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How to protect your car’s paint from Halloween “tricks”

Consumer Reports News: October 20, 2011 01:53 PM

Sure, Halloween is spooky. But the morning after could be even scarier if you find your car has been “tricked” 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.

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

Fortunately, the paint on newer cars is ready for this. According to Donald White, global technology manager at DuPont Performance Coatings, almost all vehicles built in the past 10 years have new types of clearcoat finishes that are specifically designed to resist the type of acid damage that can result from eggs and silly string. But how do you protect an older car, or one that’s been repainted, from these spooky stains?

Here’s the advice of auto-finish experts:

• Your best defense is a protective coat of wax. The week before Halloween is a good time to apply it. Not only does it prepare your vehicle for the terrors 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 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 during Halloween night or use a car cover.

• 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.

Eric Evarts

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