By Jim Kerr
Summer is a great time to take a trip to a local lake, a nearby park or even across the country. Unfortunately, summertime is also when all the bugs come out, and it always seems that more than my share of them are attracted to the front of my car. Maybe you have had the same experience, and have struggled to get that vehicle clean again after you return home.
I have learned there are easy ways and hard ways to make it look new again. Some methods are more effective than others. A good friend parks his car in the back yard, grabs a cool drink and finds a lawn chair while he lets the lawn sprinkler waft back and forth over his car. This may be the most relaxing way to wash the bugs off, but it really isn’t very effective.
One of the most important things is to clean the bugs off as soon as possible. A couple of days with the vehicle baking in the sun will make it much harder to clean the vehicle. Leave it too long and the acids in the bug deposits could actually damage the finish on your vehicle.
Start by washing the dirt off the car with a spray of water. Don’t rub it at this point as you may scratch the paint finish, you only want to flush off the loose dirt. One of the tricks I use to help remove the bugs is to lay an old flannel sheet over the front of the vehicle and soak it with water. The flannel sheet holds the water on the surface, softening the deposits on the vehicle so they come off easier. Next, apply some bug and tar remover to the front of the vehicle. Let it soak for a few minutes and then rub it gently with a sponge. Soap (specifically for washing vehicles) and water are applied next and rubbed with a clean sponge – I prefer a car wash mitt as it is easier to use. Finally rinse the vehicle with clean water and inspect the vehicle for remaining dirt and contaminants – you will likely still find a few dirty spots, so repeat the cleaning procedure on those spots.
Tar spots should be treated with special care. Often, a grain of sand or rock is embedded in the tar and it will certainly scratch the paint if you try to scrape it or push it off. A solvent or tar remover will soften the tar so that it can be lifted carefully off the paint. If it doesn’t come off easily, apply more remover until it does.
With the vehicle clean, you may find stains where bug deposits were located. If the stains are on smooth plastic parts such as unpainted mirror housings or emblems, a plastic polish is the best product to clean them up. Plastic polish is much finer than regular automotive polishes so it doesn’t scratch the plastic parts, but it is still better to rub it in a straight line rather than in circular patterns or you can create swirls on the finish.
Painted body panels should be detailed with a quality automotive wax or polish. This will help remove stains, fill unseen chips in the paint and create a smooth surface that will be easier to clean the next time. It is important to use a polish to protect the paint any time a solvent or bug remover has been used on the surface as these products will remove any wax on the vehicle surface. Waxing a car is much easier than you might think. New products apply easily and wipe off even easier – use a microfibre cloth for best results. Unlike some of the older products that left a hard-to-remove white residue in cracks and seams, new polishes often dry clear, but check the directions to be sure.
Textured or rough plastic parts should not be polished, Treat them with a plastic protectant that you can wipe on and off. Avoid getting the plastic protectant on the paint or it will leave streaks.
Cleaning the outside of your vehicle doesn’t have to be a daunting task. A few select cleaning and polish products available at your local auto parts suppler will make it much easier and quicker.
One final note: always clean your car in the shade. Direct sunlight shining through the water droplets on the vehicle can burn the paint on a hot day. Besides, it is much more enjoyable in the shade. Now where is my lawn sprinkler and lawn chair?