I bought a used 2001 Toyota Camry this past summer.

Overall it's in great shape, and I presently see no rust.

Living in Wisconsin, we use salt pretty liberally to deal with snowy and icy roadways. My last car, a '97 minivan used exclusively in Wisconsin, had basically turned into a pile of rust. This included a rusted out strut tower [which a TSB was published for; this issue is most common in the "salt belt."]

I'm a bit worried about my new car suffering the same fate, since it will be parked exclusively outside.

So far the only problem I've had due to salt is that my aluminum[?] rims corroded slightly, causing a pretty nasty tire leak.

What are some ways I can go about preventing body damage from the harsh winter months?

  • 2
    Trade up to a DeLorean! Oh, wait ... you don't want your chasis to rust either? Dec 20, 2012 at 23:10

3 Answers 3


Wash off the salt whenever possible. Inspect the car regularly (especially in locations where salt and water can get trapped). Repair any noticable damage immediately (damaged paint, damaged undercoating, etc). Set aside some spare funds in the anticipation of such repairs.

My experience is that body panels don't rust, it's the strut towers, floor, and frame that get it first. Keep a close eye on those areas. I've had chunks of frame and floor cut out and replaced. Not unreasonable cost if you can do some of the interior stripping yourself first. Strut tower work gets pricy, but is not a death sentence for the car either as long as you don't let it go.

Oh, and don't use aluminum wheels in the Winter. Keep Summer tires on them and when Winter rolls around take them off and put on the steel wheels with proper Winter tires.

Anecdotal: My old body shop guy used to say that keeping the car outside vs. inside was a good thing in the Winter as the ice melting each time the car is garaged (assuming warm garage) lead to much faster corrosion. Of course, in the non-freezing time, it needs to go in the garage as rain leads to corrosion as well...

  • ya beat me by a few minutes. good answer. +1 for repairing paint damage.
    – mac
    Dec 20, 2012 at 17:34
  • Good tip on the aluminium wheels. I've already repaired a rim leak earlier this year, so I'll go about investing in a pair of steel wheels.
    – Robbie
    Dec 20, 2012 at 17:36
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    Nokian makes a whole bunch of excellent snow tires. Bridgestone Blizzaks are also quite good. Michelin Arctic-Alpin work pretty well in the Winter as well (not as good in the the deep snow as the other tires I mentioned, but better on ice IMO). Dec 20, 2012 at 18:31
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    Don't forget the drain holes at the bottoms of the door frames. That's one of the worst places that rust likes to live.
    – Bob Cross
    Dec 21, 2012 at 12:50
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    Good point, it's common for the door drain holes to get plugged with debris, thereby not draining and contributing to rust all along the bottom edge of the door! Dec 21, 2012 at 13:28

Regular washing and waxing is your best bet. We kept our cars in one piece through the Rochester, NY winters with nothing more than this.

The wax provides a sacrificial protective coating for the painted parts of the body. You can apply wax to your wheels as well. As a bonus, the brake dust will be easier to wash off of a waxed wheel.

Then wash, wash, wash. Often a rinse is all that is needed. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the undercarriage of the car whenever you wash.

There are some products on the market that apply an electric charge to the body of the car in bid to inhibit corrosion. Corrosion (or oxidation) is an electrochemical process, and theoretically one can block this process by applying a charge to the body of the vehicle. I have no experience with these systems, but these systems are widely viewed to be ineffective for automobiles (read here and here) .

There are also spray on, or spray in (as in "inside") wax treatments that can be applied to the car body in an attempt to block corrosion. Again, I have no experience with these, but haven't found it necessary.

I've had great results with soap and water, a hose, and an occasional waxing of the body. It just takes diligence.

  • 1
    Waxing won't be a problem; but my complex [and most of my friends and family] have shut off their hoses for the winter, so that will be a bit of a pain. To be fair: taking it for a good hand wash and wax would still be cheaper than parking it in the garage.
    – Robbie
    Dec 20, 2012 at 17:38
  • Good point on the spray inside wax treatments. I've used LPS3 rust inhibitor with good success to extend the life of expensive/difficult to replace areas. A bodyshop friend of mine swears by waxoyl (and put a bunch of it preventatively in my car when he did the the last set of of rust replacements patches). Dec 20, 2012 at 17:42
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    In Rochester many people bought unlimited monthly passes to the car wash places. It's good insurance. I'm a proponent of a careful hand wash over a mechanized wash (gentler on the paint), but either one will keep your car in one piece.
    – mac
    Dec 20, 2012 at 17:46

One thing I learned the hard way...if you drive a car in the winter, you HAVE to drive it in the rainy season in the spring. Otherwise you will not get the salt out of the crevices. Washing with a power washer does little, compared to a 100 mile trip in pouring rain.

If someone can point to any studies which show otherwise, I would love to see them. Otherwise this was a hard lesson learned.

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