9 Ways to Ruin Your Paint Without Knowing It

by Keith Buglewicz
Keeping your car's paint job looking good isn't just a matter of enhancing its resale value, although that's important too, it's also your car's only line of defense between the sheet metal and the elements. You already know parking lot dings, gravel roads or an angry ex can ruin your car's paint in the blink of an eye, but a lot of things out there can do just as much, if not more, harm to the exterior of your car.

We contacted Mothers for advice on how to deal with common paint-damaging situations. While their specific advice is below, time and time again, they recommended keeping a good coat of wax on your car. Not only does it keep it looking pretty, it helps prevent most paint damage, or at the very least, buys you some time to get your car professionally washed. Mothers also recommended keeping a bottle of quick-detail spray and a microfiber cloth in your trunk. As you'll see, a lot of these common problems can be prevented with a quick wipe of this solution.

The Source: Wildfires

The Problem: When wet, ash forms an alkali that can ruin your car's finish.
The Solution: Keep your car covered, use a car duster for white ash, wash thoroughly if it's soot.

These days it seems like every state is burdened with wildfires. The ash gets everywhere, and your car's finish is no exception. While your instinct may be to hit the windshield washers, or just hose down the whole car, water mixed with ash can create powerful alkalis, which will ruin your paint. White ash can be removed with a car duster, or just by driving away and letting it blow off. Black ash can scratch your paint, even when you use a duster, so you'll need to wash it off using a car wash solution, and dry thoroughly. Once the fires are out, get your car professionally washed, and put on a new coat of wax.

The Source: Tree sap

The Problem: Ancient peoples used tree sap as glue for a good reason.
The Solution: Bug and tar remover, mineral spirits, clay bar treatment

Just wiping sap off when it's still gooey only smears it around a larger area. Instead, get a bottle of bug and tar remover from your local car parts store, and use it as directed. If the sap dries, mineral spirits can dissolve it, and remaining residue will come off with a clay bar treatment. Just be sure to wax the car after you're done.

The Source: The gas pump

The Problem: Spilled gasoline
The Solution: Don't top off, and clean up accidental drips

Times are tough, but "topping off" your gas tank and accidentally letting it overflow is a surefire way to damage your car's paint. If left alone, gasoline will leave a stain on your car's finish that's nearly impossible to get off. If you do happen to spill gas by accident, the best solution is to grab a bottle of instant detailer and a good, clean microfiber cloth and clean up the gasoline before it does any harm.


The Source: Fingertips and mischief

The Problem: Writing or rubbing on dirty paint causes permanent marks.
The Solution: Keep your car clean.

We've all seen "wash me" written on a car's finish, but the well-intentioned tagger actually just made things worse. Dirt acts like sandpaper when it's dragged across paint, and it can make the marks last long after the dirt is gone.

Get yourself a long-handled duster and wipe down your car every day to prevent accidental sanding. If it's too late, most small scratches come out with a polish or scratch remover. Just always be sure to clean the car well before waxing or polishing.

The Source: Your morning coffee

The Problem: Coffee and sodas contain acids that can etch your clearcoat.
The Solution: Wash it off immediately

Driving off with your coffee cup or soda bottle on your roof isn't just a day-ruiner, it can ruin your paint. Many beverages are acidic, and since any acid can hurt your car's finish, you'll want to get it washed off as soon as you can. Letting it sit will only give it more time to do damage, and letting it dry will only make it harder to get off later. If it's a soda, or if you take a lot of sugar in your coffee, then you're going to be dealing with a sticky residue in addition to corrosive chemicals. If you can't hit a car wash, then break out your bottle of quick detailer and your microfiber cloth and wipe it up.

The Source: Dirt on your car-wash tools

The Problem: Unseen dirt can scratch
The Solution: Keep an extra mitt handy.

Washing your own car can be fun, but a common mistake can cause more damage than you think: dropping your sponge. Even the finest, most expensive microfiber wash mitt on the market can be ruined if it touches the ground. The bits of grit and sand it inevitably picks up can't be entirely washed off, and you'll have swirl marks and other scratches before you know it. The solution is to never drop anything. But if you’re like us, it’d be best to keep a spare washing mitt or two on hand to avoid the resulting expenses from car detailing or repainting.


The Source: Automatic sprinklers

The Problem: Water leaves hard-to-remove spots on your paint.
The Solution: Stay away from sprinklers whenever possible

That primo parking spot right next to the planter may look good, but if it has automatic sprinklers, you could be in for trouble. You wouldn't think that plain water would be such a problem, but the minerals left behind bond to your car's paint, making them very difficult to remove. Your best bet is to avoid parking where sprinklers can do their damage, but that's not always possible. If you do get water spots, it's best to take it to a professional detailer.

The Source: Avian digestion

The Problem: Bird poop is acidic
The Solution: Wash it off immediately

Bird poop isn't just unsightly. It's also acidic. Just look at the number of ruined marble statues in pigeon-infested cities and you'll see what we mean. Not only that, but birds eat seeds and bits of gravel that can scratch your paint.

The solution is to wash bird droppings off as soon as you see them. Use a bottle of quick detail and a soft microfiber cloth to wipe it up. Be sure to use a lifting action, since you don't want to grind any grit onto your paint.

The Source: Bugs

The Problem: Bug guts are acidic.
The Solution: Get to the car wash

You're heading home from a road trip when suddenly the eighth plague of Egypt strikes, with thousands of bugs splattering your windshield. But just cleaning the windshield isn't enough. Bugs are surprisingly acidic, and if you do hit a swarm, don't let the bugs get the last laugh as their remains slowly etch your paint. Wash your car as soon as you can with a good car wash solution, and for the more stubborn guts, use a bug and tar remover.


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