Two columnists posted opinions about road salt rust on the very same day Sunday, arguing for and against going to the car wash in the middle of winter. Granted, these were not New York Times op-eds. One appeared on out of Pennsylvania, the other in a Baltimore community blog, But they represent two clashing schools of thought on how consumers can get the best value for their maintenance this time of year.

In the Pennsylvania piece, the author, Jennifer Miller, writes that “without regular washes through the winter, salt used to melt icy roadways can get caught underneath your vehicle and rust away joints and other parts.” This is generally the argument of the car wash industry. And it’s why winter is perhaps the most profitable time of year for many northern car wash businesses.

“By far, salt is the biggest car culprit — it can attack even the toughest paints and finishes if not washed off consistently,”  Mark Thorsby, executive director of the International Carwash Association, told Route 41 Car Wash. “Nearly $24 billion a year is spent battling automobile corrosion damage. This winter, getting your car washed at least once or twice a month — or more if you see or feel build-up — is essential to protect your investment.”

It’s the combination of sticky sand and salt that causes water to cling to the metal on your car rather than quickly drying. The oxygen in the water causes the rust. Even, a private organization, encourages drivers to get their cars professionally washed as often as possible (they also say don’t blame the salt; it’s the only way to keep the roads safe). Route 41 also suggests detailing the car to restore it to “showroom quality, or very close to it.”

On the other hand, columnist David Maril in Baltimore says trying to keep the salt off is “an effort in futility.” He says that’s particularly true in Maryland where snowstorms are likely to coat the roads and call in the salt trucks just days or even hours after motorists pay for a cleaning. (As an Ohioan speaking for the Midwest, that’s definitely true across the Great Lakes region, too.) He writes of his own strategy:

The trick — and car wash owners don’t want to hear this — is to wait until the threat of snow has severely diminished and salt on roads and parking lots has disappeared. Then, and only then, is it practical to pay for a deluxe car wash. Usually the middle of March is a safe time.

Whatever you believe, there’s something we can all agree on. Cars covered in salt look ugly.

Which is probably why these guys in Allentown, Pa., were digging out this morning:

UPDATE: From the Kuhnsville Car Wash…