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FAQ: Paint Problems and Paint Contaminants
- What is etching?
Etching occurs when chemicals, minerals, or acid (most commonly sulfuric acid in rainwater) end up on the vehicle's paint and break down the resin-based binders in the paint, leaving damaging little marks that can't be removed. The only option for removal is to use fallout remover or water spot remover to remove the problem chemical, and then try buffing to remove the damaged paint. But again, if the marks on the paint are too deep and can be felt with a fingernail, buffing will only help a little bit. Repainting may be necessary.
- I have tree sap on my car. Can you remove it?
If it is still fresh, it will come off relatively easily with rubbing alcohol-but be careful, don't rub. Tree sap has scratchy stuff in it that can leave scratches in your paint. If the sap is starting to harden, a metal razor blade can be used to take of the top layer of sap (carefully!) exposing the fresher, softer sap underneath which then can be removed using alcohol. If the sap is old, sometimes it can be removed with a plastic razor blade, but often, sap will leave etch marks in the paint because it contains acids and tannins, which are harmful.
- I have stubborn brown specks (rail dust) on my car. Can you remove them?
Rail dust is prevalent on vehicles that, when new, were shipped on railroads. Tiny bits of hot metal from the train wheels & brakes float thru the air and land on the cars, which melt into the paint finish and stay there, usually not being noticeable until it gets wet and rusts, leaving tiny brown specks all over the affected area. This is similar to rust stains and can be removed using certain chemicals, such as fallout remover. (Do not use fallout removers that contain oxalic acid-they are much too harsh and will break down the resin binders in the paint.) Depending on the severity of the problem, permanant removal of the specks is not guaranteed-the spot may be removed, but more of the ferrous metal may remain in the paint, waiting for the chance to rust again and leave a new brown speck. Buffing can sometimes help but it might leave swirl marks from the contaminants being rubbed back into the paint by the buff pad. Claying is also an option. Use caution though, because the clay can also rub the contaminants back into the surface.
Even if your car was shipped by car-carrier on the highway, damage is still possible. Pitting of the paint surface can occur from the sulfuric particles present in diesel exhaust.
- I have baked-on brake dust on my car. Can you remove it?
This is essentially the same as rail dust. This occurs when a brake caliper on your vehicles' braking system seizes up, causing the brakes to continually be applied on that particular wheel. The brakes then get super-hot, and bits of red-hot ferrous metal and brake pad material are caught in the wind as you drive and redeposit themselves on the paint, typically on the rocker panels, fenders, lower doors, and the rim & tire of the affected wheel. Depending how long this process occurred and how severe the problem is, it can be a bugger to remove. Treatment is the same as with rail dust (see above.) If it's really bad, sometimes stripping and repainting the affected areas is necessary.
- I have overspray on my car. Can you remove it?
This comes from many sources. Typically it is paint overspray, either from being near sprayed house paint, being inside a body shop, near road crews that are painting bridges & roads, or even a can of spray paint being used near your vehicle. Overspray looks like dust on the paint surface but does not always wipe off. Heavier overspray will look like small paint droplets. Depending on the severity, it can often be removed with tar remover, which dissolves it, or rubbing clay, which snags the paint droplets and removes them. Heavy overspray removal (by use of clay or other means) can leave light scratching on the paint, which may require buffing. Avoid buffing off overspray-buffing might get the overspray off, but will probably leave swirl marks from the contaminants being rubbed back into the paint by the buff pad.
- I have road paint on my car. Can you remove it?
You're in trouble with this one! If you happened to drive over freshly painted lines on the road, you need to drop everything and get it off before it fully hardens, especially if it is a thick coating. As soon as road paint hardens, it is extremely difficult to remove, and the reflective grit used in the paint will act like sandpaper on your vehicle's paint when it is removed-that's IF it can be removed. (They make road paint durable for obvious reasons.) If it is more of an overspray appearance rather than a splatter or coating, it will come off easier, typically with a plastic scraper, some solvent, and a lot of time. You can expect paint damage when removing road paint, so be prepared. If it was the fault of the road crew, sometimes you can go after them for damages. If you somehow screwed up and drove over the paint yourself-well, shame on you.
- I have lime spots on my car. Can you remove them?
Nine times out of ten, the source of lime on paint is from long-term parking in a concrete parking garage. When water drips off of concrete and onto your vehicle's paint, it brings with it a tiny bit of calcite and mineral deposits, which dries on the paint when the water evaporates, leaving a light colored streak that won't wash off. Lime on glass windows can be carefully removed with a razor. Lime on paint or plastic must be removed using mild acid, also known as water spot remover. Obviously, acids can be harsh, so water spot remover must not be allowed to dry on the paint. Lime can etch and discolor the paint, especially when combined with rust stains from the rebar inside the concrete-so get it off ASAP.
- I have water spots on my car. Can you remove them?
These are similar to lime spotting, but in some cases, damage can be worse. Light water spots that have not caused any paint damage can be removed with a "Quick Detailer" spray or even a wet towel. Heavier water spots may not come off as easily. This is why cars should not be allowed to dry in the sun.
Water spots are caused by the same calcite and mineral deposits as lime marks, except the result is a bit different. Along with the mineral deposits from the water, the magnifying effect of a water droplet increases the sun's intensity on the spot where the water droplet is, causing an increase in UV damage. So the result is hard water deposits with etching beneath it. Often, the mineral deposits can be removed, but the etch marks from the UV damage must be buffed. Water spot remover is the first option (for the deposits), followed by buffing (for the UV damage in the clearcoat.) If the damage runs too deep, repainting may be necessary.
- I have fallout/acid rain damage on my car. Can you remove it?
This type of fallout isn't quite as bad as nuclear fallout (ha ha), but can be quite damaging to the paint. Fallout can come from several sources, the most common being from smokestacks and airports. The particles that make up the smoke either end up in the rainwater or simply settle out from the air all by themselves. Typically, when mixed with rainwater, the particles create an acidic mix, which can etch the vehicle's paint and may even leave an orange tint. This is also commonly known as acid rain damage.
Jet fuel can cause similar problems-a component in jet fuel (Hydrazine) can be found in jet exhaust, which settles out on every surface around an airport-including parked cars. Again, the damage is similar to that of acid rain and causes etching of the paint. Fallout remover is the first option, followed by buffing. Buffing can sometimes cure the problem. If not, you're stuck. And do not use fallout removers that contain oxalic acid-they are much too harsh and will break down the resin binders in the paint.
- I heard that bird droppings are bad for paint-is this true?
Yes, it is true. Bird droppings are typically acidic because of the urea (the white stuff) in the droppings. Wash it off the car as soon as possible, especially if it was pooped on during a hot, sunny day and/or if your car is a dark color. Bird droppings can cause etch marks-bad ones-especially if the bird ate berries that make the poop red or purple, which results in very acidic poop. Also remember that birds like to eat grit to help digest food, so that will be in the droppings, too. When removing droppings, use lots of water and do not rub.
- My car was covered with wet leaves for half of autumn and now it has etch marks and stains on the paint. What's up with that?
As leaves decompose they produce tannic acid, which, if left on the car, will cause etching or stains. Treatment is the same as for all other types of etching. Keep your car clean of leaves and all other organic debris! If you've ever seen a puddle or a pond with leaves on the bottom, you'll notice the water has probably turned brown from the acids of decomposition. This is not what you want on your car. Stains are treated on a case by case basis, either by buffing, chemicals, or whatever creative ideas the detailer has.
- I want to throw eggs at cars on Halloween. Can this cause damage?
Yes. For starters, the car owners might gang up and damage you for doing it. But more importantly, dried egg can leave etch marks. The shell of the egg can do even more damage-the pattern of the shell breaking on the paint can leave concentric or oblong scratches & gouges in the paint emanating from the point of impact. You'll know what it looks like when you see it-it's a rather unusual pattern-and also quite aggravating, if it happened to your car. Usually it must be repainted to fix it.
- I have stickers/pinstripes on my car. Can you get them off?
Usually. The best way to remove unwanted stickers, pinstripes (the stick-on kind), or any other vinyl adhesive is with a heat gun, plastic razor, paint-safe solvent, and patience. Being too hasty can overheat the paint, causing it to bubble and be ruined. Scrapes & scratches in the paint can happen if you are not careful with the razor. Sometimes, if stickers are very old, they can be difficult to remove. Some stickers come off easily but leave the sticky residue behind, which must then be removed with the solvent. Also, when an old sticker is removed, the paint underneath may not have faded as much as the paint around it, so you might still see where the sticker was even after it's gone. If you have painted pinstripes, you're stuck with them unless you want to go to a body shop. If you have stickers you'd like to apply to your vehicle, I can also make sure they go on correctly, with proper surface prep.
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