Don't let your car look like this. (Pixabay)

Don’t let your car look like this. (Pixabay)

Thousands of complaints poured in to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about rusting on brake fluid lines, causing them to fail. The NHTSA launched a five-year investigation focusing on 5 million GM-made vehicles.

On Wednesday, the safety agency released its findings: The cars are fine, it’s the road salt that’s the problem.

According to a report in the Associated Press:

If you live where salt is used to clear the roads of snow and ice, U.S. safety regulators have a message for you: Wash the underside of your car.

The message came Wednesday from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which closed a five-year investigation into rusting pipes that carry brake fluid in about 5 million older Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC pickups and SUVs, without seeking a recall.

Instead, the agency blamed the problem on rust caused by road salt and a lack of washing. It determined that it was not the result of a manufacturing or design defect.

In other words, if you live in snowy states and you value your life, you have two options: Move to Florida or start regularly washing the underside of your car.

For car wash businesses, this only opens up new avenues for marketing. Now, instead of saying, “You should bring your car into our car wash during the winter because it keeps your car from rusting,” you can say, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drivers should regularly wash their cars or risk life-threatening corrosion.” …Or something a little less dramatic to that effect.

Here are the other relevant portions of the AP story:

The agency urged people in 20 cold-weather states and Washington, D.C., to get their car and truck undercarriages washed several times during and after the winter, and to get their brake lines inspected for rust and replace them if necessary. The warning underscores the importance of washing highly corrosive salt from beneath a car because over time, it can cause suspension parts, the frame, or other components to corrode and fail.

NHTSA’s finding that the GM trucks weren’t defective came even though it received 3,645 complaints of brake pipe rust in the General Motors vehicles from the 1999 to 2007 model years, including 107 crash reports and 40 reports of injuries. Seventy-five percent of the complaints came from trucks in the first four model years covered by the investigation, 1999-2003, the agency said.

Investigators checked similar vehicles in Pennsylvania, surveyed owners in Ohio, and did random checks in other salt-belt states to determine that the same problem exists in just about every other vehicle from the same era because brake lines were all made of the same steel materials with aluminum coatings. The industry gradually switched to nylon or plastic-coated steel lines in the mid-2000s, NHTSA said.

The investigation started after NHTSA received a complaint from a Middletown, Ohio, man in March 2010, who said the pipes that carry brake fluid on his 2003 Chevy Silverado rusted and leaked, causing a sudden reduction in braking power.