So I’m walking around the other day in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, and I ran across this Jeep Grand Cherokee: the single rustiest vehicle I’ve ever seen in my entire life, possibly excepting automobiles that were parked in a field in approximately 1924.
My first thought was: I cannot believe this thing is still on the road. My second thought was: I wonder where it came from.
Although people from the southern and western U.S. like to think of the Northeast as the coldest, snowiest, most inhospitable place on earth, winters are pretty mild in Washington, D.C. In fact, here in Philadelphia — which is about two hours above D.C. — we only got snow three times last year, and it only really stuck to the ground once. In the part of Philadelphia where I live, they never salted the roads the entire winter. So our winters are reasonably mild, which means I knew this Jeep didn’t come from anywhere around here.
And so, because I couldn’t let curiosity win, I had to do it: I ran a Carfax report on the Jeep, and I discovered that it moved to D.C. just last year after spending the first 18 years of its life in Rochester, New York — which is one of the single most inhospitable automotive climates in all of North America.
The reason for this is, of course, the road salt — and if you know what to look for, you know where it’ll be a problem. You see, over the last few years, I’ve become pretty good at figuring out where cars will be rusty and where they won’t — and what I’ve discovered is that there are two things you’ll want to check before purchasing a car from the north. Namely, the average high temperature in January and the average amount of annual snowfall.
Here’s what I mean: Cars generally aren’t rusty here in Philadelphia. That’s because our average annual snowfall is only 22 inches, and our average January high temperature is 40 degrees. Although 22 inches seems like a lot to people in warmer places, it’s nothing compared to most snowy cities — and the 40-degree high temperature means our snow melts without a lot of road salt.
It’s the same deal in Denver. Cars are famously rust-free from Colorado, despite all the snow — and that’s because, in spite of Denver’s 54 inches of annual snow, the average January high is 45 degrees — enough to melt all but the biggest snowfalls and enough to ensure they don’t have to dump too much salt on the roads.
And then there’s Rochester.
Rochester’s average January high temperature is a mere 32 degrees, which means the snow never melts. And its average annual snowfall is 99.5 inches. Think about that: It snows, on average, more than eight feet a year, every year, in Rochester. Nearly twice the snowfall total of Denver. Rochester gets more than four times as much snow as Philadelphia, which is not known for its balmy winters. And since Rochester only really gets up to 32 in January, there’s no way to clear the snow without resorting to lots of salt — and you can see the effects of that on the Jeep pictured above.
So here’s my conclusion from all of this: If you’re ever looking at a car from the extreme north, you should do two things. Number one is check out the average January high temperature and the average annual snowfall of the area where the car has spent most of its life — it’s usually listed on Wikipedia. If an area gets a lot of snow and it doesn’t get warm enough in January to melt it, expect that area to use a lot of road salt — and, thus, expect the cars to have a lot of rust.
If you’re still interested in the car in spite of its location, be sure to check it thoroughly before you buy it — or else you might end up pictured at the top of one of my articles, shown because your car is probably only weeks from splitting in half. Find a used car for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.