How Do You Remove Tar From Your Car?

September 26, 2019


It is gooey and sticky and exudes an awful odor when first laid down. Perhaps what’s worse, it can get on everything in its immediate area, and be inherently stubborn when it’s time to get it off.

Based on the title of this blog post, you should have guessed by now that we’re referring to tar, that black icky substance used in road asphalt projects which often gets splashed up onto our cars, sometimes causing pretty significant surface damage.

There really is no way around it: At some point, tar is going to find its way onto our vehicles, especially if we live near or commute around road construction sites

The substance sticks like proverbial glue, and while the immediate reaction to seeing tar on our cars is one of dismay with regard to the chances of getting it off completely, there are products that can eradicate it before your very eyes… you just need to know what they are, where they can be found and how to apply them.

That’s what we’re here for.

Before we dive into the products and procedures for removing tar from your car, let’s go over some basics and provide some background.

What is Tar?

As a dark brown or black viscous liquid of hydrocarbons and free carbon, tar is obtained from a plethora of organic materials through a process called destructive distillation. The substance can be produced from coal, wood, petroleum or peat, with production and trade in pine-derived tar being a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Tar-like products can also be sourced from other forms of organic matter, such as the aforementioned peat, and mineral products resembling tar can be produced from fossil hydrocarbons such as the also-aforementioned petroleum.

Coal tar, as its name implies, is derived from coal as a byproduct of coke production, and remains one of the most commonly-used resins for coating projects – i.e. road construction – due to its high resistance to various corrosive agents. As a substance used in asphalting, tar comes into our everyday lives when we drive on recently-laid asphalt or drive over recently-filled potholes, ultimately splashing that tar up onto our coveted cars and trucks. If you’ve ever driven past equipment supporting road construction, you have probably had tar splashed up onto your vehicle at some point.

Here’s what is important to recognize, though: Because tar is an oil-based substance, removing it from a vehicle’s paint, wheel wells, grille or windows poses a different kind of challenge than removing, say, bugs or tree sap.

It doesn’t fully harden for years and doesn’t come off by simply spraying some natural, everyday cleaners, and for those reasons alone, a solvent-based cleaner is necessary to properly remove tar (conversely and interestingly, tar removers often work well to remove bugs and sap from a car’s surface).

After tar is removed from a vehicle’s finish, washing and waxing should follow so its shine is restored.

Let’s now take a closer look at the ways you can get tar off your vehicle should it have been the unfortunate recipient of a splash…or two.

How To Remove Tar From Your Vehicle

Items You Will Need

A Tar-Removing Element This can include tar remover, WD-40, Goo Gone, gasoline or even peanut butter.
Soft Cloths
Protective Gloves

Steps You Will Take

To begin with, there are both commercial and everyday household products that have been proven to be useful in the removal of tar, so the first step you should take is to choose one from the list we just provided.

From there, you will:

1. Apply the chosen product to the surface containing the tar. If you are using tar-removing chemicals, wet your cloth with the substance but don’t saturate it to the point it’s dripping; alternatively, if there is a large area with tar spots, you can apply the remover directly onto the surface of the vehicle.

2. In some cases – if you’re using WD-40, peanut butter or Goo Gone – you will need to let the product sit on the tar for about 30 seconds. Note that if you go down the peanut butter route, you should use a microfiber towel to apply a liberal amount of creamy – not chunky – peanut butter to the area with the tar.

3. Wipe the area with the soft cloth, avoiding any abrasive cloths which could scratch the surface of the paint. We recommend, in this step, moving your cloth in small circles over the tar spots, flipping it over when it’s dirty to use a clean section. The tar spots should soften and flake off with the application of light pressure; as they dissolve, wipe any streaks that are left behind.

4. Repeat until all of the tar is removed, making sure to use the same circular motion on additional areas.

5. Regardless of which product you choose, the final step (as we mentioned earlier) always involves washing your vehicle good using mild detergent (preferably soap/shampoo designed specifically for car washing). This will ensure all “surface debris” is removed, including remnants of anything left behind when removing the tar.

6. Once your vehicle has been washed and rinsed with clean water, we recommend adding a coat of wax for extra protection.

Indeed, leaving any of these tar-removing chemicals on the surface of your car’s paint for prolonged periods of time could cause damage such as discoloration, so it’s best if you attend to the cleaning stage immediately.

If you find any fine surface scratches from the scrubbing you performed (or if you accidentally used a more abrasive pad of some kind during the tar removal stage), they can be buffed out with a soft cloth and application of a premium “scratch remover” polish.

Removing tar from your cherished vehicle demands a few steps and some elbow grease on your behalf, but you will be rewarded with a like-new finish that will gleam for years to come.

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About The Author



I've been detailing cars for years. I love cars but more importantly, I love clean cars. I created this blog to share all of my knowledge around keeping cars as clean as possible.