Acid Rain… and Your Car’s Finish

By Frank Canna
Acid Rain… and Your Car’s Finish Not only can air-borne elements in our environment be hazardous to our health, they can also be hazardous to your car. Below is a brief explanation of the key environmental factors and their impact on the appearance of your car. Of course, acid rain is at the top of the list. Emissions from chemical plants, fossil fuel burning power plants and the internal combustion engine are being transported into our atmosphere on a daily basis. When these deposits find their way to the surface of your car, in either a wet or dry state, they rapidly become similar to both sulfuric and nitric acids. When this type of contamination is left on the surface of your car for any length of time, these acids can literally begin to etch into the painted surface and cause irreversible surface damage.

Acid Rain And Cars

According to the EPA, acid rain is not the only culprit that brings acids to earth. Acid can also be found in other forms of precipitation, such as; snow, sleet, hail, mist and fog. High levels of relative humidity and exposure to morning dew can also impact the painted surface of your car. We all know that relative humidity is basically a measurement of the amount of water content in air. As the water content of air increases, so does the amount of relative humidity. Likewise, when the relative humidity increases, so does the capacity for acids to be carried to the surface of your car. Morning dew can be another form of contamination having an net effect on the appearance of your car. When combined with acid and salt contamination, morning dew can actually produce harsh chemical reactions that over time can slowly begin to damage the painted surface of your car.

What’s In Acid Rain?

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the basic ingredients from which acid rain is formed. They are being pumped into our environment mostly by fossil fuels being exhausted by fuel burning power plants, automobiles, buses, truck and even airplanes. As these emissions combine with whatever moisture is in the atmosphere at the time, they begin to go through several changes. Eventually, the particles become a form of sulfuric and nitric acid. The same acids found in acid rain. These acids stay in the atmosphere until the air gets too heavy and humid. When this happens, water mixed with acid begins to fall to earth as rain. Unfortunately, this is completely opposite of what people think of when it comes to the old saying; as pure as rain water.
Today’s new cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles are painted with a clear coat finish, where the base color coat simply has a topcoat of clear paint applied during the final paint process. The clear coat is basically another separate layer of paint that does not contain any color pigment. Along with the added benefits of producing an increase in the depth of gloss, the additional layer of clear also helps to protect the color coat from harsh environmental factors, such as acid rain and other air-borne pollution.
In order to combat the effects of acid rain, other environmental factors, and keep your car looking like new, your car will need to be thoroughly cleaned, polished and waxed on a regular basis.

Depending on conditions, your car should be polished and waxed at least twice a year and more frequently when it is exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

Keep in mind that simply washing your car only loosens surface dirt. Safely removing the stubborn surface contamination caused by harsh environmental factors is a result of polishing and waxing. Polishing cleans and conditions the surface providing an incredibly high depth of gloss. Wax is then applied as an added measure of long lasting protection.
If you recently purchased a new car you will be able to use less aggressive products, such as either a carnauba or polymer wax. However, if your car is more than three to five years old, you will usually need to use more aggressive products, such as either a cleaner polish or cleaner wax as a separate step before applying a protective coating of wax.
The sad part is, acid rain is not only attacking the painted surface of your car, other things, such as historic landmarks, statues and bridges are also slowly being eaten away by the effects of acid rain.

Frank Canna has been in the detailing business for more than 20 years and is the owner of Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ. He can be reached at or You can also connect on Twitter @MirrorFinish.

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