Substance Used To Help Make Us Safe May Actually Be Putting Us In Danger

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When the snow starts to fall, we’re all relieved to see salt spreaders on the roads, keeping conditions safe for drivers. But what if that salt was actually creating different, potentially deadly conditions for motorists, and danger on the roads?

Imagine that was you behind the wheel, in a horrific spin on the ice. Most of the time, salting the roads prevents that type of terrifying situation.

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But now CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois has learned the same salt that can save lives on the road, is also putting lives at risk.  Drivers are unable to stop because salt has corroded their brake lines.

“This solution is the cutting edge technology on keeping roads clear of ice and snow,” AAA New York’s Robert Sinclair said. “There’s never been a more frightening situation in my driving experience.”

Sinclair knows firsthand how serious catastrophic brake failure can be.

“This woman ventured out into the street against the light and I went for my brakes and the pedal went to the floor,” Sinclair said.

Ironically, Sinclair works with the American Automobile Association. The problem, he said, is brake lines can crack from prolonged exposure to salt on the roads, and brake fluid will leak out.

“National Traffic Highway Safety Administration has an investigation going on into this phenomenon and with quite a few complaints, with 6 million or more,” Sinclair said.

Move Auto owner Michael Huffert showed CBS 2 what brake lines eaten away by salt look like.

“The lines, the original equipment steel brake lines in cars are made out of steel. The steel after a period of time will corrode,” Huffert said.

Huffert, who is also a mechanic, said he is seeing this problem more and more.

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“It’s become an industry joke. How many brake lines did you do this week?” he said.

Experts say the cars that are most vulnerable are those that have been on the road for four years or longer.

Panicked, Joseph Marra said he dropped his snow plow and that brought his truck to a stop.

“I stepped on the brake to slow down and the pedal went all the way to the floor and I had no brakes whatsoever,” Marra said. “I had no prior warning, no brake light went on.”

After that, he had new stainless steel brake lines installed at a cost of $1,300. Marra said he also bought himself peace of mind.

“My son drives this truck; my wife could be driving it. My daughter …,” he said.

There is no way to know there’s a problem until you actually lose your brakes, but you can prevent this from happening.  Experts say have a professional look at your lines closely during regular maintenance and inspections.

“I’ve been driving a long time and just to have your brakes completely fail like that, you’re helpless and you’re hopeless,” Sinclair said.

Experts also say it’s a good idea to wash down your car, including the undercarriage, after a storm to get rid of salt before it can accumulate.

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