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How will ash from wildfires affect our cars?

Ash from wildfires can be abrasive, so it’s best to garage your rig if you can.

PORTLAND, Ore — With all the smoke in the air for about a week now, you may be wondering: If this stuff is making the air quality index spike higher than an Olympic volleyball player and is keeping everyone indoors as much as possible, what’s it doing to the paint job on that shiny new Tesla of yours? Or on your 1987 Crown Vic for that matter.

OK, the paint on the Crown Vic is probably already shot, but what’s the smoky environment doing to your ride?

It’s not great if it mixes with water. Ash from wildfires can be abrasive, so it’s best to garage your rig if you can and keep it fresh that way. But if that’s not an option and you notice ashfall or soot on your car, it’s best to wipe it off as soon as you can, if it’s dry. If it’s wet, you run the risk of scratching and damaging the paint, because the particles in the ash can act like sandpaper.

RELATED: VERIFY: Is the smoke from wildfires impacting my water? Will ash hurt my car?

For most of Portland, this has been more of a smoke than ash problem. The smoke itself won’t damage your paint, as long as nothing is being deposited on it. I haven’t noticed any ash deposits on my car, and no, I don’t keep it in a garage. Wish I did.

Smoke from wildfires is a messy mix of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide hydrocarbons, other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxide and trace minerals. But this is from the natural stuff that burns: trees, leaves, grasses and the like. When you add man-made materials from burning homes and structures, there’s other stuff that’s in there too. The concentrations of man-made material compared to natural material is probably low, but there’s little research about the effect of man-made material that’s been sent up in smoke on human health or the health and sheen of your car.

If you do have ash or soot on your car and it gets wet, don’t wipe it off. Wash it off with water, preferably warm if you can manage that. Professional car washes work too.

RELATED: Why you shouldn't wipe ash from your car

When the air clears and the smoke and ash are gone, it’s also a good idea to check your car air filter. Also, make sure the windshield wipers are clean, or just replace them now, the rainy season’s coming before you use them. Otherwise, you might scratch your windshield.

We’ll be out of this smoky situation soon, and soon enough we can go back to washing plain old mud and road grime off our ride.

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