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19 Hazards That Will Ruin the Paint on Your Car

May 10, 2021

Did you know that your car has enemies? All that shiny red, white, blue, black, or purple paint has detractors that you might be unaware of. No, we’re not talking about internet trolls, or jealous neighbors. These enemies are impersonal forces that need to be dealt with, and dealt with properly. Enemies of the paint they are. And these enemies can cause damage – sometimes irreparable damage – to the finish on your ride.

Just so you are aware of what foes might be lurking around the corner (or in your driveway), here is a list of enemies to the paint on your car, truck, or SUV and what you might do to avoid or amend them.

1. Too much sun

Too much time in the sun is neither good for your skin or your car’s finish. If you live in an area if the country that is warm and bright – really warm and extremely bright – UV rays can cause oxidation and fading of the paint and lead to cracking. So…

  • Avoid parking in direct sunlight, especially in southern or southwestern exposures
  • Amend by keeping your car in a garage, carport, or parking structure.

2. All that ice

If, on the other hand, you live in northern climates where snow and ice are the norm instead of sun and more sun, you know what it is like to scrape your windshield. Scraping the paint? Not such a good idea. You can cause a lot of damage to the paint finish with that scraper or with a broom or brush.

  • Avoid scraping and chiseling on painted surfaces and try not to brush directly against the paint surface.
  • Amend by parking in a garage or carport. If that is not an option, allow your car to warm up before clearing snow and ice and be gentle. Scratches caused by rough snow and ice removal may need to be professionally removed and dents created by chipping away at the body panels may call for expensive repairs.

3. Tree Sap

Dripping maple trees are good for syrup, not so good for your car’s paint finish. The sap may not damage the paint directly, but it can be difficult to remove if left for long.

  • Avoid tree sap by paying attention to where you park. Maple trees, pine trees, and any others that tend to be sappy should not be used as parking shelters.
  • Amend by applying bug and tar remover to the sap spot(s) after thoroughly washing the entire vehicle.

4. Bug deposits

s with tree sap, bug splatter on your hood or bumper can be tricky to remove if left for too long, and they can damage the clearcoat.

  • Avoid damage from bugs by keeping a coat of wax on the paint. This makes removal easier. Do not rub or abrade the surface. Let a cleaner do the work.
  • Amend by cleaning the deposits as soon as possible with bug and tar remover.

5. Bird droppings

Those little bird bombs can be corrosive to your car’s clear coat. If they are left on for long, they will eat into the surface and cause damage.

  • Avoid by, again, paying attention to where you park.
  • Amend by cleaning as soon as possible with soda water or a product designed to emulsify contaminants like bird poo. Be careful to avoid rubbing or abrading the paint.

6. Road tar

You can find this sticky, black substance on the bottoms of your doors and rocker panels once it has been slung by the tires from the ground. Tar will not directly damage the paint, but careless removal might.

  • Avoid problems with road tar by keeping the paint waxed. This helps with removal.
  • Amend by first cleaning the entire vehicle to remove dirt and debris. Follow up with bug and tar remover and a fresh coat of wax.

7. Rail dust

“Rail dust” is a term used to describe dust that has high iron content which, when deposited on your paint surface, can cause a rusty orange discoloration. The dirt embeds itself into the paint and begins to corrode. The condition is common around railroad tracks (where track debris mixes with the dust on the road), thus the name. But the condition can be present anywhere. It even occurs with brake dust from metallic brake pads.

  • Avoid contamination by keeping the paint waxed and washed regularly.
  • Amend by removing the deposits with a clay bar after washing or by having the car professionally detailed.

8. Regular Dust

Rail dust is not the only dust that hurts the paint. In fact, regular old dust is more common and causes more damage.

  • Avoid dry dusting the paint with a cloth or even a “duster”. A car should always be cleaned with soap and water after rinsing off the dust, dirt, and debris. Also, do not rub the dust with your finger. Tracing a smiley face or “wash me” will etch lines into the clear coat that will need to be professionally removed.
  • Amend by rinsing and washing with soap and water. If the paint is scratched by fingers in the dust, see a professional detailer.

9. Water spots and acid rain

Yes, acid rain is a thing. Pollutants in the air cause cloud condensation to have a lower pH level. That means the rain can be acidic – a problem for your car’s clear coat. Water left to dry on the surface, combined with the sun’s rays, can etch the paint. This can happen with certain types of hard water as well.

  • Avoid acid rain damage by washing your car as soon as possible after it rains. This is especially necessary in urban environments where pollution levels are higher. A coat of wax will help water to bead off the paint and protect acid rain from easily digging in.
  • Amend by washing and waxing. A clay bar may remove deposits. If damage has occurred to the clearcoat, a professional detailer will need to sand and buff the paint surface.

10. Eggs, shaving cream, and silly string

These prank-related car paint poisons all cause damage and discoloration to the paint surface.

  • Avoid damage by keeping your car waxed so that the enzymes and chemicals in these contaminants will not quickly eat into the paint. You might also want to avoid actual enemies who might pull one of these pranks.
  • Amend the problem by cleaning off the contaminants as soon as possible – hopefully before it dries. If the concussion of an egg scratches or chips the paint, a body shop may be needed for repairs.

11. Spilled drinks

Coffee and cola are acidic and could, possibly damage paint. At least, some folks believe so. Cars of the past were affected by more materials than those of today. Modern clearcoats (from the factory) are pretty tough. But placing anything on your paint surface, like a coffee cup, is not a good idea anyways.

  • Avoid setting items or spilling liquids on the paint. If you want the paint to last, treat it with respect.
  • Amend spills by cleaning as soon as possible to prevent contamination (coffee and soda are more detrimental to interior surfaces); have a professional detailer sand and buff scratches left by careless placement of items on the paint.

12. Fuel drippings

Gasoline dribbled on the paint surface when you are filling up will sometimes cause staining. This is more common with a panel that has been repainted than with a factory finish. Still, it is good practice to clean up fuel spills on your car.

  • Avoid spilling fuel in the first place.
  • Amend by wiping off or blotting the surface carefully with a towel. Do not rub and scratch the paint. If the paint does stain, a professional detailer may be able to sand and polish to remove the stain. Otherwise, repainting may be necessary.

13. Brake fluid and other chemicals

As with spilled drinks, chemicals do not usually tarnish the clear coat finishes of today’s cars – unless left untreated for long periods of time. Brake fluid is detrimental to re-painted surfaces and to older cars.

  • Avoid leaving spilled brake fluid or other chemicals on the paint surface.
  • Amend by blotting with an absorbent towel and cleaning with soap and water.

14. Line paint and overspray

These contaminants are among the most difficult to deal with. If you drive over a freshly-painted white or yellow line on the road, or if you drive through (or park near) a cloud of paint overspray, the resulting deposits can be tricky to remove.

  • Avoid driving over traffic lines that have been recently painted or parking near any outdoor spray painting.
  • Amend by taking your car to a professional detailer to have the paint residue removed. Light overspray may be treated with a clay bar, soap, and water. Heavier overspray or line paint may need far more significant work to avoid permanent clear coat damage.

15. Marring and scuffing

On the surface (you like what we did there?), these terms might seem to be the same problem. Truth is, they are often used interchangeably to describe a couple different conditions. Whatever term you choose, one issue is caused by some kind of impact or abrasion that makes a slight impression or smearing of the surface of the clearcoat. The other issue relates to the same type of incident that instead leaves behind material from the other object. So, in one case, the clear coat is damaged; in the other, a mark is left behind, for instance, by contact with a yellow post (where yellow paint is rubbed onto the clearcoat).

  • Avoid running into yellow posts and watch where you park.
  • Amend one problem (the latter) by cleaning with some lacquer thinner and applying a fresh coat of wax, and the other problem (the former) by taking your car to a professional detailer for sanding and polishing.

16. Swirl marks

This problem can refer to slight scratches left behind by a power buffer or polisher. It can also relate to marks left behind by a coarse or dirty towel when washing or waxing your car.

  • Avoid using coarse bath towels to dry your car after washing or towels that remain unclean after the last car wash. Also, avoid a lot of circular motions when washing or waxing.
  • Amend by using soft microfiber towels to dry the paint surface after washing. If swirl marks are present, a coat of wax might fill them in. Otherwise, professional detailing can remedy the problem.

17. Stone chips

This problem can be tough to avoid. Stone chips happen when rocks and, well, stones are flung at your car’s paint by your tires or by other vehicles. Most of the time, stone chips extend below the surface of the clearcoat and cannot be remedied at home.

  • Avoid driving quickly on gravel roads or driveways. Other than that, don’t drive too closely to other vehicles and hope to stay out of the asteroid belt.
  • Amend the problem of stone chips by applying a bit of touch-up paint with a small brush. Stay in the lines. This is not a solution; it is only a temporary cover-up intended to disguise stone chips. The only real remedy is to have the panel repainted.

18. Abrasives

Using anything abrasive on your car’s paint is a no no. This includes plastic brushes (intended for tires and wheel wells), paper towels, SOS pads, fingernails, and the like. If you need to remove sap, tar, or any other foreign substance from the paint surface, follow the tips listed in this article or have your vehicle professionally detailed. Otherwise, you could cause damage that is costly to repair.

  • Avoid the abrasive approaches above. Use appropriate cleaners and methods to remove contaminants on your clearcoat.
  • Amend scratches by taking your car to a professional detail shop.

19. Dish soap

What? Dish soap? Yep. Dish soap is not a suitable cleaning agent for an automobile. It can strip off any protective coatings on your paint.

  • Avoid simply, using dish soap to wash your car. It may be cheap and available, but it is not recommended.
  • Amend the issue by simply using a pH balanced car wash soap to clean the exterior of your car.

Many confrontations with the enemies of your car’s paint can, and should, be handled on a regular basis. As your car’s caretaker, you can clean most contaminants yourself with a little research and the proper materials.

On the other hand, if the problems are significant, or if you find that your (mild) treatment is not working, don’t hesitate to invest in professional detailing at a trusted shop.

[Read More: Car Washing Dos and Don’ts]

Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

COLUMBIA AUTO CARE & CAR WASH
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Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.