Photo by Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons.

VIDEO: Road Salt Spells Trouble for Cars

Vehicles from the 2007 model year and earlier may be dangerously susceptible to brake pipe corrosion after repeated seasonal exposure to road salt, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns.

Such damage, the result of seven to eight years of exposure to winter road salts, may ultimately lead to brake line failure if the problem isn’t properly addressed, the agency said in a safety advisory released April 9.

A recent NHTSA investigation shed light on just how widespread this threat to brakes is. The agency probed brake line failures in General Motors trucks and SUVs built in model years 1999 to 2003. The agency spent more than four years examining corrosion-related brake failures in the vehicles, as well as failures in similar trucks and SUVs made by other manufacturers.

NHTSA also analyzed state safety inspection data and studied surveys from about 2,000 vehicle owners. But no defect warranting a safety recall was identified, and NHTSA closed the investigation.

The data indicate that the brake line corrosion in the GM vehicles isn’t unique, NHTSA said, since similar vehicles with comparable brake lines have experienced similar corrosion problems – especially in states that use salt to de-ice roads in winter.

This corrosion problem is linked to brake line coating materials that several manufacturers used during this time period. Vehicles driven in the following salt states are more prone to corrosion-related issues: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

NHTSA’s safety advisory offers the following advice to drivers and vehicle owners:

  • Remove road salt that leads to corrosion. Thoroughly clean your vehicle, including the undercarriage, at the end of the winter. Also, regularly wash the undercarriage throughout the winter.
  • Monitor your brake system, including brake pipes, and other undercarriage components for corrosion or signs of brake failure. In an older vehicle in a cold-weather state, have a qualified mechanic or inspection station inspect the vehicle at least twice a year. If there are any signs of corrosion, inspect the brakes more frequently – at least every time you bring your vehicle in for service. Also, keep an eye on brake fluid level. Be aware of changes in how your brake pedal feels, and look for signs of fluid leakage beneath the vehicle. All of these could indicate a leak in your brake pipes.
  • If you find severe corrosion that causes scaling or flaking of brake components, replace the entire brake pipe assembly. Don't replace just a portion of the assembly. Failure in one part of the brake pipes generally means other sections of pipe are at risk of failure. Check with the manufacturer to see if it has pre-fabricated brake pipe kits to make replacement easier and potentially less expensive.

To watch a NHTSA video about brake pipe failure linked to road salt corrosion, click on the link below the photo or click here.