How to Remove Tar and Not Screw Up Your Car’s Paint


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Congrats, all that griping and moaning about the roads near your house paid off, and the town finally paved them. But not all is well in your world, because that beautiful, newly paved road caused some real headaches with your car’s paint job due to all that new tar. It got picked up by your car’s tires and flung onto the paint. Oh no. 

Unlike mud and bugs that end up on your paint job, tar tends to harden and adhere to the painted surfaces. That can make it extremely difficult to remove and, to make things harder, you’ll have to be careful not to damage the paint in the process. 

The Drive’s researchers and editors have done their fair share of tar removal, and have the information you need to safely remove tar from your car’s paint job. In this post, we’ll focus on the best ways to locate and clean the tar from your vehicle’s paint. Let’s get started.

Tar on a Car Basics

Estimated Time Needed: One to two hours, depending on the car and severity of tar coverage.

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Paint/exterior

What Is Tar?

Tar is a thick, sticky black substance that is used in road construction projects and when paving roads. It’s often found around the wheel wells and on lower parts of the car’s body panels. As the car is driven, the tires can pick up tar from the road surface and fling it onto various parts of the car’s body. Once there, it dries and hardens to become difficult to remove.


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.

Wear gloves and eye protection. As you’re removing tar, it could chip off and end up in your eyes. If you’re using chemicals to remove the tar, it’s important to work in a well-ventilated area so that you’re not breathing in toxic fumes. Take care not to scrape into the actual paint as you’re cleaning the tar. It’s very easy to overdo it and damage the paint.

Everything You’ll Need to Remove Tar From a Car

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 

  • Towels/Microfiber cloths
  • Bucket
  • Hose

Parts List 

  • Automotive wax
  • Car wash soap
  • Tar remover

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Work in a place with good ventilation to avoid breathing in harmful fumes. 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 a Car

The process of removing tar from your car isn’t difficult, nor is it even time-consuming. You’ll just need to be careful not to scratch the paint while you’re scrubbing away.

Let’s do this! 

Cleaning The Tar

  1. You’ll want to take the time to wash the car and clean any excess debris from the exterior before you start scrubbing on the tar. Don’t worry too much about washing the tar away at this point. Just focus on getting a solid baseline of a clean car to work with.
  2. Wet your towel or cloth with the tar remover. The towel shouldn’t be dripping wet with the cleaner, just moist enough to apply to the car. If you’re looking to clean a large area, some tar removers can be applied directly to the car instead of first wetting a towel.
  3. Wipe the area with tar cleaner. If the towel starts to cake with tar or become dirty, use a clean towel or the other side. It’s not ideal to rub tar into the paint.
  4. Repeat around the car as necessary. Once done, thoroughly wash the car. Unlike before, this should be a careful wash where you focus on washing away any remaining tar remover and debris. This will also give you a chance to inspect your work to be sure that all tar is gone.
  5. Once you’ve washed the car and you’re sure that no tar remains, wax the car. This will help protect the paint and will also make the car look great.

Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic 

As much as The Drive loves to put the “you” in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.

Pro Tips to Remove Tar From a Car

Don’t try to apply tar remover and clean the entire car at once. Work your way around the vehicle, cleaning one small spot at a time. As you’re scrubbing with tar remover, be careful not to scrape debris and other dirt with your towel. This can scratch the paint. Tar remover isn’t the most toxic thing on the planet, but it’s still not a great idea to breathe it or let it sit on your skin. Wear gloves and work in a ventilated area.

FAQs About Tar on a Car

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

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 up to $75 per hour, so you’re probably looking at $150 at the very least to have the car cleaned properly.

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

A. There’s no real way to prevent the tar from sticking to your car. Waxing and other protective measures can help make the cleaning process much easier, but tar can find a way to stick to almost anything. 

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)


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