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Auto Club: Get the Ash and Soot Off Your Vehicles Following Fire

(ORANGE, Feb. 8, 2006) — With Orange County under a blanket of smoke and falling ash from the Sierra Fire, motorists should take steps to remove debris from the exterior paint of their vehicles.

"Since an automobile is the second most expensive purchase, motorists can ensure the value of their vehicle by maintaining its finish," said Dave Skaien, of the Auto Club's Approved Auto Repair Program. "It's especially important to remove ash and soot from vehicles as soon as possible."

It may take more than one wash to remove ash since a large amount is falling throughout the Southland and will continue to fall for the next several days. "Motorists may have to repeat washings to keep ash from collecting on the vehicle and scratching and damaging the paint," said Skaien.

Other tips for caring for your vehicle in the coming weeks:

  1. Whenever possible, garage the vehicle. Not only is this the best way to keep ash off, it also will protect and prolong the finish on the vehicle, the trim and rubber on tires.
  2. If you can't park the vehicle in the garage, gently wipe the vehicle off with a long-handled car duster to remove the soot and ash. Be sure to dust off the headlights and taillights for maximum visibility. If you have a car cover, use it. A car cover also will help keep ash off of the vehicle and protect the painted surface.
  3. If washing the vehicle at home, wet thoroughly and wash with warm water, a soft mitt, towel or sponge, and formulated car wash soap. Start at the car roof and work your way down and around the panels. Rinse vehicle thoroughly and dry with a soft clean towel or chamois.
  4. After the fires are over, motorists should inspect and replace, as necessary, the engine air filter and auto technicians should inspect and replace ventilation filters in the passenger compartment. A dirty air filter can restrict fuel economy and increase vehicle emissions.
  5. If you haven't changed windshield wipers for the winter season, change them now before cleaning the windshield with wipers. Make sure the windshield wiper fluid reservoir is filled and spray the windshield first to avoid accidentally scratching it.
  6. Keep the sunroof and windows closed. Outside of the fire areas, run the air conditioner on re-circulate until the outside air quality significantly improves. Once the outside air quality is better, make sure to run the air conditioner set on fresh or vent so you're moving outside air inside to clear the stale smoky smell. If the interior of the vehicle smells like smoke, add a vehicle air freshener to mask the odor.
  7. Thoroughly vacuum vehicle floor mats and cloth surfaces. Wear a mask, if necessary.
  8. When the smoky air clears, and to minimize the effects of ash and soot on the vehicle's clear coat, wax your vehicle in the garage when it's washed and cool. Use a good quality car wax and follow the directions. Once applied, remove with a clean, soft cloth. Car wax helps protect the finish against ash, hard water spots and future rainy weather.

The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest AAA affiliate, has been serving members since 1900. Today, Auto Club members benefit by the organization's roadside assistance, financial products, travel agency and trip planning services, highway and transportation safety programs, insurance products and services and automotive pricing and buying programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's web site at


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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.