How to Protect a Car Living at the Beach

Nothing can be worse than the effects of salt and sand on your vehicle if you live at the beach full time or even part-time. Salt exposure is generally pretty noticeable within 20 miles or less from the ocean itself, and even more noticeable 5 miles or less away.

As illustrated below, the effects of salt air can be measured even further inland than you might expect. Imagine what it can do to your car!

salt effects inland United States 2015

Image Courtesy of National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP).

While proximity to the ocean does play a role in aging a vehicle, protecting it from salt and sand plays a huge role in protecting it as well. This includes both exterior and interior protection.

The exterior obviously will have the most visible impact, but there are some ways you can protect the interior from the effects of salt or sand.

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about protecting a vehicle when living near the beach–and why you should!

How to protect your car from salt air and water

The best way to protect a car from salt air or water is to have it regularly washed, waxed (or sealed), and garaged. Exposing a vehicle’s clear coat and frame to the salt air and coastal elements can take its toll over time, especially around areas like door jambs.

At a minimum, it’s best to routinely wash the body and undercarriage, and either wax or seal the clear coat.

Keep in mind, that how you protect your car matters more than anything when it comes to how quickly oxidation and rusting caused by salt and sand can begin to do damage.

An always-garaged car that also is routinely washed and waxed will fair much better at the coast than one that sits exposed all day and is only washed occasionally.

The truth of the matter is that there really is no foolproof way to ensure your car will be completely protected against the elements if you live at the coast–eventually, mother nature will begin to rust things with time.

For new cars, that could be in 15 years as opposed to 6 or 7 depending on how you take care of things.

With that said, it’s important to know that a combination of strategies like keeping your car washed AND waxed regularly plus garaging is better than one or the other…or worse–neither.

6 tips for protecting your car at the beach

Even though rusting and pitting happens much earlier when living near coastal areas, there are some things you can do to stay proactive. Here are 5 best practices to keep in mind.

Add a layer of protection

One of the most practical and effective things to do to avoid corrosion caused by saltwater or air is to apply a layer of car wax in either paste or liquid form, depending on your preference. I prefer Meguiar’s Gold Class for pastes, but there are a bunch of good options.

You may also choose to apply a man-made sealant (containing polymers and resins) that typically will last a bit longer.

While many people prefer paste waxes, synthetics do tend to last a bit longer. It really depends on personal preference. If you desire more permanent protection from salt or sand, consider a more permanent solution like a clear vehicle wrap if you have the budget for it.

At the end of the day, you’re simply protecting the finish of your vehicle, just not the undercarriage.

Garage or cover your car if not infrequent use

Especially if you are going to be leaving a vehicle at the beach you may not drive very often, garaging is your best bet.

As an alternative, purchasing a car cover can help limit premature oxidation and rusting caused by salt or water if you have to leave the vehicle outside.

You do have to be careful not to scratch a vehicle when applying car covers, it’s really is an effective barrier of protection assuming the vehicle is clean underneath.

Tip: The last thing you want is to leave a car cover on a dirty vehicle at the beach! This can cause salt and sand to permanently bake into the clear coat and potentially ruin the paint.

Rinse the wheels and underbody frequently on occasion

While you don’t have to go overboard on rinsing every grain of your car–you’re obviously at the beach after all–it is a good idea to rinse areas like wheels and the undercarriage from time to time with fresh water.

Pitting and rusting can be accelerated if caked with sand and saltwater, so it’s something to be mindful of.

Sand can clog air filters, cause brake calipers to stick, and even leave pitting on the windshield. For this reason, you definitely want to hose everything off from time to time.

Purchase floor and trunk mats to easily rinse off sand

When it comes to protecting the interior of your beach vehicle, it’s a great idea to pick up rinseable floor mats. I have a couple of these for my Jeep and can tell you they are well worth the money.

I prefer the WeatherTech line made in America, and while they are slightly more expensive, they do hold up a lot longer and are really easy to rinse off.

The WeatherTech line also offers mats for the cargo or trunk area for many makes and models.

While you’ll want to vacuum the sand out occasionally anyway, mats can definitely make the job a bit easier. Foor floorboards that rust easily anyway, it’s a no-brainer.

Condition leather or vinyl seats regularly

Especially if you have leather or vinyl seats, it’s a good idea to regularly condition them with a leather lotion or vinyl conditioner to prevent cracking.

You can find these just about anywhere online and will help prevent seats from drying out with time.

Vinyl can become pretty brittle over time and may begin to crack prematurely unless well protected, especially with repeated exposure to sand and salt.

For leather, I love the Lexol line of products, but if you have a vinyl interior they make vinyl conditioners as well.

Consider waterproof seat covers for added protection

waterproof seat covers

If you spend a lot of time surfing or actually at the beach, I would highly recommend picking up a set of waterproof seat covers if you’re concerned about salt and sand damage.

Even if you’re not overly concerned about keeping everything perfect, simple things like adding seat covers can make a difference when trying to sell your vehicle.

These are relatively inexpensive, and can also protect your seats from fading with time when used correctly. I prefer neoprene covers personally and are a bit cooler in the summer months as well.


Salt and sand are generally nothing to be too concerned about if you live at the beach when taking proper precautions. The reality is that many vehicles are much more corrosion-resistant than they used to be.

Another option is to simply purchase a vehicle for beach use if you only spend part of the time living at the coast.

Check out my post, 11 Best Vehicles for Beach Driving for a few ideas if you decide to go this route. Hope it helps 🙂

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