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Could ashes from our bonfire have ruined the paint on neighbor's car?

A. @Mike Deborde: Yes it is very possible to have done so, ash when mixed with water or moisture can eat through a clear coat due to the fact that ash contains calcium and potassium which can be corrosive when mixed with water or moisture.

Jake turner
- Missouri
July 27, 2022

thumbs up sign Indeed, lye for soap-making has historically been made from nothing but wood ashes and water. So the theory is there alright, but I find it highly doubtful and, again, a 12 year old car is a 12 year old paint job. There are lots of worn-out 12 year old paint jobs.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Excuse me Mike, but I live in California, and the embers from our fires here can travel for 1/4 to 1/2 mile. If the bonfire is large and vigorous and the fire-tenders are not careful, a bonfire can do the same, especially if the wind is up. If I am wrong, please explain.

Tina Katrina Torres
- Auburn, California
September 12, 2022

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. My family recently had a bon fire and the ashes from the fire traveled approximately 400 feet across the road and landed on the neighbors car. We will not deny that. However now the neighbors want their car repainted stating the ashes from the fire burned through their clear coat. Is this possible everyone that does body work says it's impossible. That the temperature of the ashes to burn the clear can't happen it's a 1998 gm car. They are known for clear coat issues especially for a car that sits outside year round. Thanks.

Mike Deborde
- Xenia, Ohio, USA
August 25, 2009

A. Hi, Mike. It does sound unlikely that ashes would burn the paint on a car 400 foot away, but ash can theoretically have a chemical effect. The paint on your neighbor's 11-12 year old car is 11-12 years old; but maybe you can offer them their choice of a $199 paint job or a $199 detailing.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

A. If the neighbors car doesn't have the factory paint on it they may be right. Have it buffed first, that might take care of the issue.

Sheldon Taylor
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

A. No offense, but it sounds like your neighbor isn't the nicest person.

Unless they are threatening with legal action (and you get a summons or other documents from court and they get all quiet) I would suggest ignoring them.

There is a snowball's chance in death valley of any embers reaching their car 400 feet away and being hot enough to damage the clear coat.

Tell them to suck it up, realize that their car is 10 years old, the paint is 10 years old, and they need to dig into their own pockets to pay for it.

Marc Banks
Blacksmith - Boone, North Carolina

simultaneous replies

Dear Mike
Let me put this as eloquently and succinctly as is humanly possible. Get a restraining order against your neighbor, do not let your children go to the same school as his, do not go to the same church as him, become an atheist if need be or join a church if he is not religious. Next thing you know he will be suing you because your cat peed on his flowers. THE GUY IS A FREAKING IDIOT ! I have dealt with people like that in the past. The deeper you get in with people like that, the more grief you will incur! If you wash the ash off of his car he will then want you to wash or repaint his house. It will never end. Sorry, I call em as I see them. Good luck.

rod henrickson
Rod Henrickson
gunsmith - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

There are two possible cases to answer.

If "burn" is intended literally, any ash hot enough to cause damage would be a major fire hazard. Car paint is oven cured and must be able to withstand the highest temperature it could meet in service - think Death Vally.

It is fairly common for non-technical people to use "burn" to mean chemical attack. Wood ash contains a fair amount of potassium carbonate. This is an alkali and about the same strength as washing soda [on eBay or Amazon] . It is soluble in water and washes off easily. It is extremely unlikely to damage paintwork or no house would be safe near a fire and car paint is a lot tougher than house paint.

A good critical look at the damage would probably settle the case. Any local auto paint shop will recognise "normal" clear coat failure. Just make sure you do not tell them why you are asking to avoid biassing the answer.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

Q. We are going through this exact same battle with our neighbor. What was the outcome with yours?

Alissa Kuder
- Crystal, Minnesota, USA
September 28, 2009

Q. My neighbor burns 300 ft 50 ft tall off-site garbage of all kinds from his rental and lawn business in his yard ... 25 ft from his house 75 from ours. Burning all kinds of crap for 4 years. City will do nothing even though he violates city and state code according to dept of natural resources; but they will not stop him.

He damaged my car paint on new car 2 times; our house paint and gutters our black; fills our house with nasty smell for days and little one got breathing problems; melted electrical wires -- we had no electric for 2 days; melted our electric meter replaced 2 times -- now has metal cover; melted our antenna, internet roof box and tv antenna; and lives next door to over 100 acres ... and 2 days later our yard covered in dead birds.

The house other side of him has a 500 l above-ground propane tank. Everyone scared of him as he is ex cop with guns and no one will do anything. If you call fire dept they put fire out, then he retaliates. Been 4 years, fires getting bigger; we all live in fear and city or state will do nothing they say until major damage or death accuses. Home owners says they can't fix because will just get damaged again ... have to wait for him to stop. We are sad, we have family in bad health that can't visit and children on bus so bus will not come down to pick our child up; same with hospital bus elderly on oxygen so they can't come down no more to pick my mom up for treatment -- just too much smoke from landscape trees, leaves, bad gas of clothes, furniture, tires, etc ... just miserable.

Lewis M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Catawissa Missouri
December 10, 2018

A. Hello Lewis, It's time to take this idiot to court and file suit. I can't believe that local authorities do nothing. Obviously you and your family are entitled to breathing decent air. As far as having to replace electric meters because of heat damage, that will also be part of your lawsuit.

Mark Baker
Electronics plating - Phoenix Arizona USA

A. If the guy is bringing trash in his personal or business vehicles, to his residential-zoned property, which is not a transfer station or waste treatment facility, for the purpose of incineration/disposal, he's most likely violating a bunch of federal regulations- failing to register as a waste transporter, failing to register as a receiving facility, failure to use pollution prevention apparatus on a trash incinerator, the list goes on.
Both the DOT and the EPA would be involved in shutting him down and slapping him with fines that would make his head spin. I'll betcha he's got a few OSHA violations too, but your number one help is going to be the EPA. Here's a link to the EPA complaint submission for Region 7, is the complaint email:
Here's the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in case you think he's illegally transporting hazmat for disposal in a personal or non placarded business vehicle:

This type of situation has the potential to be EXTREMELY expensive for you to attempt to litigate privately as it will require professional air, water, and soil sampling that you'll have to pay for out of pocket, expert witnesses to interpret the results when and if it ends up in court, attorneys fees even if it doesn't, and if the guy isn't a corporation with assets, you might not see much of a settlement... and a win isn't guaranteed. Which is why you also could have a hard time finding someone to litigate it to begin with. The big environmental court cases you see in the news are mostly class-action lawsuits with multiple plaintiffs and big assets to grab as compensation- better odds for an attorney or firm to take a gamble. You won't likely see Broke Bubba the Backyard Burner getting slapped with a class action from the whole neighborhood. The best attorney STILL can't squeeze blood out of a turnip.
Luckily the EPA and DOT exist to make sure things don't get to that level. Your local authorities might not know what to do but you can be dead certain the EPA will have some ideas!
Document, document, document. Take photos when you can, be sure to document time/date, if you see him hauling 55 gallon drums, old paint cans, etc. in his truck, take photos and/or describe them, note if he does a large burn shortly afterwards. Just send your evidence to the feds. They will be the most direct in handling this type of mess. If they don't, and the guy gets away with it for years and then abandons the property, it gets very expensive for them, up to and possibly including Superfund/brown fields type remediation. So they absolutely want to make sure he's financially responsible for cleanup while he is still in legal possession of the property!

Rachel Mackintosh
- Greenfield, Vermont

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