Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed how multiple natural elements impact the quality of your paint. From bird droppings to bug splatters, and everything in between, there are several earthly materials that can cause havoc on paint or lead to corrosion. Near the top of Mother Nature’s automotive shit list is salt air.

Salt air?!?

It shouldn’t be a shock that salt air is on our radar as possible paint corrosion suspects. Many car owners who live on the coast can attest to this, as they’ve seen salt air turn their reliable rides into rust-buckets. However, salt air alone is not always the culprit. In most cases, it’s the sodium chloride infused air along with the water that splashes on the vehicle, starting the corrosion process.

So, let’s talk about how salt air on coastal climates can destroy your car if it’s not protected. We’ll explain the ins and outs of salt, why it’s a car killer, and what you can do to protect the vehicle from exposure.

How Salt Air Can Damage Your Car

If you read our article last week on corrosion, you’ll remember that there are three parts to creating rust. You need an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte. Salt is a potent electrolyte that is typically the main ingredient in sports drinks to rehydrate your body. However, it’s the ‘vehicle’ that allows electrons to transfer ions between metals to expedite the corrosion process.

While the electrolyte for corrosion usually takes the form of water (or what I call the Zan-effect – points to you if you get it), it can accomplish a similar job through water-rich air (or humidity). When you add salt air (which contains microscopic levels of sodium chloride) to humid air, it can serve as the electrolyte to spread those electrons and activate corrosion.

This issue tends to be accelerated when you add heat to the equation, which is why areas like Florida, The Carolinas, and those near the Gulf of Mexico, are more prone to salt air corrosion.

Why Does Saltwater or Sea Air Create Rust on Cars?

Expert breaks down the damaging effects salt water can have on your vehicle

We talked about this earlier, but it’s important to get a bit more scientific to help explain in detail. Rust occurs when bare metal is exposed to water or substances that act as an electrolyte.

Rust only requires a cathode, anode, and electrolytes to develop – which all three are found on cars, trucks, and other automotive equipment – along with the daily environment.

When there is excessive humidity, the moisture in the air is enough to provide the electrolyte component – which is why cars in high-humid climates or those near coastal communities with excessive salt levels in the air, tend to rust.  

Is there Anyways to Prevent Rust in Coastal Communities?

Cars, trucks, and SUVs made today are much different than in years past. Today, automotive manufacturers have gone further to develop materials and processes that are less susceptible to corrosion. A few techniques used by manufacturers include:

Rust protection in paint and primer: For vehicles that are still made from steel and iron components, manufacturers add synthetic ingredients in the primers and paints they use. This helps to block corrosion from developing. However, if the paint is scratched to the bare metal, corrosion can quickly occur.

Car Parts Made from Polycarbonate or Plastic Materials: Many car parts are made from hard plastics or polycarbonate materials. Since none of these materials are capable of being the cathode or anode – rust is eliminated.

Adding Protective Undercoating Products: Most salt corrosion in coastal areas occurs underneath the vehicle. To prevent this, many dealerships offer a spray undercoating, which protects these vulnerable materials.

How Can You Reduce Rust in Coastal Communities?

In the information above, we’ve pretty much explained that the combination of bare metal, water and salt is the hive of activity that causes corrosion and then rust. That being said, there are three general steps you can take to protect your vehicle from corrosion in coastal areas.

First – Cover Any Bare Metal Spots with Clear Coat

The first, and probably easiest way to protect your car from exposure from sea air it to ensure any bare metal or exposed base paint is protected with a clear coating. It’s quite common for the first layer of protection – the clear coat to wear thin, due to exposure to UV rays, and continual humid sea air settling on the paint surface.

If there are bare spots or indications that the clear coating is peeling or damaged, you should start by completing some paint correction, to prep for applying the clear coating.

Here is a great video that shows how to fix peeled clear coating with some simple tools and a 2X clear coat.

How to Repair Clear Coat Fix 100% all types

Second – Remove the Salt Frequently by Washing Your Car

To avoid the potential of rust developing on your car or your clear coat is damaged, wash your car every week in coastal communities. While it’s always best to use the two-bucket car washing method, the key is to get that corroding salt off the vehicle as soon as possible.

Third – Protect Your Paint with a Ceramic Coating

Armor Shield IX ‑ The Ultimate DIY Kit

While washing your car and adding a clear coat to bare areas will help, blocking damaging salt air, UV rays, and other materials from penetrating the surface are the most logical solution. A ceramic coating uses nanotechnology to fill microscopic peaks and valleys found on porous materials like clear coats, glass, plastic trim, or bare metals.

This creates an invisible shield of protection that reduces the potential of scratching and blocks water or oxygen from penetrating to the bare metal surface. Since those two items are the root source of corrosion and rust – a ceramic coating property applied and maintained can significantly reduce the development and creation of rust.

How Does a Ceramic Coating Work to Reduce Rust?

A ceramic coating is a highly-concentrated liquid polymer that is primarily formulated with liquid Quartz (or SiO2 – silica dioxide). When the coating is applied, it seeps into the clear coat or the porous surface and then creates an exceptionally flat and superhydrophobic surface.

The coating then cures, creating a semi-permanent and extremely strong layer of protection that blocks UV rays from penetrating to the clear coat and most importantly, the paint surface itself. It’s completely transparent, so it amplifies the natural color brilliance of your automotive paint.

Is ceramic coating snake oil?

Since the ceramic coating particles are so small, when applied to a surface, they seal all the pores making the surface hydrophobic (water-repellent), but also resistant to UV, scratches, chemicals, extreme heat and even anti-graffiti.

Ceramic coatings like Armor Shield IX deliver multiple benefits beyond helping to block the contaminants that lead to corrosion.

First, it deflects UV rays. This prohibits UV radiation from penetrating the paint molecules, and thus reducing the potential of molecular breakdown, oxidation, rock chips, blocking road salt, oil and gas, and the other contributing factors that leads to paint damage.


Second, it is an exceptionally strong layer of glass – which naturally amplifies the brilliance of paint underneath and provides a hardness that is hard to compare. This helps the vehicle maintain a shiny and high gloss finish while providing resistance to sea air and water.  

Third, ceramic coatings, when applied correctly, and after completing some paint correction or prep work, will protect a vehicle’s surfaces from 2 to 5 years. It also resists dirt and grime with a superior gloss like the highest wax or sealant products.

Wrapping it Up

Living in a coastal region is amazing. As a kid who was born in a city called Oceanside, I understand all too well how salt water and sea air can cause a lot of problems with automotive paint.

However, the main way to reduce the potential of exposure to these harmful elements follows a simple three-step process – wash your vehicle, protect it with either car wax, paint sealants, or ceramic coatings, and continue to wash the vehicle to maintain those coatings.

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