KING CITY, Ont. — No one in the trucking industry is fond of road salt or chemical de-icers applied to our highways in the winter, but most will accept they’re a necessary evil.
Their corrosive effects on vehicles are indisputable, but so too are the benefits to motorists, as chemical de-icers and road salt make otherwise treacherous roadways safe to travel. Paul Johnson, operations manager with the County of Wellington, sees it from both sides. Operating a fleet of 27 plow trucks, he’s responsible for distributing sand, salt and chemical de-icers during the winter while at the same time trying to protect the municipality’s equipment from its harmful effects.
He spec’s trucks with heavy gauge steel, stainless steel fasteners and hydraulic couplers. LED lamps are completely sealed, rims are aluminum or powder-coated and auto-greasing systems are installed. The trucks are doused with rust control products as soon as they arrive from the factory. Between storms, the trucks are frequently washed and bathed in a salt neutralizer.
Still, despite all the efforts, Johnson vehemently defends the use of road salt and chemical de-icers by municipalities. Speaking at the Transportation Maintenance and Technology Conference, Johnson said municipalities are legally bound to keep roads safe in the wintertime. A recent $1.6-million lawsuit against the County of Wellington served as a reminder of this obligation.
“We have a legal obligation to meet our level of service and if we don’t, we’re dealing with the consequences,” Johnson said.
Environment Canada, meanwhile, has pushed for the wider use of liquid de-icers because they’re less likely to leach into the soil alongside roadways. The County of Wellington, like most municipalities, uses an assortment of products depending on conditions. They include: conventional sand and salt, pre-wet sand and salt (which is wet just before application so it stays in place), and liquid de-icer (which is applied immediately before or during a storm).
Adding moisture to salt when it’s applied to the road makes it more effective by accelerating its performance and also assisting with penetration into ice and packed snow, Johnson explained.
And pre-wet salt keeps the product where it’s needed – on the road surface. Johnson said the “bounce and scatter” characteristics of traditional salt cause 15% to immediately bounce off the road surface into the ditch, with only 46% remaining in the centre of the road. By comparison, 78% of pre-wet salt stays in the centre of the road, with only 2% bouncing off the road.
The most effective way to keep roads clear, however, is by applying an anti-icing spray before the snow falls, or as it’s falling. The sprays prevent the snow and ice from bonding to the road surface in the first place.
Johnson said it costs 10 times more to de-ice a road than it does to apply anti-icing material beforehand. Another problem with conventional road salt is that it loses effectiveness the colder it gets. While most fleet operators accept the application of road salt and chemical de-icers as a necessary evil, it doesn’t make it any easier on equipment.
Eldon Gerber, trailer maintenance supervisor with Home Hardware in St. Jacob’s Ont., is one of many maintenance managers who’ve struggled to reduce its corrosive effects. He has learned a few tricks along the way.
Starting in the early 1990s, Gerber began galvanizing parts of the trailer including, door frames and eventually entire bogies.
“That has really turned out well,” he said. “We have no rust at all on our bogies anymore.”
That didn’t help prevent corrosion in the wheel-ends, however, and rustjacking of brake shoes remained a problem. Gerber began using brake turbines, which generated air flow, keeping the wheel ends cleaned out, but the supplier went out of business and they’re no longer available. But simply removing dust shields has proven to be equally effective, Gerber explained.
“With dust covers, you keep the dirt in the wheels and it stays there. The road salt and sand stays in there and chews everything up and that creates the rustjacking,” he said.
Over time, Gerber said Home Hardware has been gradually pulling dust covers off its trailer wheel-ends and it has greatly reduced rustjacking occurrences.
Perhaps Home Hardware’s biggest breakthrough was the purchase of a Hydro-Chem drive-through wash system that thoroughly cleans an entire tractor-trailer (including B-train configurations) in just minutes. During the wintertime, half a ton of sand is removed from trailer undercarriages each day, Gerber said. Home Hardware has run tractor-trailers through the wash more than 11,000 times now with an average cost of $5.31.
Paul Kirkup, national fleet manager with Krown Corp., said equipment corrosion is a $23-billion problem in the US. He urged fleets to be proactive, to wash and inspect vehicles regularly and to use treatments with rust-inhibiting properties. He suggested using products that aren’t WHMIS controlled so they’re safe to handle.
How much can a proactive corrosion prevention program save a fleet? Based on a US Department of National Defense case study, $6 was saved for every dollar spent on corrosion prevention.
“Prevention is better than correction in dollar values, time and efficiency,” Kirkup said.