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How to Minimize Winter Vehicle Damage

Seventy percent of U.S. drivers at risk for costly, dangerous rust damage

Rust on the undercarriage
Often located underneath your vehicle, brake lines are susceptible to rust damage that has the potential to eventually lead to total failure

Winter has come to an end, and now is the perfect time to undo the damage that winter leaves behind on our vehicles!  AAA East Central is advising drivers that rust can emerge from unsuspected places, potentially causing hundreds of dollars in damage.  Also, the Club is offering advice on how to avoid extensive pothole damage, and general “spring-cleaning” tips to help the public extend the lives of their vehicles. 

Millions of Americans are facing pricey vehicle repairs from rust damage caused by chemicals used to de-ice roadways. According to a recent AAA survey, U.S. drivers paid an estimated $15.4 billion in rust repairs caused by de-icing methods over the last five years, or approximately $3 billion annually.

In addition to damaging the body of the car, which serves both cosmetic and structural roles, rust can corrode other critical components as well. Brake lines, fuel tanks, exposed electrical components and floorboards are all susceptible to serious rust damage. In the last five years, 22 million U.S. drivers have experienced rust damage to their vehicles due to salt and liquid de-icers. The cost of repairing these damages can average almost $500 per occurrence.

“There are measures that we can take following a harsh winter that can help minimize some of the damage to our vehicles” says Bob Eyrolles, AAA East Central Approved Auto Repair Specialist. “Considering that salt and other de-icing chemicals are corrosive to metal, giving your car a good bath and focusing on blasting the undercarriage is important.”

While some rust damage is unavoidable, AAA recommends drivers take the following preventative steps in order to reduce the possibility of vehicle damage:

  • Frequently wash your vehicle, paying particular attention to the undercarriage. This will loosen, dissolve and neutralize road salts. Many drive-through car washes offer an undercarriage rinse as an option.
  • Always use a high-quality car wash solution, not a household dish detergent that will strip the wax from your vehicle.
  • Repair any body damage and touch up paint scratches and chips that expose bare metal which could lead to rust.
  • Before the start of winter, thoroughly wash and clean your vehicle prior to the start of winter and apply a coat of wax to protect the finish.
  • Give the entire vehicle and undercarriage one last cleaning in the spring. Any deposits left over from winter can continue to cause corrosion year-round if not properly removed.

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 the roadways. These newer 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.

Pothole Damage:
Pothole damage is another concern for drivers, as snow and ice melt and roadways begin to crumble. A new AAA survey found that nearly 30 million U.S. drivers experienced pothole damage significant enough to require repair in 2016, with repair bills ranging from under $250 to more than $1000.

“Visibility is important to avoiding potholes, especially during the rainy season that follows winter”, says Eyrolles. “If your wiper blades are leaving streaks behind after two or three passes, then it’s probably time for new ones.”

To aid motorists in protecting their vehicles from pothole damage, AAA recommends the following:

  • Inspect Tires – The tire is the most important cushion between a car and a pothole. Make sure tires have enough tread and are properly inflated. To check the tread depth, insert a quarter into the tread groove with Washington’s head upside down. The tread should cover part of Washington’s head. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to start shopping for new tires. When checking tire pressures, ensure they are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended levels, which can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s door jamb. Do not use the pressure levels stamped on the sidewall of the tire.
  • Inspect Suspension – Make certain struts and shock absorbers are in good condition. Changes in vehicle handling, excessive vibration or uneven tire wear can indicate bad shocks or struts. Have the suspension inspected by a certified technician if you suspect problems.
  • Slow Down – If a pothole cannot be avoided, reduce speed safely being sure to check the rearview mirror before any abrupt braking. Hitting a pothole at higher speeds greatly increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels and suspension components.
  • Check Alignment – Hitting a pothole can knock a car’s wheels out of alignment and affect the steering. If a vehicle pulls to the left of right, have the wheel alignment checked by a qualified technician.
  • Recognize Noises/Vibrations – A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components. Any new or unusual noises or vibrations that appear after hitting a pothole should be inspected immediately by a certified technician.
  • When pothole or rust damage occurs, it is imperative to choose a reputable repair facility. The AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) network includes nearly 7,000 facilities which have met AAA’s high standards, including, certifications, technical training, cleanliness, insurance requirements, rigorous inspections and customer satisfaction.  AAA members are eligible for special benefits such as priority service, a 24-month/24,000-mile warranty, discounts, free inspections, dispute resolution assistance and more. To locate an AAR shop in your area, visit

Other Spring Tips:

  • Check all fluids. Just as with people, fluids are critical for vehicles when things start to warm up. Check your owner’s guide for the proper procedures to verify the following:

    • Engine oil, including scheduling an oil change if it’s time
    • Coolant level
    • Automatic transmission fluid
    • Brake fluid
    • Power steering fluid
    • Windshield washer fluid
  • Check your battery. Corroded terminals, a bulging or cracked case are signs that a battery has been subject to extreme conditions. Test batteries if they are three years old or older and make sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free. 
  • Check the hoses and belts. Inspect hoses and have them replaced when leaking, brittle, cracked, or swollen. Check V-belts and serpentine belts for looseness and condition, and have them replaced when cracked, frayed, glazed or showing signs of excessive wear. Replacing the timing belt at the interval specified in the owner’s manual can avoid a breakdown or serious engine damage. 
  • Visibility is key. Safety experts estimate that 20 percent of all crashes are caused at least in part, by impaired vision. Most people recognize that a good view out the windshield and windows is essential to safe driving. But how long has it been since you checked your brake lights, directional signals and headlights for proper operation?
    • About half of all windshield wiper blades on the road are beyond their functional lifespan. Check wiper operation and blade condition, replacing any blades that leave streaks behind, after two or three passes
    • With a helper, check operation of the brake lights (including the center high-mount brake light) and back up lights
    • Check operation of headlights (high and low beams), all directional signals and taillights

One final note: If you’re bringing children or a pet along for the ride, never leave them unattended in the vehicle. Even seemingly mild temperatures can rapidly create a lethal environment inside a car — even with the windows cracked open.

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 81 local offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Kentucky serving more than 2.7 million members.


For More Information, Contact:
Jim Garrity, Public & Community Relations Manager
Desk: 412-365-7274 / Cell: 412-905-9021 / Email:




CST 1016202-80 Copyright © AAA East Central. All Rights Reserved.
AAA East Central is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.