NHTSA Warns About Risk of Brake Line Failures Due to Corrosion from Winter Salt

Government highway safety officials are warning drivers of older vehicles about the risk that coated steel brake pipes may corrode and fail due to winter salt use. The warning came after a four-year review of potential problems with General Motors trucks and SUVs. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a brake pipe failure safety advisory on April 9, directed at owners of model year 2007 or older vehicles. The agency indicates that if brake pipe corrosion is not addressed, there is a risk of brake pipe failure, which may result in an accident.

The warning comes in conjunction with the closing of an investigation into brake-line failures in certain General Motors trucks and SUV’s built in model years 1999 to 2003. The advisory covers all vehicle makes and models before 2007, not just GM vehicles.

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The NHTSA indicates that brake pipe corrosion can occur after seven to eight years after exposure to winter road salts. Older vehicles driven in harsh winter conditions may be more susceptible problems than the modern day plastic coated pipes.

As a result of the agency’s investigation of nearly 2,000 General Motors vehicles, the NHTSA found that all older model trucks and SUV’s driven in harsh conditions may experience corrosion issues, especially in states using salt to de-ice roads in the winter. The majority of the corrosion was found in trucks and SUV’s, because they are typically the vehicle of choice for those who choose to drive in snowy conditions when salt and chemicals are spread to de-ice the road.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind stated in the advisory that there is a significant safety issue at hand with the older model vehicles containing steel coated brake pipes. He said that over time the vehicles subjected to harsh winter conditions will most certainly corrode and carry an increased risk of brake failure.

The GM investigation identified that since the older models brake line pipes are made of steel, corrosion is inevitable due to the nature of the material when exposed to salt and de-icing chemicals.

“While NHTSA can’t order a recall in this case, there is a safety issue that vehicle owners should address,” Rosekind said in a press release. “Older-model vehicles, often driven in harsh conditions, are subject to corrosion over long periods of time, and we need owners to be vigilant about ensuring they, their passengers, and others on the roads are safe.”

Beginning in the late 1990’s, automobile manufacturers transitioned from steel coated brake pipes to a plastic coating to prevent the possibility of corrosion and accidents occurring from brake failure. However, not all manufacturers made this switch, and the agency is anticipating a seven year exposure timeframe before the pipes could be susceptible to failure.

The NHTSA’s advisory warns owners with vehicles over seven years old to thoroughly wash and clean the undercarriage of your vehicle to remove salt and de-icing chemicals. The NHTSA recommends washing the undercarriage of the vehicle during times of exposure and at the end of the winter season. The agency also suggests owners monitor their brake systems, including brake pipes, and other undercarriage components to look for signs of corrosion or cracking. The entire brake pipe should be replaced at signs of flaking and cracking, NHTSA experts warn.

Owners of older model vehicles are being strongly encouraged to follow these recommendations and to have vehicles inspected by a dealer if the owner is not capable of performing the check on their own.

Rosekind adds that being vigilant and proactive about the possible brake pipe corrosion could potentially save the lives of passengers and other drivers on the road. For additional information about the advisory or to report a defect please contact the NHTSA Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9153.


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