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How to Remove Tree Sap From Your Car

February 17, 2021

Tree sap boasts many benefits, but it can be one of the toughest contaminants to remove from your car. Sap is used for all sorts of positive purposes. Some saps can be used as a natural antiseptic and astringent. Some can be chewed like gum to treat a sore throat. Sap can be used for waterproofing, or to start a fire, or to make syrup. Of course, sap is useful to a tree, given it is the lifeblood coursing through its cells. But tree sap on your car? Not so good.

Sap falls naturally from any tree, especially as the weather gets warmer in the spring. Sometimes it appears as light, sticky droplets. If you are not paying close attention, you might find it to be a solid substance that will not rinse away but is stuck firmly to the paint. If your driveway is lined with trees, or you park in the shade to avoid the sun, sap will land on your car and stick to the paint. Once it accumulates there, it is particularly difficult to remove due to its thick and sticky texture. If it remains – especially if it bakes in the sun – tree sap will solidify into a tough resin that is extremely difficult to remove.

What’s more, using the wrong methods to remove tree sap can result in more harm than good.

So, what are the effects of tree sap on your paint? When is the best time to remove it? And how might you go about removing it without creating more damage?

The effects of tree sap on paint

Unlike some other contaminants that you might find on your car, like bird droppings, bug splatter, acid rain, or hard water spots, tree sap does not usually chemically eat into the paint on your car. Each of these other substances, if left untreated, are likely to etch the clear coat finish and leave behind physical damage. Unless your car has recently been painted in a body shop, tree sap does not generally have that effect.

That is not to say tree sap will not cause problems, though. First of all, tree sap is an unsightly mess. It gives a stained appearance to the paint. It produces a rough texture. Because it is sticky, it captures other contaminants like dust and sand, adding to its ugly appearance.

But perhaps the greatest effect of tree sap is what happens if left untreated for long periods of time. Sap comes from a tree as a light liquid. However, when it is left to bake in the hot sun, where surface temperatures can reach 160 degrees on your car, it turns to a thick, tar-like substance and eventually to a solid. Once it reaches that point, not only does sap become impervious to ordinary car wash chemicals, it develops a significant adhesive bond with your paint. Attempts to scrape hardened tree sap off of a panel can result in scratches to the clearcoat.

When to remove tree sap

Because tree sap becomes more difficult to remove the longer it is left in place, the best time to get rid of it is right away. Unfortunately, fresh tree sap is mostly clear and can be difficult to detect. Therefore, if you frequently park underneath trees – any trees, but particularly maple trees that drop a significant amount, and pine trees whose sap is extremely sticky and gets rock hard – your best solution is to wash your car regularly. Once a week. A drive through an automatic car wash may be all you need to rid your paint of fresh sap, not nearly enough once it dries.

A great strategy to avoid sap from sitting on your vehicle is a car wash membership, where you can get unlimited soft-touch car washes for a monthly fee. You can drive through any time you notice sap or other contaminants accumulating. A hand car wash might do the trick as well, as long as you are not working in direct sunlight or underneath the same sap-dropping trees. Unfortunately, DIY car washing, if not done properly, can cause scratches to the paint. Either way, make sure to remove sap as soon as possible.

Keeping your car coated with protective products is also a helpful method to combat sap contamination. Wax, polymer sealant, and ultra-durable ceramic coatings each provide a slick waterproof barrier that makes it hard for sap to stick and easy to rinse off. Car wash extras, like Zep’s Armor All ® Extreme Shine Wax, or Rain-X Complete Surface Protectant, while not considered substitutes for hand- or machine-applied products, are excellent complements between applications to renew the effectiveness of your sealant or wax.

How to remove sap

Removing sap early on is relatively simple. Begin with a basic car wash to remove any loose contaminants. If you catch it early enough, while the sap is still fresh, a car wash may be all that is necessary to remove it.

Once you have dried your car, inspect the paint surface for any residual contaminants, including sap. If sap is present, you may feel a sticky substance and a rough texture. Dried-on, hardened sap will appear as dark amber spots that are either gooey or (in worst case) hard. Once the sap has gotten to that point, more extreme measures must be taken.

That said, anything that is done to remove sap from a painted surface must be gentle enough so as to not scratch the paint. Consider these varied methods for gently “attacking” dried-on sap:

  • Clay bar. A clay bar is a composite material in putty form. Used in automotive detailing in combination with a detailing liquid spray, a clay bar can remove solids from the surface of your paint. Once a panel has been cleaned of all dirt and debris, add a spritz of detailing solution or clay bar lubricant and follow up by rubbing a kneaded piece of clay bar across the contaminants. The clay bar will pick up stuck on dirt, rail dust, and (sometimes) tree sap.
  • Tar and sap remover. Whereas a clay bar is a physical means of sap removal, tar and sap remover is a specialty product designed to soften up sap chemically. Be patient. It may take some time for the solvent to eat its way through and soften up the sap. Some people try home remedies in place of tar and sap remover, like WD40, margarine, rubbing alcohol, mineral spirits, or even bacon grease. Whatever the cleaning product, stick with microfiber towels to avoid scratching the surface.
  • Plastic razor blade. Another physical means of removing sap is to gently scrape it off with a plastic razor blade. Do not use a metal one! And use a plastic one carefully. For large, hardened drops of sap, this tool might come in handy, especially when used in conjunction with tar and sap remover.
  • Steam. A household steam wand might be effective for softening up stuck-on tree sap. Some people suggest its use if sap gets on a convertible top. Steam alone will not remove the substance, but it will help to make it more supple so that other means are more effective.

With any of these sap cleaning methods, time is of the essence. The sooner you treat it, the better. You might try a combination of techniques. As long as the paint has not been recently applied (as in, your car just came back from the body shop), most chemicals will not penetrate the clearcoat. Even acetone will not harm your paint, although it might dull it a bit. But be careful that you do not apply too much pressure to a panel or scrub too aggressively.

Yes, tree sap makes for a delicious addition to a stack of pancakes. But on your car, it is a sight that is far less appetizing.

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
|
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.