When a hurricane crashes ashore, valuable possessions are sometimes left submerged in salt water. In the case of late-model and new cars, most will end up being totaled and broken for parts or crushed.
However, with classic cars there’s a much greater incentive to save them, often due to the car’s incalculable sentimental value. The biggest threat, though, is the salt water in which they were immersed. It gets everywhere and corrosion starts immediately.
It’s crucial to remove the salt as quickly as possible, says master detailer Tim McNair of Grand Prix Concours Preparation. Any car that’s been fully soaked in salt water needs to be rinsed thoroughly. Hosing it down with large amounts of fresh water is a great start. And washing with a good quality car wash soap is also a big help. But if you really want to prevent your classic from rusting, you need to neutralize that salt.
Both McNair and Mark Greene, president of Griot’s Garage, recommend using baking soda dissolved in water to neutralize salt. When dry, baking soda is very abrasive and is sometimes used as a blast medium to strip off finishes without harming what’s underneath. However, when a small amount is dissolved in water, and used to gently hand wash the undercarriage, or even interior panels, the film and the corrosive effects of salt can be wiped away.
McNair suggests as little as “a tablespoon or two” in a gallon of water, while depending on what you’re washing, Greene suggests as much as a cup. The finer the finish, though, the smaller the amount. As Greene explains: “Fully dissolved and if one works slowly and carefully, baking soda should do no harm to paint. You don’t want to rub hard. As with any cleaners, test an area first, be careful and methodical. Rinse well and following up with a good Car Wash.”
McNair advises getting in around the areas you might not normally wash: “Put the car on jack stands and wash the wheels, frame rails, rocker panels, then rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Use a pressure washer if you have one; they work best to remove debris and also use less water than a regular hose.”
Don’t forget the dry job. “Dry everything completely,” advises McNair. “Use a blower – a leaf blower or one made specifically for cars – so you can try to get into every nook and cranny.”
You can also use WD40 liberally on non-painted surfaces. “WD40 is a water displacer, so it will push any water away from wherever it is sprayed,” says McNair. After the exterior is completely dry, use a simple cleaner wax.
Even with a tremendous amount of time and effort, you likely won’t be able to get into every little crevice. However, the more you can do to stop salt in its tracks the longer your car will last.