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How to protect your car on Halloween

Tips for cleaning off holiday tricks

Consumer Reports News: October 23, 2013 10:00 AM

Want to hear something spooky? Halloween tricks typically start before the holiday and your car is not immune.

Every October goblins, ghouls, and even zombies prowl the night and "trick" cars. But these cars aren't tricked out, they're hit with broken eggs, Silly String, or smashed pumpkins. If left on the paint for a period of time, this nasty mess can cause permanent stains that are not only unsightly but can lower your vehicle's resale value.

Substances such as egg whites, pumpkin, bird droppings, and even bug splatter contain acids that can eat into your car's finish, says Jim Policare, body shop director at Vinart Collision Center in Allentown, Penn. And the heat of the sun speeds up these chemical reactions.

Fortunately, if you drive a newer car, you may not have to worry: Over the past 10 years, automakers have developed clearcoat paint that is specifically designed to resist the type of acid damage that can result from eggs and Silly String, says Donald White, global technology manager at DuPont Performance Coatings.

If you drive an older car, however, there are still steps you can take to protect it. We talked to three auto-finish experts, and they shared their tips:

  • Your best defense is a protective coat of wax. The week before Halloween is a good time to apply it. Not only does a good waxing prepare your vehicle for the threats of All Hallows Eve, but, if you live in a snowy area, wax can help protect the paint from the salt, sand, and road grime related to winter driving. For the best protection, we recommend having the wax applied by a detailer or do it yourself by following our experts' tips. Consumer Reports' latest tests of car waxes (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) have shown that most begin to wear off after only a few weeks, with only three of 19 products earning a Very Good or Excellent rating for durability. And two of those are among the least expensive waxes we tested.

  • If you can, park the car in a garage on Halloween night or use a car cover. This may not be the bravest strategy, but surviving the zombie hordes and avoiding the mischievous youth often demands prudence.

  • If your car is hit on Halloween night, rinse off solid residue that can scratch the paint, such as eggshells, as soon as possible. Then give your vehicle a thorough washing to get rid of the other material. If you do it yourself, follow our experts' car-washing tips for the best results.

  • To clean off any small mess quickly, Policare suggests keeping handy a small spray bottle of water mixed with a dedicated car-washing soap. A spray-on car wax would also work well. Then, whenever you find a contaminant on the paint--whether it's on the morning after Halloween or a bird dropping at the beach--you can easily spray the solution on and wipe away the mess with a soft towel. Even if you can't remove it right away, just spraying the solution on will dilute the acid and minimize any damage.

  • If a contaminant has had time to set in and cause paint damage, but hasn't eaten completely through the clearcoat layer, wash it thoroughly and try using a cleaner wax. These are products formulated with some abrasives; they can remove a thin layer of paint to expose the undamaged paint beneath. (Our latest Ratings show which waxes provided the best cleaning and gloss improvement.) If the damage extends through the clearcoat and into the color paint or metal, however, it will need to be repainted.  

If you have a later-model car, you can feel reassured by the knowledge that modern paint finishes have been engineered and tested to resist common pranks. If your car gets hit with any of this debris, it's likely to resist damage better and be easier to clean than ever before.

Learn more about car care and car maintenance.

Eric Evarts

   

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