February 18, 2015 7:00 AM, EST

Be Aware of Elements That Cause Corrosion, Experts Say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fifty years ago, the only type of corrosion the trucking industry worried about was from road salt on the truck chassis. But today, no part of a truck is safe, said those who run, build, maintain and wash trucks.

From the electrical systems inside the cab to windshield coating and plastic headlight covers out front, corrosive elements are eating away at trucks, task force members said in study sessions and meetings at the Technology & Maintenance Council's annual gathering here.

Even the solvents that rain down on trucks when they’re being washed are eating away at the bodies.

“If the wash solutions are not designed to be compatible with all of the different components, then, while you’re washing one component you might be damaging another,” said Dennis Winn, director of technology and business development at Accuride Corp.

The task force on solvents is trying to determine which ones can be used without damaging the truck or any components, “be they metals, be they plastics, rubbers or coatings,” Winn said.

Another corrosive element drawing intense scrutiny from trucking is "liquid salt," the solution increasingly being used by state transportation departments to keep ice off roads.

The liquid is a mixture of salt with such things as beet juice in Nebraska, cheese brine in Wisconsin and potato juice in other states. However, the concoction also contains magnesium chloride, which is highly corrosive inside and outside the truck.

“The guys are getting it on their shoes, they're bringing it into the cab,” said Charles Jeary, service representative for trailer-provider SAF-Holland. “What can we do from an engineering and maintenance point to mitigate and, possibly, minimize the damage that it's causing?”

Unlike rock salt, which evaporates in days or weeks, liquid salt remains for months because it stays wet so long. Worse yet for trucks, it becomes airborne as it dries and can move around the cab, migrate to the fuse box or other electrical components, and corrode them, Jeary said.

Liquid salt, though, is popular with transportation and environmental officials because it has a lesser impact on the environment than rock salt and has safety benefits.

“They have found that liquid salt is a deterrent to accidents,” Jeary and others said.

The brine can be sprayed on roads before they become icy, and unlike rock salt, will not wash away as quickly, meaning drivers can stay safely on roads longer in a storm, he said.

One of the strongest driving forces behind the use of the sticky brine, however, is that it is cheaper than rock salt for the states, the TMC corrosion experts said.

“We enjoy clear roads, everybody, the general public and the transportation industry, but it’s at a cost,” said Todd Cotier, maintenance director for Hartt Transportation Systems, a truckload carrier in Bangor, Maine.

The cost is to trucks, to private vehicles and in some cases to infrastructure because the brine can corrode all of that, he said.

“What it comes down to is dollars,” said Jim LeClaire, an account executive with Webb Wheel Products Inc. in Tell City, Indiana.

LeClaire said state and municipal transportation officials need to sit down with the trucking industry and work on a solution to the corrosion problem.