A salty response.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1991

TOM: Today we thought we'd share with you some correspondence from our Hate Mail Division. A column we wrote some weeks ago concerning the excessive use of salt on snowy roads drew a derisive response from a high-level transportation engineer, whose name we're withholding to spare him the unnecessary public embarrassment normally associated with writing to us.

RAY: In our column, we suggested that there are less harmful alternatives to pouring salt all over the roads every time it snows.

TOM: And this guy, whose name is Wayne, basically wrote to tell us that we had our heads in the sand. He said that we didn't consider the costs involved. He said the use of the more environmentally acceptable deicing agent, calcium magnesium acetate, would cost more than 100 million dollars a year to use in the state of Missouri alone (where Wayne works). Salt, he says, costs 3.2 million dollars a year. Another alternative, calcium chloride, which now gets mixed with salt, costs 180 dollars a ton versus 20 dollars a ton for salt.

RAY: We had suggested that sand and cinders can also be traction-enhancing alternatives to salt. But Wayne argues that sand or cinders can't get rid of that thin layer of snow or ice that the plows can't quite get at. Additionally, he says that they can actually REDUCE traction when the roads are dry, and have to be swept off after each snowstorm.

TOM: Well, here's our response, Wayne: Bull Feathers! First of all, who says the roads have to be so clean? So we can continue to drive at 65 mph no matter what the weather? What ever happened to getting a good set of snow tires and slowing down?? What ever happened to learning how to drive in the snow? What ever happened to being late for work?

RAY: And sure, salt itself is cheap. So what? The real COSTS of salt aren't low. When you say salt costs 20 dollars a ton, did you add in the cost of the CARS that salt rots away? Did you add in the cost of the BRIDGES that salt rots away? As Chief Engineer of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department, Wayne, I'm sure you know what salt does to ROADS and ASPHALT. What about the DRINKING WATER that salt contaminates? Not to mention the high blood pressure it causes!

TOM: Studies have concluded that the actual COST of salt (when you factor in all the damage it does) can be as much as 1000 dollars a ton, not 20 dollars a ton. Still sound cheap to you?

RAY: So come on, Wayne, jump on the sand-wagon with us. Look, we know guys like you are working within very limited budgets. And we know you and are doing your level best to protect the lives of people who have to use the roads in bad weather. But if you and more people in your position would fight for the use of alternatives to salt, maybe the price would come down, or maybe scientists would come up with some better cost effective solutions.

TOM: Think about it, Wayne. And thanks for writing. And by the way, are you related to the Muri family of Salt Lake City?

Get the Car Talk Newsletter