How to Remove Road Paint From Your Car

Cars driving along a highway in the desert.

Quintin Gellar/Pexels

Back in the old days, road crews painted stripes on the road without any care for who was going to drive through them, leaving a spray from their tires that peppered traffic for miles. Not to mention the tire-track mark that was left for miles. The stripers would spray the road without so much as a single orange cone or flag to tell unwary drivers of the paint-damaging goop that lay on the road, waiting to be spread. Thankfully, things are different now. The road striping truck is part of a parade of construction vehicles ablaze with yellow strobes and flanked by teams of flagmen. Still, it's not so difficult to get a smear of road paint on any car's shiny finish. If it's not road paint, it's something else: concrete, rubber, asphalt, tar.​

The good news is it's not hard to remove most of this from your car. Remove them gently, and you will protect your car's finish.

The most important thing to remember about cleaning your car's paint job is to take it slow. Impatience is your enemy. Even if it seems like your cleaning method isn't working, stick with it a little longer and you'll get great results.

Stop Highway Paint From Ruining Your Car

Time is of the essence if your car's paint job comes into contact with something nasty. If you drive through some road paint, you should rinse it off right away if at all possible. If you can rinse the paint off before it begins to set, your fix is quick and clean. This won't be the case if you wait until the end of your trip to Niagara Falls, for example.

  • Soap. The first thing you should try is ordinary soap, applied with a towel or sponge. Scrub as much as possible, as the soap will not hurt your car or truck's paint. This may seem like a mild start, but you don't want to risk any damage if you don't have to, and you might be surprised what a good job plain old dish soap can do.
  • Cleaner Wax. You can get rid of a surprising number of foreign compounds using car wax. Some high-quality waxes contain information indicating how harsh the wax is on the label. Cleaner waxes are fairly harsh, but this means they can remove things like paint and light tar smears from your paint job, no bodywork necessary.
  • Bug and Tar Remover. Despite the name, bug and tar remover can remove more than just bugs and tar. Quicker than an oil change, you can buff off paint, tar, bugs, and any other type of road grime you can imagine using this cleaner. The stuff is tough, but it can be used freely without damaging your paint. The trick is to not be afraid to add a little bit of your own elbow grease. Apply the cleaner, then rub it in a circular motion just as you would apply wax. There is a wax-type compound in the mix, but this formula also contains some chemical solvents that really get busy on removing foreign matter from your nice paint job.

With these compounds, you should never have to resort to sandpaper to remove some paint or gook from your car's finish. It's usually best to avoid sanding and repainting at all costs. It's far more work than most people imagine, and the results are often less than spectacular.