How to Get Tar Off Your Car

Dustin Hawley | Feb 10, 2021

It may seem elementary, but nothing can ruin your day faster than tar that suddenly splatters on your car.

tar from freshly paved road

Perhaps you’re driving on a newly paved road, and a passing driver kicks up tar onto the exterior of your car. Or maybe you have to travel near a worksite where contractors are laying down new road tar, leading to remnants of the sticky substance adhering itself to the beautiful paint job on your freshly washed car.

Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, getting tar on your car puts you in a sticky situation. Not only does it ruin the look of your vehicle, but it can also damage your paint if left to sit for too long. 

If you are reading this article, there is a high likelihood that you have encountered this frustrating debacle and are seeking assistance on how to best tackle this project. Let’s break down how to get tar off your car with the help of a few simple methods.

Why Does Tar Get Stuck to a Car?

In a nutshell, the tar that gets stuck on your car isn’t “regular” tar. At least not in the way you may be thinking. It’s actually a particular type of tar used as binding material for paved roads. You probably know it by another name: asphalt.

While driving on newly paved roads is enjoyable (because of its “smooth” feel), it’s an absolute disaster for your car’s paint job. There are plenty of loose tar particles that can all too easily be kicked up by your vehicle’s tires and “splashed” onto your paint, undercarriage, and other segments of the car.

The worst part is that once tar settles on your car, it can be incredibly difficult to clean off and remove from the surface. After all, it’s designed to be gluey and sticky on purpose. Its intended purpose is to bind other road materials together, so you’ll need to use unique methods and materials to effectively remove tar from your car without damaging the paint underneath. 

How Do You Get Dried Tar Off a Car?

There are two primary methods in which you can get tar off your car. One is special tar removal sprays, and the other is by utilizing home-use chemicals and products. Both methods can be effective, so let’s break them down individually.

Tar Removal Sprays

Tar removal spray is exactly what it sounds like - a spray solution that removes tar. It’s a specialized chemical product that uses various dissolving materials to break down tar without causing damage to your car’s paint. There are plenty of excellent tar removal sprays available at most automotive retailers. 

Here’s how you can effectively use tar removal spray:

  • First, acquire the following materials: tar removal spray, car wash soap, a bucket, car wax, and at least one microfiber mitten, cloth, or towel.
  • Take the microfiber cloth or towel and wet it with a few pumps of the tar removal spray. You can also spray the tar remover directly onto the tar on your car – just be careful to not use too much at once
  • Next, rub the wet cloth over any tar spots you see, using a circular motion and light pressure. This will break down the tar over time and remove it progressively.
  • Repeat this step with the other side of your cloth if necessary
  • Continue cleaning tar off of your car until it’s all been removed. Feel free to use more microfiber cloths if necessary. Be sure to always use a clean cloth, as using a dirty cloth can rub the tar back into your paint.
  • After removing all of the tar, it’s best practice to give your car a wax job. The result of a good wax job will condition the paint and give it a nice, quality shine to replace the previously tarred aesthetic.

Household Products

You can also use a variety of household products to accomplish the same task as the dedicated tar removal spray. Here are a couple of household items that have been proven effective against this dreaded, sticky substance.

Peanut Butter

Say what? It may be hard to believe, but yes, you can use peanut butter to remove tar from your car without too much effort. 

How does it work? Well, peanut butter is an oily product by nature, and oil can penetrate through substances like tar and separate the different tar molecules, making them easier to break down.

  • Much like you would do with dedicated tar removal spray, you will want to “wet” a microfiber cloth with peanut butter. You don’t need too much to get the job done, just enough to saturate the applicable area. 
  • Put some peanut butter via the microfiber cloth anywhere you see tar on your car, best applied as a gentle rub or “dab.” Let the peanut butter sit for about 30 minutes – this gives the oils in the peanut butter time to penetrate the tar.
  • After about 30 minutes have passed, take a new microfiber towel and wipe the peanut butter off. As a result, the tar should come off with very light pressure.
  • You can repeatedly apply peanut butter on tar spots that resist the first treatment. Particularly tough spots may take an extra application and require a little more elbow grease than usual.
  • If tar has splattered on a glass surface, such as your windshield, make sure you don’t apply too much pressure during this process, as doing so may damage the glass. In many cases, a tar removal spray may be a better choice when being used on glass.

WD-40 and Goo Gone

The popular cleaning products WD-40 and Goo Gone also work well as tar removal solutions. Both use oils to penetrate tar and lubricate the affected area, sliding the tar off your car’s paint with a little pressure.

  • Take a clean microfiber cloth and spray it with either WD-40 or Goo Gone. You can also apply a little bit of either solution onto the tar spots directly. Use the towel to rub the solutions into the tar more deeply.
  • Once applied, let the WD-40 or Goo Gone soak into the tar for 10 to 30 minutes.
  • After the time has elapsed, rub the area with a clean microfiber towel until all tar has been removed
  • If you plan to use WD-40, clean the area twice to make sure you get rid of any residue. Any leftover chemicals or substances may potentially cause long-lasting damage to your car’s paint job if you aren’t careful with the application and clean up.

We understand that one of the other “household” remedies for tar cleaning is regular gasoline. And while some people endorse this approach, we’d caution against it. The reason is simple: there are other household products you can use instead that present much less potential risk. Aside from its flammable properties, gasoline can also damage your car's paint job or aesthetic in the process of removing the tar. Again, we advise against this method and suggest an alternative.

Summary

All in all, there are multiple ways you can get rid of tar if you are unfortunate enough to get it on your vehicle. When deciding your approach to tar removal, stay informed on what methods and compounds are both safe and suitable for your car, and try to avoid areas of town that may potentially expose you to any additional tar-related issues.

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