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Road de-ice materials can damage vehicles

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:05 am

MOSES LAKE - Snow slammed Grant County Wednesday for a short period then blew through, but more is predicted to fall during the rest of the week.

Low visibility and slippery roads are the main threats of snow, but there is another threat to vehicles.

Salt, sand and chemical road treatments may keep ice at bay in the wintertime, but they can also do a number on cars.

Terry Van Hoven, manager of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in Ephrata, oversees the extensive job of keeping ice off state roads in Grant and Adams counties as far south as Othello.

To do so, he said crews pre-treat roads with calcium chloride whenever the forecast threatens freezing temperatures - about once a week unless there's any precipitation, in which case Van Hoven said they'll reapply more frequently for good measure.

Each winter WSDOT uses anywhere from 3,000 to 3,400 tons of salt to keep snow off highways, he said, as well as sand if there are snowdrifts or if it's extremely cold.

"Cars should really be washed on a regular basis this time of year," Van Hoven said.

Carwash industry insiders agree, as might be expected.

"If you are a car owner, summer may be the most popular season to wash your car. But for your car, winter is the best season - especially when corrosive salt and sand are applied to roads to break down ice and snow brought on by winter storms," stated Emily Phillips with the Puget Sound Carwash Association, a professional organization based in Seattle.

Moses Lake employs a winter road treatment plan similar to WSDOT, according to Moses Lake Public Works Superintendent Tim Varney, although he said they use less chemical pre-treatment due to the cost.

The city doesn't have a budget relegated for snow and ice removal, he said, meaning crews watch the forecast and stop applying as many chemicals if there are a few days of warmer weather on the horizon.

"We don't put as much down and let the weather work for us," he said; adding the state must be more generous with the treatments due to the higher speed traffic on most state roads.

When snow starts piling up in the city, like the county, they break out the road salt to break down the compact ice, Varney said, although he wasn't sure how much is used on average per season.

On Grant County roads, de-ice operations are limited to spreading sand at intersections, steep grades and sharp curves, according to an official with Grant County Road District 2, which oversees the portion of the county surrounding the Moses Lake city limits.

The county also uses salt in some of the heavier traveled areas.

"Salt is extremely corrosive and can attack even the toughest paints and finishes," Phillips said. "It gets into the cracks and crevices of your car and starts the oxidation and rusting process, a chemical reaction. The damage is especially severe in your car's undercarriage, where the affects may go undetected until it's too late for a cheap fix, and on rims and wheels that are exposed to the elements, usually with no protection."

The best way to avoid the ravages of salt and similar materials on a vehicle is to wash it, Phillips said; adding the most environmentally sensitive choice is to visit a professional car wash.

"Professional car washes, whether tunnel, automatic or self-serve, are the wiser environmental choice, since they filter out oil, grease, heavy metals and other pollutants from vehicle wash water so they don't enter our  waterways," she said. "This is especially important when washing your car's undercarriage."

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