Damage to Clear Coat by Tree Sap

Elton Dunn

While shade does keep the temperatures down inside a parked car, tree branches that ooze sap can cause major damage. Los Angeles Times staff writer Ralph Vartebedian terms it one of the most damaging substances ever to meet a car's finish. Act fast or act smart to get sap off and minimize clear coat damage.


Sap soaks into a clear coat, causing major damage.

When tree sap dries, it hardens like glue onto your car. It's too hard to remove, so you hold off, or you never notice it. Dried sap looks like clear or rust-colored bumps on the auto. The sap leaches through the clear coat, then begins to damage the auto paint. Your car's finish begins to deteriorate in splotches. By the time you're aware of the damage, the sap is too far into the finish to come off with water or soapy cleansers.

Basic Cleaning

If you know the sap is running, don't park under trees and certainly not under pines. Early detection is key. After you parked under a tree, inspect your car for sap damage when you arrive home. Before the sap gets baked into the car you can clean it off with soap and water. Let the car cool down, then rinse the car with water. Combine auto soap with warm water, then use a natural sponge to soap up the damaged area. You can also splurge for a weekly car wash that keeps the vehicle fresh.

Cleaning Old Sap

If you spot the damage too late, bypass the soap since it wont help you. Look for a clay bar cleaning kit, which comes with spray lubrication. Read over the details on your kit. Typically, you spray the affected area with the lube first, so the clay won't scratch your ride. Then you work the bar back and forth over the sap, using light but even pressure. The clay gets up the sap and other hard-to-remove debris like paint spray or metal particles.

What Not To Do

You might be tempted to break out harsh auto cleaners, but they won't work on old sap. You might be tempted to use rubbing or polishing compound to sand down the clear coat and get to the sap. If you do this, you're likely to end up with swirl marks from the application process that make your ride look worse. The clay bar is not only effective, it's minimally invasive.