leaves on carIn New England, watching the leaves change color is an annual tradition. While autumn leaves are nice to look at, they are not completely harmless.

Leaves that accumulate on your car can affect its paint, leaving stains and impressions that not only mar its surface but could also invite rust.

Before you find your car’s paint looking a bit discolored, keep the following in mind.

How Leaves Can Affect Your Car

When it comes to leaves and your car, we primarily consider them a driving hazard. When wet, leaves can make the roads slick, potentially causing you to lose control.

Leaves can also cover potholes that you then drive over, hear a loud noise and feel a drop under your wheels.

Compared to these factors, leaves on your car might not seem like a big deal. Yet especially with rain, frost and morning dew, they do more damage than covering your car. The damage starts when they fall on and stick to the surface.

Their acidic chemicals, along with any sap and bird droppings can leach out. The consistency is strong enough to permeate your car’s clear coat, discolor the paint or leave etching.

How does this happen? Leaves have multiple layers and serve as the tree’s primary food and energy source, absorbing UV rays and CO2. The outside has a protective layer with a waxy, acidic consistency. By the time the leaves fall onto your car, they are full of both tannic acid and tree sap.

After a storm or on a particularly dewy morning, water behaves like an electrolyte: This process causes the leaf to break down and release the acid.

When leaves stick to your vehicle, acid passes through the clear coat. The acid may be strong enough to reach the paint and primer and go after the metal, where it can serve as a catalyst for the oxidation process and cause corrosion.

What You Can Do

As the first line of defense, remove the leaves from your car daily to reduce the chance they will start to decompose and release acid and sap. Ideally, the leaves should be removed by hand. Pushing everything off with a leaf blower can increase the chance leaves will scratch the paint, resulting in scrapes and other micro-abrasions that will allow water to enter and invite rust to form.

Along with this factor, you should also:

  1. Park your car in the garage during leaf season. If this is not possible, consider a portable shelter like a carport or secure a tarp over the surface.
  2. Get in the habit of washing your car at least once every two weeks, with a liquid solution and microfiber cloth. You may need to use a spot treatment to address discoloration. Immediately after, fully dry off the car.
  3. Your car may need a deeper cleaning. DIYers can try a leaf stain remover or paint cleaner, buff out scratches and indents and repaint the surface. At this stage, you’ll need professional assistance.
  4. After you wash, be sure to wax the surface, as this creates another layer against the tannic acid and further prepares your car for winter’s salt-covered roads.

Additionally, leaves aren’t just a paint issue and you may need to have your car fully examined, especially if you notice a decrease in performance. Leaves can get stuck in the cooling and filtration systems and accumulate between the brake pads and rotors, affecting how your car stops.
For full exterior detailing, painting and rust protection, DaSilva’s Auto Body can restore your car’s appearance after any leaf-related discoloration and damage. To make an appointment, contact our Naugatuck location today.