My Car Quest

April 20, 2024

Editorial: Beware The Salt Monster

Go ahead move back East. But there’s something waiting to eat your car…

by Wallace Wyss –

You hear a lot about what is going on in California prices, houses being over $800,000, rent, gas, food. The media loves quoting how many Californians have decamped to other States. But they don’t often mention how many new arrivals in the State occurred in the same time period.

Many of the new arrivals were trying to banish the thoughts of snow and ice. As a former Michigander I have to balance the cost of living in California by mentioning the word RUST. When I grew up in Michigan in a middle class suburb, I was well aware Detroit is built atop a salt mine. Whenever there was ice in the streets, salt was dumped. Big-time.

Lucky suburbanites had a garage but it was fooling yourself to think washing the salt off your car was going to save your car. It was splashed on the floor pan and into the wheelwells as you drove. Within 3 years the rust would pip through the body.

Wyss at the beach

The author strolls at the beach and sees no rust

Oh, there was a firm that would rustproof your car. It was called Rustoleum and you could get the underparts of your car sprayed. But even that was not foolproof because if it wasn’t pressure-sprayed with Rustoleum when new it could still be trouble. Even if the car was new you had to worry about how long did the car sit in a snow field before it the showroom? (For instance when there was a recent shortage of microchips, thousands of new cars sat in the snow awaiting a handful of parts).

When you sold your used car through a newspaper ad you had to dance skillfully to stand in front of any rust holes. I remember selling a ’57 Ford convertible how I had just laid in some Bondo and spray paint prior to a prospect arriving so I danced in front of the hastily-repaired 8″ diameter rust hole so it wouldn’t hurt my sale.

In Southern California I see cars in driveways 20, 30, 40 years old, still licensed. Some used daily–’65-’70s Mustangs, old Caprices, old Crown Vics, old Cadillacs, if this was Detroit, those cars would not be be parked in the driveway as an emergency option. They would be gone.

In SoCal, if you maintain your old car regularly, change the oil, transmission fluid, belts etc–there is no reason to buy a new car in California unless you are seduced by the styling, or offering of a body rarely offered (think of rapidly disappearing retractable hard-top phase).

I don’t give the same optimistic view of Northern California certainly in the mountain areas your car can rust, even on the Northern coast. I remember decades ago when visiting the family ranch in Mendocino my uncle’s ’53 Chevy was showing signs of rust. I complained to GM how could they build a truck that rusted after a mere 40 years and they sent me a catalog of a firm selling body panels for that model.

Detroit, particularly because of California import Harley Earl, GM’s first VP in charge of Styling, pushed the buy-a-new-model-every-three-years idea but really didn’t need to–you were shamed into it. Your neighbors looked down at you if you drove a rust-o-bucketo.

Now I had a neighbor in Detroit, Lou Bettega, who defied the pressure. He had a job as a Chrysler hiring engineer. He would drive an old ’40s car to work, don’t remember what it was. It wasn’t rusty. I think his point was–it was a good car in its time, and it’s a good car now. Being a Chrysler employee he could have bought a new car near cost but no, he was determined to prove some cars were too good to throw away.

So, ironically in contrast to all I’ve said, Detroit might be a good place to find an oldie-but-goodie–a collector car dutifully garaged 7 or 8 months of the year. Many owned by automotive engineers who babied them mechanically.

So next time I hear someone saying they are moving from California back to Michigan or Illinois or some state where salt is in the streets all winter I pity their re-introduction to The Salt Monster, who eats cars. Really.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss talks cars as co-host of Autotalk, a weekly radio show broadcast from KUCR FM Riverside, CA.


I lived for ten years in Ohio, which has similar weather to Michigan and they both use huge amounts of salt on the roads in the winter. The cars would rust like nothing I have seen before or since. I had my new ’74 Triumph TR6 treated with Ziebart in Ohio and I am not sure if it really worked because I traded it in after only 2 years. It seemed like a good idea though.

I also lived in Colorado for a few years and although it is cold and it snows a lot they do not use salt on the roads because the high altitude makes it very dry (snow and ice will melt quickly) so they occasionally use sand on the roads if they become too icy. Sand does not cause rust.

I have lived most of my life in California and it certainly has the advantage of being easy on the cars from a rust perspective as Wallace points out. But real estate is expensive.

Mike Gulett, Editor

Porsche 356 rusty

Editorial: Beware The Salt Monster
Article Name
Editorial: Beware The Salt Monster
I grew up in Michigan and I was well aware that Detroit is built atop a salt mine. Whenever there was ice in the streets, salt was dumped.


  1. Brian Winer says

    Wyssie! You goofed……. Rustoleum is a rattle can for spray painting to help prevent rust, even rust that is already there, and ZIEBART is the name of the undercoating company from 1959 and still exists to this day…. Look them up!

  2. So true. I purchased a 1985 BMW M635 in Michigan which lived in a heated garage 7-8 months and only driven in perfect weather. As Nice as many California car! Also, many cars are misrepresented to be California cars when may have only lived there a small part of its life. Ziebart is great if applied properly. Improperly applied it can block drain holes causing more issues. My son acquired A 1977 IH Scout with well applied Ziebart and it was a perfect rust-free example (rare for a scout). It did help it lived mostly in NM.

  3. Robb Northrup says

    Hey Wallace, as a fellow Michigander now living in the Southwest, I appreciate your viewpoint on RUST. Salt (especially calcium chloride — magnesium chloride’s a little less destructive) could literally melt a car body in the old days! But most new cars have enjoyed e-coating of the unibody, which can prevent a lot of rust from occurring. But to me, living in California just to protect a classic car doesn’t make sense to my pocketbook. The cost of “Ziebarting” a car and careful maintenance is far cheaper for a car that’s not driven all the time. Anyway, I drive a vintage Corvette!

  4. Fred Johansen says

    California is horrible! Don’t come. If you are already here, probably best to move. Stay away!

  5. Agree with Fred. California used to be such a great place to live. Still the home of awesome cars.

Speak Your Mind