How to: Get Rid of Tree Sap on Your Car

By Robby DeGraff  on November 20, 2012

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I like to keep my car clean, all the time, and nothing is more frustrating than finding drops of sticky sap all over your car's windows or paint. My cherished Rally Red 2001 Chevrolet Camaro stands out like a matador in a bull arena filled with pine trees, and I frequently have to remove sap during my weekly car wash.

Sap will not immediately damage a car's paint, but it should not be ignored. After some time, the sap can etch through the paint's clear coat, leading to discoloring and staining.

"The concentration of sap generally varies, so it is difficult to say what the short-term effects would be, but it will certainly cause paint damage if left untreated for a longer period of time," says Leonard Raykinsteen, a paint material engineer at Nissan. "If sap is detected on a vehicle's paint finish, it should be removed in a timely manner. How soon? I don't think anyone can truly define it because it depends on the concentration of the sap as well as the weather conditions. Generally, when it is hot, the effects of tree sap are accelerated."

For years, I've had great results by following the steps below, yet I reached out to our friends at West Loop Auto for a few more tips and tricks on how to properly remove tree sap from your vehicle:

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Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

What you need:

 

  • 2 clean terry cloths or soft towels 
  • Box cutter blade (use on glass only!) 
  • 1 can or bottle of bug and tar remover, or rubbing alcohol 
  • Bucket of water and sponge or wash mitt 
  • Spray wax or quick detailer polish 
  • A bit of elbow grease (muscle) and patience

What to do:

1. Wash and dry your vehicle, creating a clean surface to work on.
2. Find the spot of sap and pour a few drops of the remover solution onto a clean washcloth or terry cloth. I recommend using Turtle Wax's Bug and Tar Remover, available at most convenience and auto-parts stores for under $10. You can also use rubbing alcohol.

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Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

3. Set the cloth on top of the desired area and let it sit for at least 30 seconds.
4. Rub the area until the sap is gone. Some tree sap can be extremely cumbersome to remove, so you might need to repeat steps 3 and 4.

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Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

5. If the sap is still there, don't be afraid to use your fingernails lightly to scratch some of it off.

6. When your car's paint is free of sap, spray a few mists of quick wax on the paint, polish it off or clean with a detailing cloth, and you're good to go.

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Got sap on your windshield or windows?

If it's still fresh and not hardened, refrain from using your windshield wipers, unless you want long, gooey streaks to block your vision.

Steps 1 through 6 above can be followed to rid tree sap from your windows. Just substitute a glass-cleaning product rather than quick wax for the last step.

Another good tip for removing sap from vehicle glass is to use a sharp box cutter blade. I've found this method to be quick and easy, and it works best on hardened sap. This is also a great tool for removing stickers affixed to your windows.

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Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Oftentimes, if my back window has a few spots of fresh sap on it, I'll wait a day or two, then spend a few seconds with a sharp box cutter blade, slowly scraping off the sap. Just be sure to keep it closely flat along the windshield so you don't scratch it.

Do you have any automotive mysteries you'd like us to try to solve? Leave us a comment. 

*While we hope to help you, Cars.com is not responsible for any damage that may occur to your vehicle by following the steps above.



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