By on December 8, 2013

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Is your car ready for winter? Have you put on one last coat of wax, installed the rubber floor mats, and maybe a nice layer of Rain-X? Well, even if your hose is already hibernating there is one more thing you need to do before winter and that is to get all the bugs off the paint. Some of these buggers contain acidic substances that can actually eat away at the clear coat and eventually even the paint. That’s right, leaving dead bugs on your car will destroy your paint. In my mind it’s just their revenge for killing them. What happens is that as an insect decomposes, they produce enzymes intended to break down the carcass. These enzymes also break down automotive paint, resulting in etching. It is always best to get bugs off the paint as soon as possible. It is especially important to get them off before winter when most of us don’t hand wash our cars as much. In fact, in many cases people have had to repaint bumpers because they didn’t take the time to get bugs off in a timely manner. Don’t believe me? According to a statistic I just made up, Americans spend more than $30 million every year on repainted bumpers and poorly fit car bras to cover bug damaged paint.

If you have a commute anything like mine, driving through beautiful open hills with stretches of farms on either side of the highway (read: 2 mile commute in stop-and-go traffic alongside strip malls.), it is inevitable that the front of your car is going to get covered in bugs! Besides bugs, your vehicle probably regularly encounters tar, tree sap, and bird poop. All of these things are bad for paint and should be removed ASAP (pun intended!). Keeping your car’s paint looking good isn’t just a matter of appearance; it’s also your car’s only line of defense between the metal and the elements. You already know grocery carts, gravel roads or an angry ex can ruin your car’s paint, but a lot of things out there can do just as much, if not more, harm to the exterior of your car.

As soon as you notice bugs, tar, bird crap etc…, take action. Here’s what you can do: If the spot is relatively fresh, you can use a microfiber towel and a quick detailer spray to wipe the paint clean. This is ideal because you’re not removing any existing wax. From my experience, bird crap tends to eat into your paint the quickest.

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The thing to remember when cleaning bugs off your car is to always go with the least aggressive method first and work up from there. That thought process should be used whenever detailing your ride. This means in most cases if you’re not using the quick detailer spray to spot treat it, begin with a regular hand wash of the car and see what comes off. I use a bug mitt, which is basically a net around a really soft foam pad.

 

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It is VERY IMPORTANT to make sure the mitt you are using is specifically made for a car, because using a sponge designed for cleaning dishes is waaaay too abrasive for car paint. Often times if the bugs are fresh, they can be removed with regular car soap and elbow grease. When I say “regular car soap” I do NOT mean dish soap.

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If that doesn’t do the trick, and if the bugs have been sitting for a while it probably won’t, you’ll need to move on to more aggressive tactics. If there is a large area covered with bugs, I’d go with the wet towel approach next. It’s pretty simple, get a towel wet and just lay it over the “infected” area.

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Let the towel sit for 10-15 minutes. To speed up the process, apply some gentle pressure while drinking hot chocolate and if need be, hum a little Christmas tune.

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After removing the towel, the bugs should come off with scrubbing much easier. If I notice a lot of bugs on a car I’m detailing, I will go ahead and throw a wet towel over the bumper and both mirrors for a while before I even wash it to loosen things up.

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Let’s say the bugs have been on your bumper since Dale Jr. only had one #8 on his car. In that case you’ll need to be more aggressive. There are lots of products out there that are specifically made for this. Most work pretty well, but the thing to keep in mind is that unless it specifically says on the bottle “safe for car wax”, bug and tar remover sprays will take the wax off your paint. Always plan on waxing the area afterwards. Plus, waxing the bumper makes it a little tougher for bug guts to stick to it next time. I’ve found soaking the bugs with some bug and tar remover and then wiping them off during the car to be another easy method.

If by chance you don’t have any bug and tar remover spray on your shelf, there are other household items you can use. Again, this would be getting more aggressive, so try other options first. Things you can use include rubbing the bumper with a dryer sheet. Also, believe it or not WD40 works well. WD40 leaves a slimy film behind though, so you will need to wash the area after using it. Neither should harm your paint at all.

If the problem is tar, the steps are similar, except you almost always have to begin with some type of bug and tar removing spray. I let the spray sit for 5-10 minutes to really loosen it before I go after it. Keep in mind; the towel you use to wipe tar off CANNOT be used for other applications in the future. It needs to be regulated to a lowly tar removal towel (or similar nasty tasks).

 

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Sap is even harder to remove than bugs and tar in most cases. Here is some sap I noticed on my van this fall.

 

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I used Turtle Wax Bug and Tar Remover spray to loosen it up.

 

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After letting it soak some, I used to bug mitt to remove.

 

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It took 3 applications to get it all. There have been times when that doesn’t get all the sap, in which case I’ve had some success using a rubbing compound.

 

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After removing bugs and tar that may have etched into the paint, you may want to consider clay barring the car (read my previous post about how to use a clay bar here).

In conclusion, prevent future paint damage by washing and waxing regularly. Wax creates a protective barrier that makes bugs, tar and other road grime easier to remove. I’ve seen people do some crazy things to prevent bugs on their paint that I wouldn’t recommend including Goo Gone, peanut butter, finger nail polish remover, wrapping the bumper in Saran wrap, and soaking the front end in WD40 and leaving it on. Share what you have done to protect your ride from bugs in the comments.

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47 Comments on “Spare Me The Details: Bugs Be Gone...”


  • avatar
    tonycd

    Handy column, thanks. And I particularly enjoyed your statistic. A little-known fact: 82.7% of all statistics cited in posts were made up on the spot.

  • avatar
    mike978

    I must have missed this in an earlier post but what is in “quick detailer spray”? Water?

    Thanks for the helpful advice.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Quick detailer spray is quick detailer spray. It isn’t just water.

      I carry a bottle of Meguiars “Quik Detailer” and a microfiber cloth in the trunk of my car. I don’t know if Meguiars is better than the others, but I’ve had good luck with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Fink

        Pch101 is right, it’s not just water. The product is actually called Quik Detailer and is about $6 a bottle. It’s a great lubricant. I use it when clay barring a car, or if I need to just spot treat something instead of an entire car wash. Like removing bird crap or something. I should have explained that in the article.

        • 0 avatar
          mike978

          Thanks – I wasn`t sure if it was just a term for something fairly generic. I will look for it next time I go shopping.

        • 0 avatar
          DubTee1480

          Meguiars clay bar kit has Quik Detailer packaged with it, it is great stuff – used it for years. A friend of mine uses it to clean bugs off of and maintain his motorcycle helmet.

          I like the towel trick, I’ll have to try that. I’ve used WD40 for some time to remove bugs, it’s nice to feel some validation after the weird looks I’ve received.

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    Good column, thanks. I will second the Turtle Wax bug and tar remover; that stuff works especially well at removing road tar.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    10 minutes into what would have been over an hour of cabbage moth impacts I turned around, went home, called her and said I couldn’t make it and washed my car. The car was new. I told her I was sick.

  • avatar
    AJ

    I’m a big believer in a good coat of whatever. I get laughed at for having a shinny Jeep, but I Zaino it. Not only do the bugs wash off easier, but so does mud. I can return from a wheeling trip where the mud stains my tires, and a high pressure hose washes the bugs and that nasty mud off with just light scrubbing.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      +1,000 on the Zaino stuff!

      I’ve used mineral spirits for tree sap on my previous cars. I’m not sure if that damages paint, but by only using as much as necessary, rinsing the hell out of the treated area, then waxing when finished, seems to be OK.

      Haven’t had sap problems on my new Accord yet.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    This is great, Mister Fink. I already that you should get foreign matter off of your paint ASAP, but there’s a lot here that I didn’t know. This is our first winter with the new car, and I don’t want the paint ruined…lol…

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Florida Lovebugs. End of story.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Two days after buying my ’06 GTO I had a 3M clear bra installed. I highly recommend it. It has kept the bugs and rock chips from the paint. Also have it behind each tire to protect from rocks and tar.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    My aunt always used Spic’N’Span and sponges on her Fords. I’ve been trying it on all my cars since the 1960s, and I can say it’s the best cleaner – before waxing – for everything except clear coats and non-enamel paints made after 1959. For those, the biggest benefit was frequent customer discounts from Earl Scheib.

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      Reminds me about a friend of mine helping his father wash his then new 1976 Thunderbird. His dad was using an SOS pad on the whitewalls, my then 10 year old friend thought the SOS pad would be great for the left rear quarter panel.

  • avatar
    Silvy_nonsense

    I don’t know much about insect biology, but based on my experience cleaning their smushed bodies off my car, I’m pretty sure their blood is a 50/50 mix of industrial epoxy and superglue.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I just let the wet salty & sandy Minnesota winter roads take care of the dead bugs for me. By spring there gone.

  • avatar
    IndianaDriver

    I’ve sworn by Castrol Super Clean for over 20 years. Bugs, tar and just about everything comes off with a sponge – no abrasives involved. Heck, it’s the all purpose household cleaner for many other things too.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    If you drive faster the bugs will just vaporize on impact

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    I used nothing but hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle on my sportbikes. Super cheap and it dissolves protein, which the buggers are made of. Among other things.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I went for the clear-bra, but in all honesty, keeping bugs/bird poop/etc off a car is an uphill battle at best. You clean it and drive for a week and twice as many bugs accumulate. You leave it in the driveway to dry after being cleaned/waxed and a bird decides it looks like a nice target. I sort of expect a certain level of grime on my car, it’s not like it’s an indoor toy.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Another good thing to use is the foamy window cleaner in the aerosol can, such as Stoner’s. Yes, you have to rewax, but it’s not a big deal to me. Just shake the can good, spray it on the bug guts, and let it foam for a few seconds, it eats away at the bug. Then just wipe it clean with a soft terrycloth towel.

    I’ve done this for years. It works well with bird poop and Florida lovebugs!

  • avatar
    calgarytek

    Neat article.

    Has anyone considered plasti-dipping their vehicle as a way of preserving the paint? We get quite a bit of snow/salt in the winter and our fair share of bugs in the summer. Would it not be best to put the vehicle through a wash/wax/clay process and then protect it by applying plasti-dip?

    • 0 avatar
      Delta9A1

      I plasti-dipped my winter wheels this year, and the coating is holding up amazingly well. No peeling or cracking over the last two months, but Vancouver/Whistler is not Calgary. The cost and hassle of coating the entire car, and stripping it off in the spring, would make it hard to justify as “whole car” winter protectant. I have thought of just plasti-dipping the hood, to reduce the “sand-blast” effect of road grit on the highway in winter. If I do, I will report back on how it looks/works.

      • 0 avatar
        calgarytek

        Dipyourcar.com offers a kit to spray your entire vehicle, including a wagner paint gun. Its overkill for wheels, but I’d hate to use the spray can to coat the entire car. That’s insane time and hastle.

        PS. I’m based out of Quebec for the time being. My suspension is starting to complain if you get my drift…

  • avatar
    IndianaDriver

    Yes – in the purple bottle.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I find that washing the car with warm water helps a great deal, especially on front-facing surfaces that have bugs. If there are a lot of bug splats I’ll quickly go over the areas with a sponge and let them sit while I do other parts of the car, then come back and go over them more thoroughly with the regular sponge. Then just the hard cases are left for the bug sponge.

    One house we owned had a utility sink in the garage with a hose connection on the faucet, so I could also use warm water for rinsing. That was the best deal ever for washing the car.

  • avatar
    xtoyota

    I have been using Mr.Bubble bath room spray cleaner for years {S.C. Johnson Co.} Spray bumper wait 4-5 Min. and wipe away the bugs. This stuff probably will remove wax so I always re-wax the bug areas

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Good ole S. C. Johnson, the makers of Simonize, the wax you rub into the paint (but not clear coat). When I was running low, I looked for more, but couldn’t find it. Then I checked out their wood floor wax that you buff into the wood, and it’s identical! It’s good for that “new tire” look, without the exessive gloss. I don’t know if it protects tires, but it sure looks good!

  • avatar
    cRaCk hEaD aLLeY

    My co-worker visiting BC from Manitoba swears by plain PAM spray (cooking oil) all over the front of his VFR800. It worked. No water required, just an old rag by the end of the ride MB-BC and the thing was like new. He finished my BBQ can of olive-oil PAM the day he left.. Not sure if that one worked though.

  • avatar

    >>>What happens is that as an insect decomposes, they produce enzymes intended to break down the carcass.

    It is fairly likely that a decomposing insect might contain enzymes that do break down the carcass; some of its normal digestive enzymes should do that. But it’s highly doubtful that an insect produces such enzymes after it is dead.

    And I doubt that enzymes for breaking down proteins (which are the sorts of enzymes that would break down an insect carcass, since that carcass is protein) would have much effect on automotive paint. Enzymes are as specific as keys; automotive paint is not protein. Neither is wax.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Griot’s Garage recommends and sells “3M General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner” in a 15oz aerosol can.

    I can’t say how it does on bugs, tar, and pitch, but it certainly removes old, dried-up contact cement from a mailbox when nothing else would so it could be sold on Craig’s List…

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      3M Adhesive Cleaner is great. It’s definitely more aggressive and should be used after other things have been tried, but I too have had success using that when other methods failed.

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    I feel really bad about all those insects I left on my cars for so long. I feel really bad that I didn’t suffer the ruination of my paint, either. Illinois bugs apparently lack the potency of regular bugs. I’m thinking about getting a car bra kit. You know; car bra, car bra protector, car bra protector wax and car bra protector cleaner and detailer.

    On the other hand, maybe my cars are protected by the thrice yearly commercial car washing they get, whether they need it or not. I am careful to use only high speed beating cloth washes. Perhaps my punishment will come in the next world, because I am paying no cost in this.


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