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AAA: Damage from road de-icers costs U.S. drivers $3B a year

The Town of Hempstead demonstrates its new ice-melting

The Town of Hempstead demonstrates its new ice-melting brine solution before a snowstorm on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. A new AAA report estimates U.S. drivers pay about $3 billion a year to repair rust damage from road de-icers. Credit: Barry Sloan

Motorists forced to drive in snowstorms likely feel safer on de-iced roads but brines used to keep them clear also rust brake linings and fuel tanks more quickly, causing more than $3 billion in vehicle damage a year, the AAA said in a new report Tuesday.

Liquid corrosives freeze at lower temperatures than traditional salt, which means they coat the roads — and vehicles — more swiftly and effectively.

Rusted-out brake lines and fuel tanks can cause deadly accidents, the Heathrow, Florida-based AAA said.

It warned motorists to pull over immediately if they smell gasoline, their brakes feel spongy or their vehicles’ warning indicators light up.

Every year, road de-icers inflict rust damage on cars and trucks, with an average of nearly $500 per repair, the nonprofit group said.

Its estimates do not include the cost of fixing infrastructure, such as bridges whose supports also corrode more quickly.

When it comes to spotting rust in critical components, including exhaust and electrical systems, New Yorkers have an advantage, said Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA’s New York spokesman.

New York requires yearly car inspections, unlike Connecticut and New Jersey, he said.

Still, problems can develop between inspections — and sometimes with no warning, as Sinclair found out. Unknown to him, the brake linings on his 2001 Daewoo Nubira had rusted out a few years ago, he discovered, one morning in Queens.

“At about a quarter after 7 a.m., I was stopped at a light and the brakes were fine,” he said.

“The light turned green, and at the next red light, the pedal went to the floor — there was a complete loss of braking power,” he said.

Knowing trucks commonly used the cross street, he “threw the car into reverse and hit the gas. That’s how I was able to stop the car,” he said.

He noted he also could have used the emergency brake or turned the ignition off, but there was very little time to react.

AAA also advised motorists to stay home “before, during and after” snowfalls and recommended cleaning vehicles’ undercarriages.

‘’In order to protect our residents and ensure the safety of all motorists traveling our roadways, the County strives to utilize the safest and most effective means to reduce icing on our roads,” said Mary Studdert, a Nassau County public works department spokeswoman.

The New York State Department of Transportation, Suffolk and the Town of Brookhaven had no immediate comment on the use of brines.

The Town of Hempstead’s use of liquid de-icers is limited to a small pilot program south of Merrick Road, said spokesman Mike Deery.

Hempstead has only conducted one test, using rock salt mixed with water in the last snowstorm, he said.

Sodium chloride, a main ingredient of rock salt, is less corrosive than the calcium chloride-based brines other areas use, he said.

Mixing rock salt with water allows the town to spread it before it starts to snow; otherwise, tires kick it to the curb.

With AP

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