Why does road salt cause cars to rust?

Road Salt

When water enters the picture by bringing more oxygen and carbon dioxide in contact with the metal, and in part by acting as an electrolyte – that is, an agent for electrolysis. However, pure water – straight H2O – doesn’t function well as an electrolyte; it just doesn’t have that many ions floating around to facilitate electrolysis What water really needs to get the iron oxide party started impurities with a few free-floating ions.
Enter road salt. Municipalities spread both salt and sand on the roads during the winter for different reasons: Sand provides traction, while salt both melts the ice and snow and prevents it from refreezing. Sodium chloride, the most common form of road salt, does so by dissolving into its parts – one atom of sodium for every atom of chlorine, or, actually, one ion of sodium and one ion of chloride. The free floating ions work to reduce the freezing point of water down to about 15 degrees So when road salt does its job, it’s introducing a lot of free floating ions into melting water on the road, just waiting for your tires to come along and kick up some ion-filled road spray into your wheel wells and other moisture-trapping crevices.
As a side note, sodium chloride isn’t the only road salt available, nor is it the most effective; it’s simply one of the cheapest. Other road salts, like calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, involve more complex molecules that distribute more ions when they dissolve in water, further lowering the freezing point of water. In turn, they’d also create more effective electrolytes and thus prove even more devastating to your vehicle’s sheet metal.

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