How To Remove Tar From a Car

Your local potholes are fixed. Now, let’s talk about how to get that tar off your paint.

byChris Teague| UPDATED Jan 21, 2022 4:24 AM
How To Remove Tar From a Car
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It’s easy to find scores of people on social media complaining that the roads in their part of the country are the worst. Those same people likely complain about traffic and congestion when their town actually does something about the roads. But even if you’re a model citizen who never complains about anything, the tar associated with road construction will find a way to ruffle your feathers. 

No matter how you drive or what kind of car you own, road tar will find a way (think Jeff Goldblum but in a yellow reflector vest) to stick to your paint. The sticky stuff is used to patch potholes and cracks and ends up adhering to tires, paint, wheels, and anything else in its way.

It turns out, removing the stuff isn’t rocket science. An hour or two and a good bit of elbow grease is enough to remedy your tar problem, and it’s a heck of a lot easier than losing your cool over road construction. 

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"The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.", Depositphotos

Tar Removal Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 1-2 hours

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior and paint

What Is Tar?

In the context of our roadways, tar is a black substance composed of a mixture of asphalt and water. Construction crews use the tar mixture to patch holes and cracks in the road surface, and due to its texture, it can be easily picked up by car tires and end up on paint, bumpers, and inside wheel wells. Beyond being an eyesore, tar can cause damage to your car’s paint through scratching or discoloration if left on too long. Additionally, tar can stiffen on tires and reduce performance.

Tar Removal Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

Though road tar isn’t the most dangerous substance you could be working with, you may end up using chemicals and other products to remove it. Even if you feel like safety gear is uncool, think of your poor skin and eyes that will have to deal with the consequences of your negligence if something happens.

  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Air flow will help prevent fumes and can prevent you from breathing in harmful chemicals.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection. Even if you’re using a benign substance such as peanut butter to clean tar (it’s a thing), it’s best to take care of your skin and eyes.
  • Don’t just start scraping away at your car’s paint job. If you want your vehicle to emerge from the cleaning process wearing the same paint that it had before, take your time and work on the tar spots carefully.
  • If you notice tar buildup on your tires or inside your wheels, you may need to have the car checked by a shop to make sure your wheel balance is correct and that you don’t need new tires.
A thorough wash is required once you've removed the tar., Depositphotos

Everything You’ll Need to Remove Tar

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List 

Parts List 

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious time. You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How to Remove Tar From Your Car

Removing tar from your car’s paint isn’t a time-consuming process, nor is it remarkably difficult. Take your time and pay attention, and your car will be rolling tar free in no time.

Loosen and Remove the Tar

  1. Gather your tools. You’ll want to have everything close at hand before beginning the cleaning process.
  2. Park your car in a safe, well-ventilated area. 
  3. Apply your desired cleaning product to the tar area.

    a. If using peanut butter, spread it on the spots where tar is clinging to the paint. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Using a wet microfiber towel, begin carefully rubbing in circles to remove tar and residue.b. If using WD-40, spray some onto a towel and wipe carefully over the tar.c. If using a pre-packaged tar removal product or cleaner, follow directions on the package. It’s important that you don’t use too much or too little, as you could end up damaging your paint or not removing any tar.

  4. Repeat the cleaning steps on all affected areas of your paint.
  5. Using your favorite wash solution, thoroughly clean the exterior of your car. This will remove any remaining tar, residue, and cleaning solution you missed. 
  6. and dry your car according to the directions on the cleaning product. Apply a wax or sealant product to help protect your paint and improve its appearance.
Scrub carefully to avoid paint damage., Depositphotos

Pro Tips to Remove Tar From Your Car

  • If possible, it’s best to work in an area with a neutral temperature. This can be a garage or parking area but can also be as simple as just finding a shady spot in summer. Extreme temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of your cleaning products and may make them difficult to apply.
  • Tar contains asphalt and asphalt contains stones. Stones and paint don’t mix. Take your time to avoid grinding the tar into your paint.
  • Don’t apply tar removal or any other product to your entire car and then attempt to work fast to get it all clean. Work in small spots and move around the vehicle to get the best result.
  • You may need more than one towel, and you’ll absolutely need to change your water throughout this process. 
  • It might be tempting to use a scraper and get the job done faster, but you’ll end up damaging your paint.

Video

For a little visual example, Scott from Dallas Paint Correction and Auto Detailing goes through a typical tar-removal job in this video.

FAQs About Removing Tar

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers. 

Q. Can I Prevent Tar From Sticking to My Car?

A. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to prevent tar from sticking to your paint. If your car has a wrap or paint-protection film, you have a bit more wiggle room and may not see as much paint damage, but the reality is that tar sticks to almost everything it touches.

Q. Does Tar Damage My Paint?

A. Yes. Over time, tar can pit and damage the paint underneath it. If you ignore it long enough, it’s even possible for the tar to cause discoloration. There’s also the possibility that rocks and other debris get stuck in the tar before it dries, which can chip and scratch your paint.

Q. How Much Will it Cost to Have a Professional Remove the Tar?

A. If you’re too busy or are otherwise unable to remove the tar yourself, you can pay a professional car wash or detailer to do the job. Many high-level auto detailers charge about $75 per hour, so you’re probably looking at $150 at the very least to have the car cleaned properly.

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