Sap on your car? Think again

 2007 Buick Lucerne

2007 Buick Lucerne (GM, Wieck / September 26, 2006)

Q: I don't have a garage and have to park my black 2007 Buick Lucerne on my driveway. Because there are many trees above, my car has sap deposits on it which are impossible to remove after the sap has hardened. Any suggestions as to what will safely remove the sap?

— S.R., Wilmette, Ill.

A: Brace yourself. It is not sap, but poop. More specifically, it is aphid excreta with the sweet-sounding name "honeydew." It is actually sweet, and that is why you often find ants in the same general vicinity. Tar, bug and "sap" remover from the auto parts store, plus some grease (the elbow kind) will do the trick. So will alcohol or strong detergents, but they will remove your wax too.

Q: In a recent column, J.V. in West Hartford, Conn., was questioning the origin of tiny tarlike spots on his car. I experienced the same thing a few years ago. I discovered it was from artillery fungus. This fungus grows in hardwood mulch in flower and shrubbery beds. When the spores "explode" — hence the name artillery — tiny tarlike substances land on light-colored objects. I'm guessing that J.V.'s car is light-colored. I found out that scraping with my fingernail followed up by rubbing with tar and bug remover was helpful. We have since switched to cedar mulch and don't have any more problems with this fungus.

— T.G., Whitehall, Pa.

A: I had never heard of artillery fungus, but based on your email and others, I investigated. From the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, we found it is also called shotgun fungus and the fungi "grow on organic matter and create dark brown spore packets, called peridioles, that sit on top of specialized cup-shaped cells. When the cells accumulate enough liquid, the cupped cells invert, causing the cells to burst and propel the peridioles up to 6 meters high, where they adhere to surfaces such as house siding, cars, plants, or other structures." The Penn State researchers found that Bleche-Wite, Super Clean and Purple Muscle proved most effective in removing the spores from vinyl siding. Foaming Wheel Cleaner and Planet Solutions brands worked best on aluminum siding. I would not use most of these products on a car's finish without testing them in an inconspicuous place, like under the hood. I would definitely park far from mulched areas.

Q: I own a 2011 Chrysler 200 with a four-cylinder engine and get about 22 mpg in the city. To improve mileage is it wise to shut off the engine at stoplights, etc?

— R.D, Lemont, Ill.

A: Some cars are coming from the factory with stop-start technology to save gas. But they have beefier components such as starters to handle the repeated cycling. It is not a good idea to repeatedly shut off and restart the engine on a regular vehicle since you may damage the starter, drain the battery and put unusual wear on the ring gear teeth. However, you could shut off the engine if your wait will be significant, as when you are at a train crossing.

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