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Protecting Your Car from Wildfire Ash

 Posted on: December 1st, 2020

Protecting Your Car from Wildfire Ash

For people who live in certain areas of the western United States, it is an unfortunate reality that you are likely to experience issues with wildfires nearby at some point. Even if you aren’t in direct path of the fire, the smoke and ash are likely to cause a variety of problems that you’ll need to confront.

One issue to consider is the effect that wildfire ash can have on your car. The calcium, potassium and other chemicals found in ash and soot can have corrosive effects on your vehicle’s coating, and this becomes more problematic if exposed to rain or dew.

Ideally you’ll just be able to keep your car parked in your garage or under a carport, which is the best method of protecting your car, but this isn’t necessarily a realistic option for everyone. Either you don’t have available garage space to do so, or you’ll have to drive through the conditions to get to work and thus expose your vehicle to ash and smoke.

Therefore, it’s important for you to know how to clean ash off your vehicle, as at least some level of exposure is a near inevitability.

Here’s an overview of what to know:

  • Don’t scrub or wipe: When you see ash or soot built up your vehicle, your first instinct may be to brush or wipe it off. However, doing this could scratch the paint on your car. Instead, you should thoroughly rinse the exterior of your vehicle with a hose to get rid of the soot. Using a non-touch method like this will prevent you from accidentally damaging your vehicle’s exterior.
  • Wash carefully: After you’ve thoroughly rinsed the exterior and removed as much of the loose debris as possible, you can move on to a soft washing with warm water, car soap and a soft sponge. Start with the roof and work your way down, because the debris will fall off to the sides as you work. You don’t want to end up re-coating the already-washed surfaces of your vehicle with loose soot.
  • Continue rinsing: As you wash every part of your vehicle, rinse each part with the hose as you complete cleaning in the area to get rid of built up ash as quickly as you can. Otherwise, the longer you let the ash sit there and mix with the water, the more likely it is to become corrosive and cause damage to the exterior of the vehicle.
  • Microfiber drying: In normal circumstances when washing your vehicle you might just let your vehicle air dry outside. However, we recommend using a microfiber towel to dry off the surface of the vehicle. Microfiber cloths are designed to be soft and friendly on your vehicle’s surface.
  • Coating of wax: A fresh coat of wax will go a long way toward shielding your vehicle’s body from future issues with ash and soot. This is why it’s a good idea for car owners in the western United States to really focus on keeping up with their vehicle body maintenance—a good coat of wax is the next best thing beyond storage in a garage, carport or under a vehicle cover to protect your vehicle.
  • Automatic car washes: If you do not wish to clean your vehicle off yourself, you can take the vehicle to a touchless car wash. These automatic car washes are actually quite often even less abrasive than handwashing methods. The “touchless” stipulation is important here—again, you have to consider the corrosive nature of the ash and soot that’s affected your vehicle.

Your best bet is always going to be to keep your vehicle in a garage or under some sort of car or truck cover, as this will provide total protection from the elements. But this isn’t always a realistic option for car owners, so make sure you are fully versed in the methods of cleaning ash and soot off your vehicle so you do not inadvertently damage it during the cleaning process.