Cars coming from the ‘salt belt’ cause expensive repairs for drivers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There are cars that can look great outside but be riddled with problems when you look closer.

Some are sold mostly at dealerships and can sometimes have key parts that may be ready to corrode or fall apart.

Despite last winter’s record snowfall in Memphis, there is not a great need for salt on Memphis roads.

However, it is common in many places.

The salt over time can cause damage to critical parts of the vehicle’s undercarriage.

As a result of the low supply of vehicles to sell, spurred by the pandemic, some of the rusted vehicles are finding their way to the Mid-South.

It’s an issue that, if not properly checked, could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in problems.

At Steve’s Tire and Auto in East Memphis, service advisor Brian Murphree was putting a minivan on the lift during an October morning.

As part of his job, he was examining the car for rust to critical parts.

“The calipers will get real rusty,” he said.

Murphree said he “typically” sees one or two cars that are rusted or corroded each week.

“Sometimes we’re scared to actually lift one up when we see it that bad because you don’t know if the lift is going to go through the body of the car,” he said.

Tens of thousands of rusted cars exist, perhaps, on roads across the nation, according to experts. They come from a collection of 27 mostly Midwestern and northeastern states, known as the “salt belt,” where roads are heavily salted to control snow and ice, causing dangerous corrosion.

“Those cars move from the salt belt states to other states that don’t use that mixture like Tennessee and can cause serious safety issues for those consumers if they’re unaware,” said Carfax spokesman Christopher Basso.

Data given to FOX13 Investigates by Carfax, pulled from more than 120,000 sources, shows, as of Aug. 10, 37.5% of available cars for sale in Tennessee come from salt belt states.

For Arkansas, 25.91% of cars on sale on dealership lots are from salt belt states.

For Mississippi, 21.88% of cars on sale on dealership lots are from salt belt states.

The CarFax data showed the cars in each of the three states came mostly from Michigan, New York, Missouri and Virginia.

The rust “runs out some of those key parts of the vehicle, the brakes, the suspension, the exhaust,” Basso said, adding that “dealers and private sellers may or may not be aware.”

He advised consumers utilize his company’s service.

“Checking the vehicle history through a company like Carfax is so valuable so you can understand where those vehicles originated from,” he said.

Murphree agreed and said an inspection would be helpful “in order to catch what you may not see.”

“I have seen, here lately, cars that come in for inspections that customers are potentially going to buy from a dealership or an individual, and they have painted some of the underlining of it trying to hide some of that rust,” he said.

One key thing is that, generally, you are more likely to see corrosion or rust in older cars from salt belt states.

As a final line of defense, you can pull a report from CarFax, or other sites, like Autocheck or Autofax, for a fee. They may even tell you if the car has flood damage or if it has been in a flooded region, like one hit by a hurricane.