Sometimes you can get by with duct tape and a paper clip - and sometimes you can't

Published on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 by Steve Guntli

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It happens to the best of us: You get a little careless and back into a tree. You accidentally scrape your keys along your car door. You park under a tree, and now your car is stickier than a stack of pancakes. It happens, but what are you going to do about it? 

Maintaining your car’s pristine condition can be challenging and costly. Those tiny dings and dents may drive you crazy, but the prospect of paying hundreds to correct such minor cosmetic issues can be even worse. But splotches of bird droppings and thick coatings of sap aren’t just unsightly – they’re acidic and can damage your paint job if not promptly removed. Insects, too, can leave ugly splotches all over your windshield that no amount of squeegeeing can remove.

More and more, consumers have been innovating new “life hacks” to get the job done. 

Life hacks are creative, low-cost ways of solving a problem, often using household items already on hand in new and clever 
ways. The website lifehacker.com suggests a number of different ways of correcting dings, dents and scratches, but like many things found on the Internet, they sometimes have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Some of these tricks are surprisingly useful and can save you a lot of money. Others are effective but impractical, and others simply don’t work. We tested out five methods for fixing dents, removing unsightly stains and repairing scratches. 

Clean off bugs with a razor blade – When bugs splatter on your windshield, the combined power of wiper blades, windshield fluid and gas station squeegees often aren’t enough to remove them. Keep a small razor blade in your glove compartment to get rid of those dead bugs quickly and easily. 

Keep the blade flat so you don’t leave any scratches along the surface of your windows, and don’t use the razor on any paint. Also, make sure it has a safety housing for the blade to keep from accidentally cutting yourself. It’s a simple, almost common sense remedy, but an effective one nonetheless.

Remove bugs and sap from your windshield with cola – This is a cool trick, and it works surprisingly well, but it comes with a caveat: you still have to clean your windshield normally to prevent the sticky soda from congealing on your windshield. Usually a quick blast with your wiper fluid will do the trick, but hosing it down is better. 

Be sure to pour the cola onto a rag rather than dumping it out on the glass, as it could get into your vents and under the hood and dry there. This method of cleaning the windows is a good option for motorists on long car trips, but it’s not very practical for day-to-day use.

Repair scratches with nail polish – Yes, this works, but it’s only practical as a temporary fix until you get to the body shop for a long-term solution. It’s handy if the weather is wet and rainy and will help prevent that little scratch from festering into a rusty mess, but anyone can tell you that nail polish isn’t designed to be permanent, and it will usually chip and flake away within a week. 

With the wind, rain and sun beating down on your car, it probably won’t even last that long (it stripped off of my car after about three days). Additionally, finding the exact right shade to match your car might be trickier than you think, so unless you get lucky and find the exact color, the discoloration will still be evident. 

Fixing Dents With Dry Ice – Amazingly, this trick works like a charm, but be very careful – dry ice has a surface temperature of -109ºF, and can severely burn your hand. Use thick gloves or a pair of tongs to keep the substance away from your skin. 

Hold the dry ice to the dent for a few seconds, remove it for a few seconds and repeat until the dent pops out. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. This is ideal for small dings and dents, but for anything bigger you’ll have to take it to an auto body shop. Dry ice is fairly cheap and can be purchased at most major grocery or hardware stores. 

Remove sap with WD-40 – Many people hail WD-40 as an all-purpose miracle product on par with duct tape, but can it really fight off all that sticky gunk that’s accumulated on your car? Actually, yes, but it may not be the best option. WD-40 is great for loosening up hard chunks of sap, but most of the sticky substance that people find on their cars is actually honeydew, a residue left by aphids in the trees above your car. WD-40 can loosen the honeydew and make it easier to clean, but there’s only so much in a can, and the smell can be a little unpleasant. 

For small spots, a better option may be hand sanitizer or gentle bath oil, which are both gentle enough to preserve the paint job. There are some commercial products, like Goo Gone, that are designed to specifically combat sticky buildup, but if a car is totally covered in honeydew, it may be time to treat yourself to a professional car wash. 

If you have the time and the money, there’s no real substitute for an auto body professional, but for those willing to try something different, these life hacks can save you money and sanity.

For these and other life hacks, visit lifehacker.com/358397/top-10-diy-car-hacks.

Editor’s Note: Any application of these tips and tricks are at your own risk.