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"What's the last thing that goes through a bug's head when it hits your windshield?"


Summer is tar, sap and bug season.  In the summer months, bugs are at full population, trees produce more sap, and the heat softens the asphalt, producing tar balls on tires.  While tar and tree sap can be difficult to remove, they do not present a threat to your paint's finish.  Bug stains, like bird droppings, are very acidic and represent a significant danger to the beauty of your paint and trim.  This chapter discusses the proper way to deal with these common detailing problems.

As you drive, your car is bombarded with small specks of asphalt, tire rubber, grease and oils kicked up by the cars and trucks in front of you.  Left on your car's finish, these petroleum based contaminants will firmly affix themselves to every exterior surface.  Soap and water washing will do little to remove these ugly black spots.

To remove road tar you need a solvent.  Most commercial tar removers contain kerosene, mineral spirits or another petroleum distillate combined with lubricants to surround and buffer the road tar from your paint.  I'm not fond of these products, as they are bad for the environment.  The petroleum distillates go right down the storm drain.   I prefer to use surfactant cleaners where possible.  If you have a stubborn tar problem, I recommend Autoglym Tar Remover.

Removing tree sap from a car's finish is a bit more difficult than tar, as hardened sap can easily scratch your paint.  I've found that by hand-rubbing the sap spots with mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, I'm able to easily remove the sap without damaging the finish.  Mineral spirits and denatured alcohol act 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.  For these cases, I discovered that hitting the affected areas with a light-duty buffing compound removes the hardened surface on the sap spots.  Then I can go back and use mineral spirits to remove it.  The light duty buffing compound softens the sap so the mineral spirits or denatured alcohol 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.

What's the last thing that goes through a bug's head when it hits your windshield?  His rear end, of course!  All joking aside, the head-on collision of that juicy June Bug on your car's beautiful paint and trim is far from one-sided.  As the bug's exoskeleton explodes, acidic fluids are firmly imbedded in the surface of your car's paint. 

Did you know that shellac is a bug byproduct?  Think of it, that beautiful, old antique table you love is covered with dried bug juice (yuck!).  Bug splats on your car amount to little more than shellac mixed with nasty bug parts.  Any attempt to remove the catalyzed remains without the use of a special cleaning solution could result in scratched paint. 

The secret to removing insect remains is to loosen and dissolve them with a solvent that will cut through the shellac.  Most surfactant insect removers work best if you spray the insect spots liberally and allow the cleaner to work for a few minutes.  For bugs with a little extra grip, use an insect sponge.

Here I'm using an insect remover and bug sponge sponge and spray to remove tar and bug specks from the front of this Porsche Boxster.  Be sure you use a bug sponge that won't scratch.

If you have a particularly large bug mess, I have discovered a trick that seems to work pretty well.  If you use a pre-wax cleaner, such as Sonus Paintwork Cleanser, apply a small dab to the offending bug splat.  Next, cover the spot with a wadded-up tissue.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then pinch up the mess and give it a soft wipe with the back side of the tissue. Voila! The bug mess is gone.

Most of the chemicals used to remove the aforementioned road stains also remove your wax or sealants.  After removing tar, sap or bugs, plan to spot wax or re-wax your vehicle.  If you don't have time to wax right away, use a quick detailing spray or a spray wax.

While tar, sap and bugs are not immediately harmful to your paint like bird droppings, if not removed they will deteriorate your car's paint finish.  When regular washing does not remove the tar, sap or bugs from your car's paint, use the methods described above.  If your paint is damaged from tar, sap and bugs, use a good polish to restore the finish.