From Salt Belt states to Sunshine State: How corroded cars are ending up on Florida roads

Nearly a quarter of the used cars for sale on Florida lots came from states where a destructive mixture of snow, ice and salt hit the roads every year. Carfax calls the set of 27 states the Salt Belt. Places like Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York use the salt to melt icy roadways, but that salt can also cause major damage to cars.

If you’re buying one and don’t know what to look for, the repairs could snowball.

Take this car, for example: a 2016 Ford Escape with only 34 thousand miles on it. Not a scratch on it, but don’t be fooled. “This one’s pretty bad,” says Matt Norris, the Service Manager at Bozard Ford. He’s responsible for making sure cars like this one never make it onto the lot, because beneath the SUV, he says, it is a disaster. It’s because of corrosion caused by salt. Norris says the damage builds up over time. If the car isn’t taken care of, the rust eats away at the undercarriage, making for major problems down the road.

“As you look at these components here,” says Norris, “you can see that the shock housing is literally coming apart.” So the car will go to auction. But in other places, not every car gets such a thorough inspection before it goes up for sale.

Christopher Basso with Carfax says, “the lesson with these salt belt cars is to know what you’re buying.” Carfax helps track car histories, and thanks to the market demand right now, says dealers have to go far and wide just to get inventory.

So, he says, “the chances of you getting a car from another area, a state like new York or Michigan, are increasing, given the shortage of used cars that are on the market.”So we got the numbers. They take Carfax information from 123,000 sources and cross-reference it with cars on lots in Florida and Georgia.

Almost one in five cars in Florida and one in four in Georgia come from Salt Belt states. Most of them come from New York, New Jersey and Michigan.

That’s why Jeff King, the Vice President of Bozard Ford says, “you have to inspect every car.” He says picking and choosing cars is a careful process, and “just because a car comes from a northern state, doesn’t mean it’s a bad car. You have to inspect each individual car on its own and make your decision.”

That requires more than popping the hood and kicking the tires. Take the car for a thorough test drive, get it inspected by a mechanic, and know where it comes from. Getting a Carfax report shows the car history, including the location of its past lives.

A Carfax report is $39.99 and an inspection runs about $50. But car experts say those are small prices to pay compared to what a poorly maintained Salt Belt car could cost you.

For Florida, 19.8% of cars for sale (as of July 30, 2021) at dealerships are from the Salt Belt. The top Salt Belt states where previously registered cars are for sale in Florida are:

NY 8,071

NJ 4,821

MI 4,802

PA 4,229

OH 3,876

VA 3,283

IL 2,767

MA 2,111

MD 2,001

For Georgia, 26.1% of cars for sale were previously registered in Salt Belt states. The top contributing Sale Belt states where cars were previously registered are:

NY 4,917

NJ 3,343

MI 3,290

PA 2,714

OH 2,711

VA 2,634

IL 1,549

MD 1,448

IN 1,150