Are Steel Carts Ok in the Winter?

Line of steel shopping carts in winter

Winter has a way of throwing a wrench in the works of all businesses — if you operate a retail or grocery store and live in a particularly wintry region, you know this better than anyone. Once the cold weather comes to town, you have to make a slew of seasonal considerations, such as keeping your parking lot clear for traffic, salting your walkways to prevent customers and employees from slipping, placing mats near your entryways and exits to minimize the amount of moisture tracked in, and so on. The list of winter-related concerns doesn’t end there, though. The shopping carts you provide for your customers might not hold up so well against the cold air, wet ground, and chemical interactions of rock salt and slush. Sure, winter only lasts a few months each year, but this span of time can do serious damage to these assets.

So, will your steel carts be okay in the winter? Or should you invest in plastic shopping carts instead? Let’s discuss.

What to Know About Using Steel Carts in Winter

What Can Winter Do to Steel?

In order to determine which cart material is right for your location, it helps to understand how winter weather can affect steel in the first place. The three main components to consider here are cold temperatures, moisture, and chemicals. Like other metal alloys, steel does become more brittle as temperatures drop. Fortunately, temperatures rarely become cold enough during winter to actually crack or break the steel parts of shopping carts. Moisture, on the other hand, can lead to significant deterioration of steel carts over time in the form of oxidation (i.e. rusting). Steel begins to rust when exposed to oxygen via water (snow, in this case) and air. Winter isn’t the only time of year to worry about rusting, then, as there is plenty of rain in the spring, summer, and fall — that said, snow may speed up the oxidation process by sticking to steel for a longer period of time then rain, which evaporates much more quickly.

Lastly, the chemicals placed on the ground to lower the freezing point of nearby ice (namely calcium/potassium chloride or halite) can corrode your steel carts as well. These chemicals essentially accelerate the aforementioned oxidation process. After a rough winter, you might notice rusting on the wheels, bearings, and other metal components toward the bottom of your steel cart due to their regular contact with ice-melting chemicals and water. A little bit of rust won’t necessarily render your cart useless, but it doesn’t bode well for your carts’ futures and can negatively impact your reputation.

Why Stick with Steel Carts?

Now that we’ve discussed the ways in which winter can damage your steel carts, you might wonder why anyone should choose these carts in the first place. First off, it’s worth mentioning that even plastic carts feature metal components (i.e. handles, bearings, etc.), and that winter conditions can do damage to plastic as well (though rusting is off the table, of course). Additionally, high-quality steel carts are designed to withstand various environmental threats, including extreme temperatures, water, and corrosive chemicals. Steel carts are also generally lighter than plastic carts and easier to repair due to the availability of steel cart parts. In other words, if a portion of your steel cart has rusted, broken off, or been damaged in some other way, you won’t need to invest in new shopping carts right away and instead invest in repairs.

Protecting Your Steel Carts During the Winter

Even if you’ve stocked your store with the most heavy duty shopping carts, it’s crucial to do everything you can to protect them from damage, especially during the winter. Here are some key ways to keep your steel carts in good shape when the weather gets cold.

Store Your Carts Strategically

Steel cart preservation primarily comes down to proper storage. It goes without saying, but leaving your carts out in the cold and/or under snowfall for long periods of time doesn’t bode well for their longevity. If your store has enough space, do your best to keep your carts inside at all times. And when customers take their carts outside to their vehicles, make sure the empty carts are brought inside as quickly as possible. In the meantime, establishing shopping cart corrals will at least provide a convenient temporary location for your carts while they wait to get brought inside. Ideally, your corrals should have a roof or awning to prevent snow from landing directly on your carts as they remain outdoors.

Keep Your Carts Clean

You won’t be able to prevent all of winter’s negative aspects from affecting your steel carts, so performing regular maintenance is paramount to keeping them in optimal condition. If possible, try to clean your carts on a daily basis during the winter to remove any residual ice and/or chemicals. If your store is large and contains a significant number of carts, keeping up with this maintenance can be challenging, but even a little effort in this regard (i.e. spraying and wiping wheels and handles after use) can go a long way.

Regularly Remove Snow and Ice from Your Parking Lot

Lastly, protecting your carts also requires that you maintain your property as a whole. After all, your carts have to roll over whatever conditions await their wheels as they move from place to place. To reduce the amount of moisture, salt, and other debris that can harm the bottom portion of your carts, keep your parking lot, entryways, and exits clear from snow and ice. Of course, in order to keep ice at bay, you’ll need to lay down rock salt, which, as previously mentioned, can also corrode your steel carts. In other words, no matter how well you maintain your outdoor areas, your carts will endure some hazards along the way. Still, rolling your carts through some rock salt and wiping them down is better than trudging them through several inches of snow and ice on a regular basis.

The Verdict

So, are steel carts okay to use in the winter? Yes. As is the case with any other asset of yours, though, you’ll want to take great care of your carts to minimize the harm that winter can do to them.

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