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How to Get Tar Off a Car

Cleaning supplies on the roof of a car in a garage.

Nothing looks better than a wide-open freshly paved road stretching out in front of you, but few things look worse than getting to your destination and finding part of that road on your vehicle’s finish. To help you fix this issue, here we will discuss how to get tar off a car.

What Exactly Is Road Tar?Tar road curving to the right and then white bridge

Unlike concrete, which is poured and then hardens, asphalt or blacktop is a mixture of sand, gravel, maybe some ground-up old tire bits (for noise reduction) and tar, which binds it all together. It’s applied hot, and it solidifies as it cools. In some climates, this takes months. Just ask anyone from Phoenix how much they like “chip sealing” — what they call resurfacing the streets in this legendarily hot desert city.

If your two-ton vehicle rolls across tar while it’s still cooling, the pressure and friction caused by your wheels can pull bits of it up from the road. Just like driving through a mud puddle, this can throw the tar onto the sides of your car. If there’s a car next to you, you may get some tar from that guy too, and if you’re following someone down the road, it could get on the front of your car. If you drive past heavy machinery while they’re laying asphalt in an adjacent lane, you’ll likely find it on the side of your car when you stop.

What Do I Need To Get Tar off a Car?

Getting tar off a vehicle isn’t a monumental chore. Assuming that you don’t let it sit for months, it doesn’t harden the way tree sap or bug guts do. However, because of the petroleum in the tar, typical car wash soap doesn’t really do the trick, and you want to do the job without risking any damage to your paint.

What you need is a dedicated tar remover or tar and bug remover. This will break down the petroleum in the tar and allow you to wipe it away from paint, glass, plastic and chrome. Follow that up with a wash, polish and wax, and you’re set.

Which Remover Should I Use?

There are some options on the market that are solvent-based and proud of it. Their pitch is that the solvent dissolves the petroleum. While the claims may be true, those solvents themselves can leave behind a residue and make the finish of your vehicle look greasy and inconsistent. For that reason, your best bet is a tar and bug remover that is solvent-free.

What Does the Removal Process Look Like?

This part is easy. Get some soft cloths, the tar remover and a bucket of clean water. Spray the tar remover on a cloth and then work in small, circular motions. You should see the tar start coming off onto the cloth. Turn it over to the clean side for the final wipe-down of the area, and then take another clean cloth, dip it in the clean water, and wipe the area down. If you want to follow up with a DIY car wash, by all means do so.

Check out all the cleaners, polishes and waxes available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on removing tar from your car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Swain.

Mike Hagerty View All

Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and Previous outlets have included KFBK and in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and

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