5-6 sapling/scrub trees off the side of the road.

I couldn’t help but think, “Enjoy those low taxes, Pal…” :smiley:

Based on my experience with my driveway…

There are times when salting is very effective at improving the safety of a surface. Other times it’s useless. The biggest problem is municipalities reflexively laying down salt during precipitation whether it will actually help or not. Problem is, the local sometimes demand that Something Be Done and salting the roads is Doing Something.

So… yeah, some of it’s helpful, some not.

My car lived its early life in Northern Ontario. Although it runs well and has barely cost me any money, it is now 11 years old and showing its age. I can’t sell it in Vancouver, BC because people around here say “Ontario Car” like one would say “stained underwear.”

I had one mechanic once enquire why they put salt on the roads as it is “Really bad for cars.” My reply was “Not as bad for cars as rolling into the ditch.”

Salt certainly can be, just slower. That rust will negate the value of your car in a relatively short time as surely as totalling it. Also, as noted above, there are few specific circumstances when the salt actually helps. Reflexively applied whenever it snows: often not helpful. But always bad for the car in the long run.

Of course, totalling the car will be likely worse for the driver and passengers. But there are alternatives to salt that are less destructive to cars and the environment.

Best solution: instruction in how drive in slippery conditions, with proper winter tires. The most effective safety feature of all is a properly educated interface between the seat and steering wheel.

Some places are using beet juice.

On corrosion this is why I hit the car wash asap in the spring and have it do a bottom blast. Or drive around alot during a rain.

It’s also not just about the road surface, but about actual snow removal. In cities that get big snowstorms there’s sometimes simply nowhere to plow all the snow to, so using salt to melt large amounts of it is pretty much mandatory.

They use salt around here and it took 20 years of driving in it for my car to have a rust problem. You use a car wash occasionally and it can last longer.

It’s primarily to make sure you’re not driving on ice. Snow itself isn’t too bad, but I’ve is a killer. And if you’re in an area where it won’t get above freezing for weeks, you want to remove the ice Asap.

There’s different kinds of ice, too - shallow frozen ruts may be slick but you usually get some traction out of the surface. “Black ice”, though, is a skating rink and dangerous regardless of what tires, skills, or vehicle you have (the absolute worst is black ice with a film of water on top - can you say “frictionless”? - but fortunately it’s very rare).

Back to my driveway, which is the strip of pavement I have control over - rutted icy surfaces I don’t worry too much about, but smooth ice surfaces have to go, one way or another. Ice can be very effective, but should be used judiciously.

My vehicles are 14 and 17 years old. Yes, there is some rust on them, but it’s nothing like I remember back in the 1970’s. Either municipalities are using less salt or they’re building more durable cars or both.

A few years ago our town ran out of salt, sand, and money near the end of a very bad winter. We had a few snowstorms in March that year and it was eye-opening. Without plows running and without the roads being treated things got very bad very fast.

Around my way a lot of people go through the car wash after a spell of bad weather to rinse off the salt, especially on the undercarriage. It gets pricey, though. Some car wash places offer a booklet of “unlimited monthly washes for X dollars” or something similar.

I only got my old vehicle washed occasionally. When I traded it in they told me that the entire underside was so rusted that the rust was starting to eat through not only most of the lines but also the gas tank :eek:

I go through as often as I can after a storm, and until recently, it was warm enough to go (25+). Not so anymore, so cleaning off the latest layer will have to wait!

So far everyone has just been throwing around anecdotes and WAGs, which is fine for IMHO, but I’d love to see a more thorough study of the costs and benefits of salting and plowing.

What is the actual cost of damage caused by salt?

Cars rust, but that’s not so terrible for modern cars. Over the lifetime of a car, is the extra maintenance and depreciation a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars?

What is the environmental damage? That’ll be particularly hard to quantify but it is possible to put a dollar value to loss of ecosystem services, costs of remediation, etc.

On the other hand, how much more property damage and personal injury would there be without salting the roads? How much would insurance rates go up?