Lovebugs threaten vehicles’ finish, paint jobs

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

This time of year, many cars on the road are covered with a coatof smashed “lovebugs,” an inevitable problem for residents in manysouthern states.

Lovebugs are also called “money bugs” to some car wash and paintindustrialists, as people are constantly having to wash their cars- with some even needing completely new paint jobs. Area car paintexperts say the debris left by the black-bodied, redheaded bugs candestroy a car’s clear coat, and the damage from the acidic bodiesof the insects can start in as little as six hours.

“You really can’t leave them on there for long,” said RichardMaxwell, owner of Richard’s Paint and Auto Repair on Highway 84East. “Usually after five or six hours, they’ll start to etch thepaint finish.”

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Lovebug adults are attracted to light-colored surfaces,especially if they are freshly painted. The bugs are alsomysteriously attracted to the effects of sunlight on automobilefumes, asphalt and other chemical and environmental factors.

Aaron Welch, who works for Case’s Body and Paint on Watts Lane,said the bugs not only will eat paint finish, but the acid in theirbodies will also eat into the plastic in a car’s headlights anddamage chrome finish as well.

“I’ve seen them stain the chrome,” he said. “And if you look ata car that has headlights that look foggy, sometimes you can seethe marks from the bugs in them.”

The answer to the love bug problem, car people say, is simplywashing the splatter off as often as possible, and keeping a goodwax on the car.

“I don’t let mine go more than a week,” Welch said. “And youdon’t just want to drive through an automated car wash. That’s goodfor knocking the dust off, but it’s not going to get road film andbugs off.”

Maxwell said the best way to handle it is just to hose the frontof the car off each night, but that there may be a valuable allyright in the laundry room.

“Those Downy dryer sheets will wipe them right off,” he said.”They sell all those bug sprays, but the best way to do it is justdampen a dryer sheet and wipe them off, then rinse the caragain.”

Welch said the brand of dryer sheets doesn’t seem to matter,either. Whatever the secret ingredient is, it has been the only wayhe’s been comfortable confronting the mess on the front of histruck without worrying about further damage.

“Just wet them down and the bugs’ll come off,” he said. “Itdoesn’t keep them from sticking when they hit, but it’ll get themoff of there.”

However, if left on the vehicle long enough, the damage the bugscan cause is not the kind of problem that can just be buffed out,Maxwell said.

“There’s no fixing them other than stripping down the paint joband repainting,” he said. “And most people’s insurance won’t coverthat.”

And the bugs are so destructive to a paint job that every iotaof juice needs to be removed, Welch said.

“When they splatter on your car, every little black dot you cansee can potentially become a hole in your paint,” he said.

Mesh fabric accessories, commonly called “bras,” are availableto cover and protect the front of the cars. However, experts saythose can be just as damaging as the bugs themselves.

“Those bras do more damage than the bugs do,” said Richard’semployee Randy Jordan. “The wind gets them flapping and beating onthe car, and that will hurt your paint job too.”

Internet sources cite Pam Cooking Spray as a way to keep thebugs from sticking to a vehicle, thus making them less damaging andeasier to wash off. Those who regularly paint cars balk at theidea.

“I don’t know if it works,” Maxwell said. “I’ve heard it, butI’ve never tried it.”

Welch said oftentimes things that are not made to be put on apaint job will do damage the untrained eye can’t even see. He saidsome people are known to put Armor-all and other silicone-basedproducts on their paint jobs to repel dirt and increase theshine.

“When you put stuff like that on there, it’s hard for peoplelike me when you do something to mess your car up and we have torepaint it,” he said. “The silicone binds to the paint, and evenwhen we sand it down to repaint it, the paint won’t stick toit.”

Welch said tire shine products can do the same thing to a paintjob as well, if not applied only to the tires.

One possible answer, according to Welch, is a clear plasticcoating that goes over the front of the car that will protectagainst rocks and bugs.

“It sticks to your car and you can’t see it at all, and itprotects your paint job,” he said.

Cam Fielder, of Bogue Chitto, said he had the plastic coating onhis last truck as long as he had it.

“Whenever it came time to sell it, I just peeled it off and thetruck looked just like new,” he said.

Fielder said he now has a kit on his new truck that also has theplastic coating. He said he’s got it on the areas close to theground too, to protect against rocks and other wear and tear aswell as on the front.

“The bugs just wipe right off,” he said. “And you wouldn’t knowit was there if I didn’t point it out to you.”