Living by the ocean must be an enjoyable experience because so many people do it. In fact, millions of people in the U.S. live on or near the shores of the East Coast, West Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. There’s something about the smell of the ocean, the cool breezes and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach that seems invigorating and healthful.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with your car. If cars had a choice, they would live far from the ocean because the moist, salty atmosphere causes serious damage to their appearance and ability to function properly. If you live near the ocean, you need to know the facts about why salty air takes a toll on your vehicle and how it can lead to costly repairs.
Salt Spray: Your Car’s Worst Enemy
Most car owners know that salt isn’t good for their cars. But, many may not know how or why it damages their vehicle. From a scientific standpoint, it’s the combination of moisture, oxygen and sodium chloride (salt) that does the dirty work. Constant immersion in salt water causes more damage to metal than rust. It actually corrodes metal five times faster than fresh water.
Of course, people don’t usually leave their cars sitting in salt water. But, humid ocean air causes the metal to corrode 10 times faster than dryer air. If you reside near the ocean, the amount of salt and moisture in the air is more than enough to slowly eat away at the metal on your car. You don’t even have to live right on the beach because strong sea breezes can carry salt in the air up to five or more miles away. As a result, people who live near the beach should constantly monitor their vehicle’s condition for signs of damage from sodium chloride.
It Starts With the Exterior of Your Car
The problem with salty ocean air is not that it suddenly dumps a pile of damp, corrosive salt on your car; it’s that it does it slowly and gradually, making it hard to detect. The air deposit trace amounts of salt all over the exterior of your car every day, slowly eating away at the paint and any exposed metal. These tiny deposits don’t become noticeable until they begin to build up over time.
The first place you will likely notice salt damage is on the trunk and hood of your car. Because they’re horizontal, these surfaces receive more of the salt molecules from the air. If you notice rust or paint splotches on your trunk or hood, you should check your doors and side panels as well. The sooner you spot the problem, the more you can do to prevent further salty air damage.
Don’t Overlook Internal Corrosion
Salty air doesn’t just settle on the exterior of your car. It also gets in, around and on what lies under the hood of your vehicle. As a result, key components like nuts, bolts, and even your brakes can suffer corrosion from salty air. As with the surface of your car, it happens gradually, making it hard to notice. After a few years, rust spots will start to appear on internal metal pieces. If left untreated, they can cause structural and operational problems that can make your car unsafe to drive.
The Problem With Paint
Your car’s paint job is important for two reasons. One, it protects the underlying metal from the ravages of the environment. Two, it makes your vehicle look good. As discussed, salt buildup on your car’s paint can eat away at it over time, exposing the metal to rust. But that’s not the only danger from living near the ocean.
Beach areas typically have a lot of sunshine, which is another enemy of your car’s paint. Constant exposure to the sun increases the size of the pores in the paint. This leaves more room for salt in the air to find a home in your car. As a result, the paint will lose is luster, making it less shiny. Also, it will eventually eat holes in the paint, leading to more rust.
Fighting Back Against Salt Air
Fortunately, there are many things you can do minimize or prevent the destruction caused by salty air.
- Seek cover. When possible, park inside, out of the sun and sea air. Whether in a garage at home or underground when visiting the mall, staying out of the sun provides a measure of protection. It won’t take the salt out of the air, but it will deflect the harmful rays of the sun. If you don’t have a garage at home, a car cover will help.
- Take care of the paint. New cars are more resistant to damage caused by the climate because the paint is in prime condition. As the years go by, the paint will suffer from daily exposure to the air, nicks, scratches, dings and other circumstances that can chip and/or erode the paint. Touching up the paint as soon as you notice any damage can prevent rust and keep your vehicle looking good.
- Wash and wax your car on a regular basis. After buying a new car, most people take good care of it with regular washes and waxes. As the newness wears off, it can be easy to slip into the habit of less frequent cleanings. Yet, one of the best things you can do to protect your car’s paint and metal is frequent washes and waxes – especially when living near the ocean.
At minimum, wash your car at least once every two weeks, and wax it every three to four months. The older your car, the more frequently you should wash and wax. One good way to get in the habit is to run your car through the carwash every time you fill up for gas. If you don’t drive much and only fill up your tank once a month, you will need to wash your car by hand or make a separate trip to a carwash facility.
Regular maintenance goes a long way toward extending the life of your car and keeping it looking good. If you fall behind in these important tasks and your car starts looking tired and dreary, bring it into your nearest Fix Auto shop. Our expert paint and body professionals will have it looking shiny and glossy again before you know it.