Car Doctor Q&A: How Do I Remove Tree Sap From My Car?

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Depending on temperature, insect infestation or disease, a pine tree can generate excess sap that makes a mess of your car’s finish. Here’s how to tackle it.

Q. I just moved to a new apartment complex and there are pine trees everywhere. I was washing my car this weekend and tried everything to remove the blobs of sap and nothing worked. Finally I tried fingernail polish remover and that took it off. My question, is there an easier way to do this? I’m afraid I’ll damage the paint if I keep using fingernail polish remover.

A. I have had pretty good luck with commercial “bug and Tar” remover, as well as commercially available Goof-off or Goo Gone.

I also have had good luck with denatured alcohol. Apply the alcohol to a clean cloth and let it sit on the blob of sap for a minute or so. This should soften it so you can wipe it away. I haven’t tried it, but readers tell me hand sanitizer works pretty well. This makes sense since it is mostly alcohol.

Just about any chemical you use will — at a minimum — take the wax off of the paint. Once the sap spots are removed and the entire car is clean, use a light polishing compound, clay bar and a good quality wax to protect the paint surface. Regular application of wax will help you remove sap when it inevitably drips on the car in the future.

Our friend ChrisFix has a great video where he tests out just about every sap removal method we’ve ever heard of:

As a further suggestion, If I lived in a pine grove I would buy a car cover and use it during “sap season.” You can purchase an inexpensive, yet scratch resistant car cover for around $50, and toss it out once a year when it gets full of sap.