My car has a new nemesis, and it’s a tree
No, I haven’t crashed into it, it’s just dumping sap all over the paintwork. So I got advice from an expert on what to do
Phill is a freelance motoring journalist who has worked for loads of places, including Autocar, the Daily Telegraph, Evo Middle East and AutoTrader.
When I was younger, Sunday would be car cleaning day. I’d head out to the driveway with two buckets and all manner of potions, waxes and clays, and spend hours making my mk6 Ford Escort look better than it did when it rolled out of the factory. Any rain that fell in the next week would bead up like marbles on a diamond surface, and you could see your face in it from 50 metres away.
Now, though, I’m old and life has got in the way. A small child and adult responsibilities mean I can’t spend that kind of time ensuring that my current car – my long-term Skoda Superb – looks as good as I’d like it. My detailing days are done, for now at least.
I’ve come to terms with that, and I can just about keep the twitches under control when I spot a patch of dirt, or brake dust all over the alloys.
The Superb when it's clean. Mmm, shiny
But there’s only so much I can put up with. And trees are the hill I may die on. You see, my house’s driveway sits underneath a lot of sizeable oak trees, and they’ve been crapping all over my car. Not just leaves, but other… stuff. Acorns. Sap. Goop. Goop that attracts wasps, makes any other substance nearby stick to it and generally makes the clean lines of my snazzy Sportline trim look scruffy and sort of hairy. Ick.
But what to do? I’m well out of the loop on car cleaning materials, so I asked an expert. Karl Heath is the technical resolution and support manager at Autoglym, one of the UK’s – nay, the world’s – leading car care firms. If anyone knows what the hell to do about this, it’s him.
Firstly, he says, the issue of sap on your car isn’t just confined to those that park under trees. Wind will blow it, and it’ll travel.
“All trees can contribute to dirt attraction to adjacent vehicles, and can also contribute to marking when winter is drawing near,” Karl says. “Leaves falling onto cars can dry out on the painted finish and leave printed marks and patterns of the leaf on the surface that don’t always remove with a simple wash.”
The scene of the crime
Oh good. So basically every element of the tree is trying to knacker my paintwork. So what can I do about it?
“Avoiding it is impossible unless we live in a treeless society,” says Karl. “Even if you live and park away from trees, there will undoubtedly be occasions where visiting friends of family, or out shopping and parking under a tree will happen.” As long as you gave a good base layer of protection (we recommend Ultra High Definition Wax, as this is our ‘top of the tree’ wax), it’ll coat the vehicle with a sacrificial barrier. Will it stop the sap from sticking? No, nothing can, but what it will do is it will make it much easier to remove as it prevents the sap from bonding to the porous paintwork.”
That’s all well and good, but it sounds like a lot of work… Will it damage the car if I don’t clean it off super quickly?
“Tree sap generally won’t cause permanent damage if the paintwork has a base layer of protection and it is cleaned off in a suitable timeframe,” Karl says. “But some sap is harder to remove than others and, if left on, you may find after removal that tiny pock marks remain in the clear coat, which will require professional removal in the form of machine polishing. It’s always best to remove any fallout from trees.”
Aw hell naw
OK. Great. But what’s the deal with the wasps?
“Parking next to trees can increase the potential for insects to land on darker painted finishes thinking its stagnant water where they would feed. Due to the heat of the surface they stick to the finish, leaving very minute brown/golden marks that look similar to sap. These marks on some surfaces can actually leave a minute etch mark in the finish.”
Brilliant, the wasps are killing the car. And it’s not just them I need to worry about.
“Parking under trees will not only result in tree sap – birds live in trees and we all know what the end result of that looks like!” Karl says.
At this point I’m amazed that the car is still roadworthy. Karl proceeds to outline an expert way to ensure that your car stays free from damage, which I’ll summarise below. But we’re back to the original problem of my not having time to clean the car properly.
So I take it to the hand car wash down the road every week instead. Only seven quid. Bargain.
Yes, I've failed, but this is much easier
How to protect your car from the evil trees
Karl Heath of Autoglym tells you how to keep your pride and joy sparkling and sap-free.
“Remember, the important part in this is the protection, to prevent the sap from bonding and making future cleaning easier. But if your car is a victim of the dreaded tree sap then observe the following:
“Rinse the bodywork first of all. If you have a pressure washer, even better, this will get rid of any light surface dirt that hasn’t bonded. Then, use Pure Shampoo in a bucket of warm water. Pure Shampoo has a high foam content and this will help lubricate the panels when agitation takes place. Remember to concentrate on the horizontal panels, as this is where the majority of the tree sap will have built up.
Get rid of this nonsense with Karl's top tips
“Once fully washed, rinse and then dry using an InstaDry – this cloth will leave every panel completely dry for inspection to ensure the sap has been removed. If any sap remains, the dreaded non-water soluble type then don’t worry: break out the Intensive Tar Remover and apply with a soft cloth to the affected areas. Give a little bit of dwell time – a couple of minutes is sufficient – and remove. That should be the removal process complete.
“Don’t forget to re-apply UHD Wax to areas that have been treated with Intensive Tar Remover. We recommend you do this twice a year, just before the summer and just before the winter. For maintenance washes, in between the applications of UHD Wax, use Rapid Aqua Wax to top up those protective layers. All you have to do is apply direct to the wet panels after the shampoo has been rinsed, spread with one of the supplied cloths and dry the vehicle with the other – simple.”