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Rising temperatures throughout the spring and summer tend to make shaded parking spots coveted real estate. Yet, when trees provide the shade making these spaces so desirable, a couple of natural drawbacks occur bird droppings and tree sap. Both are annoying and can cause your car to look untidy, but droppings are easily cleaned away with soap and water. The same cannot be said for tree sap.
Anyone who has had the unfortunate luck to park under a sick or damaged tree that dropped sap onto their vehicle can attest that it is a pain to remove. Why though? Sap is essentially a simple syrup packed with plant hormones and minerals in addition to water and a high concentration of sugars. These sugars make it exceptionally sticky.
Additionally, a tree’s sap also plays a role in sealing over wounds. Therefore, it should be no surprise it can and does dry quickly and hard. After all, the famous fossils of bugs trapped in amber started as an insect stuck in sap eons ago. When sap dries, it dries into a type of natural resin. This has made it useful as a natural glue and sealant over the centuries, but it also makes sap a bit of a nightmare for your car’s finish.
However, with a bit of know-how, time, and the right tools, you can remove sap from your car.
Do not leave cleaning it for another day; sooner is better
The longer you allow the sap to remain on your vehicle, the more difficult it will become to remove, and the more likely it will leave a stain or damage behind. So, the sooner you can clean it away, the better your results will be.
In addition to becoming harder as it continues to dry, tree sap is not chemically inert. How reactive the sap from one tree or another varies widely based on several factors, enough to make giving rough estimates an exercise in futility. However, there is a tendency toward heat acting as a catalyst across the board.
What does all this mean? The substances in tree sap will react with the clear coat on your car over time, and it is next to impossible to guess how quickly this will occur. The only thing we can say is, the warmer the weather, the faster this reaction is likely to happen. The faster you remove the sap, the less likely it will be to stain or damage your clear coat, and speed is even more of the essence during warm months.
Start with a good scrub
As with anything dealing with your car’s finish, the best place to start is with a good scrub down. Taking the time to wash your car not only prepares the surface for the rest of the process, but it can lead you to find additional drips you may have overlooked before. Plus, if the sap has not had time to dry much, you may be able to remove some of it with the typical wash. Even if neither of these things occurs, you will already have the entire vehicle prepared and ready to go for the last step.
Remove the sap
There are a couple of different things you can use to help break down the sap and remove it: oils and rubbing alcohol. Both types of materials are reactive to the kinds of compounds found within tree sap, helping break it down and make it less sticky.
Some other sources recommend items such as mineral spirits or fingernail polish remover for this step. While either one will work, the chances of them damaging your vehicle’s paint job are significant. Therefore, we do not recommend these items.
Your chances are much better with WD-40, lard, vegetable oil, or isopropyl alcohol. Use them by saturating a soft cloth and hold it to the sap for thirty to forty seconds before rubbing in small circles. This may require several repetitions to eradicate the sap.
Eventually, you may want to try and scrape the remaining sap away with your nails or extremely fine-grit sandpaper. A razor blade can be used in instances where sap has gotten onto your window or windshield. Just be careful not to roll your windows or use the windshield wiper before the sap is completely removed to avoid smearing the sap or damaging the mechanism.
If a spot is exceptionally stubborn, a scuff remover or rubbing compound may also be used to free the last bits of remaining sap. Just keep in mind, the more abrasive the items used to remove the sap, the more likely you are to thin or damage your car’s paint. So save anything past the oil or rubbing alcohol as a last resort.
Protect your car from future drips
Take a few more minutes to protect your car’s finish in the future once the sap has been removed. Not only will this leave your car looking great, but it will make removing any new sap drips faster and easier.
If the removal process dulled your finish anywhere, a quick polish could help return the vibrancy and shine. Follow the polish’s instructions.
In any case, sealing your car’s finish with a coat of wax or a ceramic coating is a step toward contentment. They create a barrier between the finish and anything that might drop onto it, making future drips easier to clean away.