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What to Do After Driving Through Wet Tar, Asphalt, or Cement

So you drove your car through wet asphalt by mistake, what happens now? The first thing you want to do is exit your vehicle and asses the damage. In the first section of this blog, I’ll break down what I would do in the event that it happened to me (based on my own research), and a few things to keep in mind.

Black asphalt is the most common material modern highways are made out of these days (although the term tar is used pretty interchangeably). Tar was used up until the 70’s on highways, and is used more in roofing these days, but still used on roads to some degree.

Removal: If you drove through wet asphalt or cement and there’s no real damage to the road or your vehicle, click here to skip to step 3 for tips on removal.

Step 1: Assess the Damage

car on shoulder assess damage

The first thing you’ll want to do is obviously pull off into a safe place where you can assess the damage. Be sure to avoid driving into parking lots where you will leave visible tracks later on. The shoulder is probably your best bet (or a grassy area).

If the tire tread is completely covered, it also may make your tires unsafe to drive on (especially at high speeds).

Take Lots of Pictures

It’s never a bad idea to document damage whenever you have an incident, in the event that your insurance covers any of the damages. In addition to any damage done to your car, it’s also probably a good idea to take a picture of your surroundings, including any signage (or lack theroef) as well as the wet pavement.

Step 2: Reach out to the appropriate people

contact car insurance company

In this circumstance based on what I’ve read, one thing you will want to do after taking pictures is to find out who is responsible for the paving project, for a couple of different reasons.

Local and State Agencies and Contractors

In the event that you are unable to get into contact with someone who is on-site, make sure you pinpoint the location of where the incident happened to do further research. If the road was supposed to be closed, and there was inadequate signage indicating this, there is a chance you may be able to be reimbursed for some of the repair bills if your insurance doesn’t cover it.

If you can, it also a good idea to take down the name of the construction company that is doing the work. They can either take your name down or refer you to who in their organization to speak with. In most of the re-embursement cases that I have heard about, people usually deal directly with the contracted company doing the work vs. the government.

However, your county or state DOT agency may also be able to point you in the right direction.

Contact Your Auto Insurance Company

Some insurance policies will cover damage caused by wet roads, so it’s important to speak with an agent. They may also be able to walk you though what they will need (like pictures or repair bills).

Contact Local Body Shops (if necessary)


If damage is major (especially to paint, tires, etc) one thing I would do is to contact a few local auto body shops and ask if they have experience dealing with asphalt removal, especially if there has been paint damage.

They will be able to at least give you an estimate on what it would take for them to assist in removal or repair. If damage is minimal, you may want to contact an auto detailer in your area that may be able to help.

There are several mobile detailing companies that can detail your car from the convenience of home.

Step 3: Removal

pressure wash tar from tires

In some instances where the damage is relatively minor, you may be able to remove it yourself using a few products you can find in stores or online. Driving through wet concrete is pretty rare, but not totally unheard of and requires slightly different removal.

Removing tar and asphalt from paint

Assuming the amount of asphalt is minimal, you should be able to remove it from the paint. Below are a few products that you can pick up designed specifically for removing bugs and tar from painted surfaces. Sticky tar is one of the easiest to remove fortunately, but removing dried asphalt pellets may require a little more treatment. Chemical Guys also makes a shampoo specifically designed for removing bugs and tar you may want to try.

Bug and tar removal products

When removing these substances, you have a couple different options to try. My recommendation is to start with a bug and tar remover spray. You can usually find a Meguiar’s or Turtle Wax product that does this just about anywhere.

Depending on how stuck on the substances are, you can also try using a slightly abrasive magic eraser or bug and tar remover sponge. These are great for wheels, and although they are non-scratch just be careful if you have softer paint.

Home Remedies: I don’t recommend starting with DIY home remedies, so proceed with caution if you must. Spraying only the affected area with WD-40 is known to remove tar, just be careful not to spray windshields or glass and only the effected area. Allow the solution to soak in for 5-10 minutes and remove with a soft cloth.

Tip: Wash with soap and water followed by a good wax to help protect your vehicle once these substances are removed.

Removing asphalt from tires

When removing asphalt from your tires, you can start by using a putty knife and begin scraping it off. Over time, normal wear should remove most of it, but once dry you should be able to remove a large majority of it.

I would not suggest using WD-40 on tires to aid in removal. Some have suggested doing this, but I would avoid it in the event it comes into contact with your brakes. This can be a catastrophic mistake that could potentially prevent your brakes from engaging your tires and stopping.

Pressure washing is also a good idea, as long as you keep a safe distance away from painted surfaces. Check out our post: Is Pressure Washing Cars Good or Bad? What You Should Know for more info on using a pressure washer.

Removing cement

Cement is by far the most difficult to remove. If you can, try to remove as much cement from the paint as possible with a paper towels. Keep in mind, do not attempt to remove dry cement with scrubbing, or contact.

The only safe way to remove dried cement is by breaking down the compound itself. If you are removing cement , you may want to try a product called Back-set. The video below shows this product being used on paint:

Back-Set I’ve seen work on painted car surfaces, and can be found here on Amazon in a gallon jug or quart sized spray bottle. This may require several application treatments if your car in splattered with dried cement, so it may be wise to purchase this product in a gallon jug. Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for removal.

Conclusion

Driving through wet asphalt, tar, or cement can not only damage your car, but can be costly if construction companies have to re-pave the road — potentially sticking you with the bill. It’s always best to reach out to your car insurance company and/or legal team to help you make the best decision possible.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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