EAGLE COUNTY Brad Fanger constantly washes magnesium chloride what he sometimes calls a thick "espresso mix" from his vans.He runs the taxi service Vail Coach and winter storms mean three to five washes per day to stop corrosion and keep the vans looking good, Fanger said."Obviously mag chloride is not a pretty thing," Fanger said. "I can tell you I've been in the transportation business a long while and I can tell you it eats brakes."The Colorado Department of Transportation spreads magnesium chloride a salt compound on state roads such as Interstate 70 to melt ice and snow. Some mechanics and others say the substance corrodes vehicle components, making them unsafe.Dr. Jacob Stiglich, a Breckenridge-based corrosion consultant for several industries, said mag chloride is both good and bad. The substance melts snow and ice effectively, but an added adhesive makes the mag chloride stick to the road and also cars, he said."That's where the danger comes in," Stiglich said.The adhesive makes mag chloride difficult to remove from a vehicle. The only way to eliminate the substance is a thorough cleaning with a pressure washer, which Stiglich said he has done every two months at a detail shop. Otherwise, the substance begins to corrode components essential to safe operation of vehicles, such as brakes, he said."If we spend the extra time and money ... then you have prevented your corrosion problems," Stiglich said. "The bottom line is you just can't drive your automobile the way you used to."
The result of mag chloride and failing to remove it from vehicles might result in serious accidents involving cars or even school buses, Stiglich said.Soap and hot waterThe Colorado Department of Transportation buys mag chloride from EnviroTech Services, a Greeley-based company. There are no bonding agents in EnviroTech's mag chloride and hot water or soap usually remove the substance from vehicles, said Steve Bytnar, research director for EnviroTech.The state requires mag chloride be 70 percent less corrosive than rock salt, Bytnar said. The effect mag chloride has on vehicles depends on the composition of metal parts - and anything metal is susceptible to corrosion, Bytnar said.George Brodin, who owns Leadfoot Linda's Ethics Automotive in Eagle-Vail, said mag chloride is corroding rubber car parts faster than in the past, he said."We see the windshield wipers lasting half as long as they used to," he said. "We see all kinds of corrosion underneath the car."Electrical components, covered in plastic, often corrode and trip check engine lights. Brodin then has to check the electrical system to determine what's going on. If the plastic wire covers are gone, Brodin sprays a sealer on the wires to prevent further electrical problems.
The Colorado Department of Transportation hasn't found mag chloride corrosive to rubber and plastic, although it can ruin chrome trim, department spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said.Beyond rubber and plastic parts, the mag chloride rusts wheels and hubs together, Brodin said."It takes a hammer to get the wheel off the hub," he said.However, the tradeoff for clear and safe roads is more than fair, Brodin said."I'm sure it's saved lives," he said. "In this regard it is a good trade off."Gary Bergman used to collect various car parts damaged by mag chloride for demonstration. He owns vehicle repair shops in Eagle-Vail and Frisco, where he has monitored the effect of the substance on cars. A year after the Department of Transportation applied mag chloride to roadways, Bergman said he saw rubber components disintegrating, brakes rusting and other effects.The most common brake corrosion occurs on passenger-side brakes, where the tires hit pools of mag chloride along the right side of roads, Bergman said. Bergman said he hardly ever fixes brake rotors by grinding anymore, because the mag chloride so effectively rusts them.
Leave the snowBergman and Brodin have different solutions. Brodin says people should clean their cars frequently, especially the undercarriage.If the long lines at area car washes following snowstorms is any indication, people are doing just that. People do wash their cars more often in the winter, said The Spa Car Wash manager Chris Dudar."It's more compelling - there's a lot more stuff on the roads," Dudar said.But like Stiglich, Bergman said mag chloride sticks to vehicles and water reactivates its corrosive qualities."You can't wash it off because it has a bonding agent so it sticks to the road," he said.Instead, Bergman recommends the state do as Finland does and leave the snow, sprinkle cinder on top and make people use snow tires."If they left the snow on the roads people would slow down," Bergman said.