Removing Tar, Sap and Bugs From Your Car’s Paint

Summer is tar, sap and bug season. During the warm months of summer, insects are at full population, trees and large bushes produce more sap, and the heat of the sun softens the asphalt, producing tar balls. Although sap and tar are a chore to remove, they do not present an immediate hazard to your automobile’s paint finish. However, insect remains are acidic and will quickly damage both paint and trim.

Cleaning Road Tar

While driving, your vehicle is constantly being speckled with small bits of asphalt, tire rubber, grease and oils that is being kicked up by the cars and trucks ahead of you. If allowed to remain on your automobile, these petroleum-based particles will become firmly attached and soap-and-water washing will do little to remove them. Over time the ugly black spots build up and ruin your vehicle’s appearance.

To remove road tar, you need a solvent. Most automotive tar removers contain kerosene, mineral spirits or another petroleum distillate. Don’t worry, though, as they are combined with lubricants to surround and buffer the road tar from your paint. They are quite safe to use.

Of the petroleum distillate products I’ve tried, I like Autoglym’s Intensive Tar Remover the best. A more modern solution for tar removal is the detailing clay bar. If the contamination extremely stubborn on your painted surfaces, use a paint cleaning polish. I recommend Klasse All-In-One. It’s a fine polish, paint cleaner and wax in a single-step process.

Cleaning Tree Sap

Cleaning tree sap off of your vehicle’s finish can be a little more difficult than removing tar or bird droppings. When removed in haste, hardened sap can scratch your paint. I discovered that if I hand rub the spots with a small amount of mineral spirits on a soft cloth, I can easily remove the sap without scratching. Mineral spirits acts as a solvent to break up and dissolve the sap.

If there is a large amount of sap on the car, or if the sap has been left on the finish for an extended period of time, it can be a lot of work to remove. In these extreme cases, I learned that polishing the affected areas with a fine paint rubbing compound removes the hard shell of the sap spots. Once the hard shell is gone the mineral spirits will clean away the remainder with ease. The light-duty rubbing compound softens the sap so the mineral spirits can do its job. The goal is to use the least pressure possible, to reduce the risk of scratching the paint. After removing heavy sap, I always buff the treated areas with a good polish to clean up any marks created during hand rubbing with solvent. The treated area must also be re-waxed.

Cleaning Insects

The head-on collision of between an insect your car’s paint and trim is a disaster for both the bug and your car. As the insect’s exoskeleton explodes, acidic fluids leak onto your car’s paint. This may seem like a small thing, but did you know that shellac is a byproduct of insects? The bug splats on your car are basically shellac mixed with a bunch of nasty stuff. When allow to stay for a few days in the baking sun, any attempt to remove the calcified remains without a proper cleaning solution results in scratched paint.

The secret is to loosen and dissolve insect remains with a solvent that will cut through the shellac. Autoglym Intensive Tar Remover does a great job. For those flying friends with a little extra grip, agitate with soapy water and a paint-safe bug sponge.

If you have a particularly large bug mess, I discovered a Paint Repair Clinic trick that seems to work pretty well. If you use a pre-wax cleaner, such as Klasse All-In-One, apply a small dab to the offending bug splat. Next, cover the spot with a wadded-up tissue and allow it to soak for a few minutes. Then pinch up the mess and give it a soft wipe with the back side of the tissue.

After Cleaning Tar, Sap & Bugs

All of the chemicals used to remove the aforementioned road stains also remove your car’s wax protection. After cleaning away tar, sap or bugs, spot wax the affected areas or re-wax your whole vehicle. If you don’t have time to wax right away, use a quick spray wax like Meguiar’s Ultimate Spray Wax. This product is great for touch-ups or a quick waxing after the weekly wash.