Eight Things That Ruin Your Car’s Paint Job (And How To Avoid Them)

Eight Things That Ruin Your Car’s Paint Job (And How To Avoid Them)

One of the biggest purchases you’ll make in your life is a car. Obviously you’d want to keep the paint job in tip top condition so you can admire it and to retain its resale value. While some wear and tear on your car is inevitable, you may be doing things that inadvertently ruin the paint job without even realising. We look at eight common paint problems that are easily preventable.

Front of car image from Shutterstock

Innocent everyday happenings like accidentally spilled fuel, cheeky finger writings or annoying bird droppings can leave long-lasting stains and scratches on the surface of your car or, even worse, cause corrosion.

“There are so many things that happen every day that can damage the paint on your car, which many people are not aware of,” Ford vehicle operations chief engineer Richard Burt said. Burt has worked for Ford Paint since 1994 and leads the team that engineers the paint used on Ford vehicles in Asia Pacific.

“Luckily, you can easily prevent these elements causing permanent damage to your car’s paint job by making sure to be proactive about cleaning away any spills, splatters and muck promptly and properly.”

Here are some of the ways you may be ruining your car’s paint — and tips from Richard Burt on how to avoid them:

#1 Splattered bugs

Bugs might be tiny but can do actual damage to the paint on your car. Insects are surprisingly acidic, and if they are not properly cleaned off the surface of your car, they can actually etch into the paint.

Tip: Don’t put off cleaning splattered bugs from your car for too long — as time goes on, they become more difficult to remove. If you act quickly, all it takes is a little bit of bug and tar remover, a soft wash cloth and some elbow grease.

#2 Spilled fuel

Though most people want to make sure they get their every cent’s worth when topping up their gas tank, filling it to the brim actually increases the chance of having gas overflow and spill onto your car. If left alone and not quickly wiped away, the spilled fuel can seep into the top coat of the paint causing it to lose its shine, and leaving a stain on your car’s finish that is very difficult to remove.

Tip: To avoid leaving a brown fuel-colored blemish around the gas tank cap on your car, if you dribble gas down the side of your car, try to clean it as soon as possible with a fine microfiber cloth. It doesn’t hurt to use a little instant detailer as well.

#3 Bird droppings

Not only are bird droppings ugly, they can actually do some serious damage to your car’s paint job. With a diet full of berries, seeds and even bits of gravel, these acidic and grainy droppings can stain, dull and scratch your paint, and take the gloss off if left lingering on your car too long.

Tip: Spray a bit of wash solution onto the affected areas and use a soft microfiber cloth to gently wipe away the droppings. Use a lifting motion to avoid dragging any grit across the paint.

#4 Stone chips

Loose stones, pebbles and stone chips are everywhere on the road. These tiny pieces are kicked up from the ground and peck at the sides your car. This can chip the top paint coat and sometimes even go all the way down to the lower layers of paint, exposing them to weathering they are not equipped to handle.

Tip: It’s best to treat these chips as soon as possible to prevent the affected spots from rusting.

#5 Fingerprints

We’ve all used our fingers to write a funny message or draw a goofy doodle onto a dirty car (or two) before. Little did we know that these innocent acts of jest, though oddly satisfying, can ruin the paint on a car. Dragging your fingers across the paint acts like sandpaper, grinding the dirt and debris into the paint and leaving wiry markings that will last long after the dirt is gone.

Tip: The easiest way to avoid this is not to do it, but it’s still bound to happen. You can use a duster to wipe down your car every day to prevent accidental sanding, or if you need to remove small scratches, you can use a little bit of polish — just remember to wash your car before polishing.

#6 Ash

Murky air can leave behind a layer of ash and soot on your car. Though many people would be immediately inclined to wash this away with some water, mixing water with ash can actually create powerful alkalis that can ruin your car’s finish.

Tip: The easiest way to avoid this is to keep your car covered if you leave it parked outside. To get the ash off, gently dust the ash away with a car duster.

#7 Dirty washing accessories

Regardless of how many times you wash your car, if you are working with dirty wash accessories, you can cause permanent damage to the paint. Even if you are cleaning with the softest and finest microfiber cloth or sponge, the moment it drops on the ground it will pick up microscopic bits of grit, sand and dirt, which can’t be entirely washed off. If you continue to wash your car with dirty accessories, you might be left with wiry swirls and scratches on your car.

Tip: If your washing cloth or sponge drops onto the floor, just grab a new one. It’s always useful to keep a spare cloth or two beside you to avoid scratching your car with dirty accessories, and having to detail or repaint it. If you can take your car to a get a touchless wash, that’s even better: A touchless wash removes any chance of microscopic pieces of dirt and grit from coming in contact with your car.

#8 Sand and Salt

Both sand and salt are very abrasive. The biggest threats these two elements pose to a vehicle are scratches and rust, which can be accelerated by continuous exposure to salt. And due to the construction of a vehicle with most of the underbody exposed, most damage occurs underneath the car where you make not see it as easily.

Tip: The best and easiest thing car owners can do is to regularly wash their car with clean water to remove these abrasives. Water will float sand and salt off the car without rubbing against the paint.


  • A couple of ones you missed.

    1) Sunscreen … this can cause severe problems with paint, Im not sure exactly what type of sunscreen but have seen friends cars covered in handprints from kids that are virtually impossible to remove, can buff them out temporarily but they seem to come back (the marks, not the kids). Not sure if its zinc based ones that do the damage.

    2) Fruit bat droppings, will etch the paint very quickly. Remove them as soon as possible.

    3) Brake fluid. Although apparantly the newer stuff is not as caustic to paint as it once was.

  • Inferior car cleaning products should also make that list.
    There was a product a few years back called ‘waterless car wash’ in an aerosol can which actually ate the clear acrylic off cars resulting in that splotchy effect on paint. Some cleaners are also designed specifically for acrylic and some urethane based paints, same goes for interior cleaning products with people ‘claiming’ the leather based cleaners are actually a placebo or actually damage the leathers.

    Just my experience from counter-productive cleaning

  • Another for the list, bat/flying fox guano.

    Bird droppings is bad, especially if it’s an ibis, but flying fox guano is terrible for most surface coatings. It has a considerably higher acid content than bird droppings.

  • #9 Children
    Fingernails. Toys. Dirty shoes. Faeces/urine/vomit. Bikes in garage. Lack of parental time to wash and clean the car due to demands of children.
    All are highly deleterious to car exterior and interior.
    Source: father of three young kids.

  • Don’t park under certain trees. A friend has a Leopard tree and it drips tiny drops of sap(?) that do nasty things to your paintwork.

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