Can Falling Leaves Damage Your Car?

The danger comes if they're left to sit for too long

Leaves on the front of a car Photo: iStock

Those beautiful autumn leaves can cause problems for your car. In fact, it’s best to avoid parking under trees—especially if you’re not driving much. Leaves find their way into a car’s nooks and crannies, getting caught under wipers, and clogging air intakes and drain holes, such as those around the sunroof. Plus, wet leaves contain tree sap, which is acidic and can damage the finish on a car’s paint, reports John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at CR’s Auto Test Center

If you need to clear leaves from your car, do it carefully, picking them out with your hands or by using a leaf blower with light air pressure. (Too much pressure can cause leaves to become lodged in hard-to-reach places.) To unclog sunroof drains, you may be tempted to remove debris with a wire hanger, but that can tear the sunroof lining. Instead, use a vacuum to draw out the leaves. Pop the hood to clear leaves near the base of the windshield, where the car’s heater intake system is. Then give your car a good rinse. 

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For tree sap, dab spots with rubbing alcohol on a cloth or try a tree sap remover, such as Turtle Wax Bug & Tar Remover, $7 (not tested by CR). “To be safe, test any store-bought cleaner on a small spot of paint first,” Ibbotson says. 

Waxing your car once a season also helps protect the paint. If you can’t avoid parking under trees, consider investing in a car cover. Better ones tend to cost at least $100 and are made of multilayered material. (Cheaper, single-layer covers risk trapping moisture and scratching your car.) And don’t forget that wet leaves can be just as slippery as ice, so increase your following distance on leaf-strewn roads.

CR offers advice on how to safely work on your car at home. Also, check out our advice on finding a high-quality car repair shop and our Car Repair Assistant to get an estimate or locate a repair shop near you.