The long winter in Maine has its cost. We talk a lot about heating and keeping our homes warm. We also get around pretty well during the winter in Maine. People from the south always are impressed by how well our road crews keep the roads passable. The Maine Department of Transportation and the local town crews can, in one day, clear the roads and keep us moving and viable economically in weather that would shut down a Southern state for a week.
Keeping vehicles going in Maine is another matter. Last week my pickup truck decided to start acting up on the way to pick up some building materials. It started missing and then died just as I got it off the road.
A tow truck took it to Red’s, and Red confirmed my thought that it was the fuel pump.
Today Red got to it and called me. Red usually never calls me unless it is something that is not good. Today he did not break his streak.
He said, “You know your frame is not that good.” He was talking about my truck. It was on the lift, so I went right over. Anytime you can check out your car or truck on a lift can be a fun time. Not today, though.
The frame is rusting away. So are the brake lines. The gas line looks great since that was just replaced.
They were OK last year — all of them.
Red made the comment that my other mechanic friend Bob echoes anytime we talk cars: It’s the stuff they put on the roads.
You probably have heard this before, but it bears repeating — we are using materials that are more aggressive toward our vehicles than in the past.
I believe it is the brine that is sprayed on the roads before the storms. Although it does help clear the roads faster, it seems to make a lot more work for mechanics.
This would seem to be a boon for mechanics, except that it is a real pain to work on rusty cars. And cars are getting rustier than they were several years ago.
The DOT denies this issue religiously, with a piety that seems very sincere. But mechanics all over this state are claiming that they are seeing more rusted underpinnings on cars than ever before. This is at a time when car manufacturers have the science down better then ever to help keep cars together longer.
So what gives? I consulted a friend who is a retired metallurgy professor from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He knows corrosion. Guess what he says.
It’s what we are putting on the roads.
He goes further and tells me that this same material is attacking the rebar in our infrastructure, bridges and roadways and causing premature failure. One only has to look around Bangor to see that.
Oh, and a lot of trees that seem to be dying by the sides of the roads in Bangor apparently are dying from salt spray, not exhaust; a friend at the Department of Environmental Protection shared that with me.
So what is the solution? Well, Robert, my metallurgist friend, suggests that in some states in the Midwest they use urea on the roads. Urea breaks down without attacking vehicle frames. It is also a fertilizer when it breaks down. There can be an ammonia scent to it at times. Nothing is perfect, I guess.
It is more expensive, and I am sure there might be other tradeoffs. But think of the repair costs we are incurring annually because of rusty brake lines and gas lines. If we multiply that cost times all the cars in Maine, we are talking some serious numbers.
I will be visiting my friendly body shop next to see if we can repair this frame damage. The truck is a 1999 vehicle and I guess one could think that it is time to put a 10-year-old vehicle out to pasture.
It seems a little numb to allow this to happen.
My metallurgist friend has the perfect solution. He refuses to expose his cars to what we put on the roads in the winter — he spends winter with his son in California.
Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.