Held in place by rivets, this shoe cracked under the jacking force of rust buildup. Photo: Technology Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association

A few years ago, a fleet manager in Colorado confronted a county highway department official about the chemicals damaging his trucks and was told it was more important to control snow and ice effectively and to save the county money. Last November, that same highway department official approached the fleet manager—a TMC member—to learn how fleets are controlling corrosion. Seems that over the years, rust build-up and corrosion had attacked his department's trucks.

Preventive Measures

There are ways to prevent excessive rust damage short of refusing to drive north of Interstate 10.

  • Keep vehicles and equipment clean, especially after driving through brine sprays. You can tell if you've encountered deicing chemicals by the pervasive film on your windshield, lights, and reflectors. Most washer fluid isn't strong enough to dissolve it, and when it builds up on head-lamps, their range is shortened. Pressure washing, especially the undercarriage and beneath the truck, cuts through the buildup and removes the chemicals to prevent much of the damage.

  • Buy quality replacement parts. Truck It's Gambrell used to buy reconditioned brake shoe assemblies with new linings. Many weren't properly re-coined and didn't have the right contour. Many weren't properly painted. They were far less corrosion-resistant than original equipment.

  • Inspect components and assemblies for rust on a regular basis. If there is rust, take them down to bare metal; then prime and paint thoroughly. Be sure there are no bubbles or missed spots. Clean wheels, tanks, hangers, and anything else. Then give them a protective coat of wax. If you operate in the snow belt, buy stainless steel whenever possible.

  • Be very careful using fasteners. Attach steel parts with plated steel bolts and nuts (using the proper grade) and non-ferrous parts with stainless steel. The fasteners may cost a bit more, but they'll prevent electrolytic corrosion of aluminum parts.

  • Left unchecked, steel wheels can rust through at the bolt holes. Aluminum wheels will develop a mottled and stained surface. Engine coolant pipes can rust through. Radiator cores can corrode and leak. Equipment mounts are especially susceptible. No part is immune.

  • TMC and the Society of Automotive Engineers have initiated discussions with national highway engineering groups to reduce the use of aggressive deicing chemicals, but that process may take years. Meanwhile, do what you can to protect your trucks even as they're out there in the field.
Spotlight on vocational trucks

The Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) recently formed a study group for vocational trucks. Anyone responsible for specifying, operating, and maintaining trucks of all types will benefit from TMC membership by being among the first to become aware of problems and their solutions. For more information, call 703-838-1763, visit, or e-mail Paul Abelson at

— Paul Abelson ( is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers.