I started this article with the idea of writing about paint overspray on cars and how to remove it.
Then it occurred to me that some car owners with this problem might want to know more details about paint overspray and how to deal with it beyond being told to get a buffer and a clay bar and go to work.
Sometimes you simply want to find the person that covered your car in hardened spray paint droplets and have them take responsibility. Most of the time it’s just an accident or mistake on their part and it’s the reason they have liability insurance coverage.
You also have insurance for a reason. And paint overspray removal is a very common issue that insurance companies frequently deal with. So much, in fact, that many insurance carriers have national contracts with paint overspray removal services and/or auto detailing shops for clay bar and buffing services.
Since this is AutoDetailGuide, we like to cover all aspects of an automotive topic. Like we’ve been doing since 1999. This article is generally the first step in starting the paint overspray removal process.
So let’s talk about how to remove overspray. From the basics like what it is and where it comes from, to the advanced topics of how to file an insurance claim to remove paint overspray, and how to make sure you aren’t out of pocket for the repair costs.
The word “overspray” refers to the phenomenon of droplets of paint or similar related coatings that are dispersed through the air but do not adhere to the surface it was supposed to cover. This is where the “over-spraying” aspect comes from.
Overspray is a surprisingly common occurrence in many industries, including automotive manufacturing, construction, and, of course, painting.
What is Paint Overspray?
Spray paint overspray is what happens when paint is sprayed through a pressurized or airless sprayer and lands on a surface other than the one it was intended to cover. The most common example is latex paint or polyurethane sealers that are carried by the wind and land on something other than the intended surface. On windy days paint overspray is a serious problem. It could land on a car, truck, house, boat, or any number of objects.
What is the most common type of overspray?
The most common type of overspray is sprayed paint. Most often this is latex paint, but there are many others including epoxy deck stains, industrial epoxy coatings, and heated highway line paint.
Where Does Paint Overspray Come From?
There are many different types of overspray and they are usually named by the source of the coating in question. The most common examples of this are:
Highway line painting
Bridge painting projects
Residential home exterior painting
Cleaning wooden decks and applying polyurethane sealers
Each type of paint has a different chemical makeup and will require different removal methods.
Epoxy paint like those used in commercial paint jobs, bridge painting projects, painting water towers, and large office building painting, is some of the most difficult paint to remove. Anyone who has ever sprayed paint on anything will understand how fast paint spray travels. This is why you see the huge white tarp wrapped bridges for overspray prevention when you’re driving on the highway.
A painting contractor knows how difficult it is to remove industrial epoxy coatings from a painted surface. Applying paint that doesn’t come off is their job. It’s also their responsibility to prevent overspray to mitigate or reduce potential damage claims that are caused by their performance.
The surface that the paint is on will also play a role in what removal methods will work and also affects overspray removal prices.
For example, bridge painting projects use epoxy paint that is heated to high temperatures and then applied with spray guns onto the surface. Painters use many methods to prevent overspray, but sometimes it still escapes. Large commercial paint jobs drift in windy conditions like this. And that type of paint overspray removal is very difficult without damaging the underlying surface.
Highway line paint is another difficult type of epoxy paint to remove. It is also heated to high temperatures and then applied hot to the surface with spray guns. Highway road paint is designed to withstand harsh conditions, including weathering, UV rays, and road salt. The road paint workers do attempt to prevent overspray, but they have to use large spray patterns to get enough paint on the road.
If you’ve ever tried to attempt road paint removal from your car’s inner wheel wells, then you know how it’s difficult removing overspray like that.
So it stands to reason that removing it from your car is equally difficult. That’s why an auto insurance company will have insurance claims experts that deal with these types of claims.
What Causes Paint Overspray?
Overspray happens while painting anything. It can be caused by many things, from faulty spray painting equipment to weather conditions and carelessness on the part of the painter. And while it is more commonly associated with damaging car paint jobs, it can happen anytime a painter is working with paint.
There are a few factors that can contribute to overspray. The most common one is the use of an improper spray gun or nozzle. If the atomization of the paint is not correct, it can result in large droplets that spread out too much as they travel through the air.
Bad weather conditions can also cause the paint to dry too quickly or blow away in unintended directions when it’s windy.
Another common cause is not having proper containment around the work area. This could be something as simple as not tarping off a vehicle before painting it. If there is nothing to contain the paint, it will spread out and eventually land on something else.
How Far Does Paint Overspray Travel?
Paint overspray is carried away from the spray gun by the wind and can travel for miles. This is what causes it to land on cars, trucks, houses, and other surfaces that are not its intended target. The farther away from the source, the spray pattern, and the number of spray guns applying paint, the more widespread the damage will be.
This is why contractors are forced to pay so much for their liability insurance coverage. And why most go out of their way to prevent overspray from happening at all. A small accident can cover an entire vehicle, or just the windshield and plastic trim.
But a large claim can be tens of thousands of dollars or more.
How Does Paint Overspray Get on Cars?
There are many ways that paint overspray can get on cars. When paint or sealant is applied to a surface with a spray gun from an airless paint sprayer, some of it will inevitably fly off and land on other surfaces nearby. It turns into a fine mist of paint particles, so it is bound to travel some distance.
Common ways to get paint overspray on your car:
Driving through an area where a painter is working, even if you are several blocks away
Having your car parked near or under a structure that is being painted
Driving or parking near a construction site where workers are using paints or sealants
Driving or parking near a bridge that is being painted
Driving behind a highway paint truck sprayer
Driving or parking near a house having its porch deck boards painted and/or sealed
What Does Paint Overspray Look Like?
Clearcoat contamination and paint overspray are often missed when you are looking at your car. The problem is the size of the droplets and the color of the paint or sealant. Even black paint overspray on a white surface might look like a light dusting of dirt because it’s such a fine mist when it settles on your car.
The easiest method of identifying overspray is not through sight, it’s by touch. Run your hand over the car and feel the paint. Your normal car clear coat is perfectly smooth. But overspray feels bumpy, like sandpaper. If you feel something less than smooth, it’s a good indicator that you have paint overspray on your car.
Who is Responsible for Overspray?
Paint overspray damage is usually caused by painting contractors, auto body shops, bridge painters, construction companies, and so on. There are many types of businesses and contractors that paint.
And reputable businesses all have insurance. It protects both them and their customers.
Most contractor insurance policies include paint overspray coverage. This is because it is a common occurrence and can cause significant damage. The policy will cover any damages caused by the paint overspray, including:
Paint that has been deposited on the surface of the car
Paint that has been deposited on the windows or windshield
Paint that has been deposited on the paint job itself
Industrial bridge painters and construction companies pay a lot of money in liability insurance coverage to pay claims resulting from paint overspray damage.
So do painting contractors.
And when your neighbor admits he used a paint sprayer indoors but swears he left the windows closed? He has homeowners insurance just for that reason.
How to Verify Contractor Liability Insurance is Active
At a minimum, you should have proof of coverage or a certificate of insurance for your contractor’s liability insurance. This certificate allows you to see exactly what type of liability coverage the contractor maintains. And also verify that the policy is active and in force (paid and up to date).
You should also be listed as an additional named insured so it is easier for you to file a claim and verify coverage. Any contractor that has a problem with this part of the hiring process, should simply be avoided.
Does Contractor Liability Insurance Exclude Overspray Claims?
Short answer, no. Long answer, possibly. It really comes down to the contractor and which options they choose for their commercial insurance coverage.
All reputable contractors have liability insurance that is initially offered with overspray claims coverage included. If you’re concerned about the possibility of overspray damage, ask your contractor what kind of liability insurance coverage they have in place before you hire them.
Where you run into problems with this is with a professional painter that is trying to save money on their liability insurance costs. Many insurance companies now offer the option to exclude overspray coverage from their professional liability insurance policies. The cost savings can be significant, so this is an important question to ask your painter.
Keep in mind that any professional painter can still cover your neighborhood in overspray even if they don’t have overspray coverage. If that happens and your neighbors want their homes repainted or glass windows replaced, your homeowner’s insurance might be the only protection you have. You can always sue your painter, but if they couldn’t afford full liability coverage, there’s a good chance they won’t have anything to recover in a lawsuit.
If you switch roles and you need to remove paint overspray from the body paint on your car because of a contractor that painted your neighbor’s house, your homeowner’s insurance will likely cover the cost of repairs. But before you go that route, talk to your neighbor and ask if they got a copy of their contractor’s liability insurance information. Otherwise, you will most likely be stuck paying the deductible on your homeowner’s insurance policy.
No matter what the source, it’s important to have the overspray removed as soon as possible. The longer it sits, the harder it will be to remove.
If you think your car has been hit with overspray, take photos and contact your insurance company right away. They’ll work with a professional to get the paint removed quickly and efficiently.
Or take it to your local auto detailing shop and ask about clay bar services. They can usually get your paint back to normal in a day.
Will My Auto Insurance Cover Paint Overspray Damage?
Most instances of paint overspray removal are covered by auto insurance, regardless of who is at fault. The problem is with deductibles. The average deductible in the United States is $500. And overspray removal prices average roughly $500 for a mid-sized vehicle. So it’s worth it to find out who did the painting and attempt to get them to pay for it. Or give the information to your insurance agent or claims adjuster so they can go after the person who created the mess.
What Should I Do When I Find Paint Overspray on My Car?
In most cases, paint overspray is not a serious problem. It’s just a nuisance that can be easily removed with a little elbow grease and some cleaning supplies. However, in some instances, paint overspray can cause serious damage. For example, if it gets into the engine of a car, it can cause costly repairs.
And depending on the condition of your paint, you could be looking at a new paint job if the damage is extensive.
How Do I Identify the Type of Paint Overspray on My Car?
If you find paint overspray on your car, the first thing you should do is identify what type of paint it is. Once you know what type of paint it is, you can research the best way to remove it.
How do you identify the type of paint? Do some detective work.
If you have yellow highway paint on the wheel wells of your car, you probably drove behind a highway painting truck.
If you see tarps hanging from a bridge near your office and you have the same color paint as the bridge, you probably have overspray from the bridge contractors.
Is your neighbor boasting about his nice, shiny, newly cleaned, and sealed deck? And your car is covered in clear overspray bumps? Then you got hit with polyurethane deck sealant overspray.
In many cases, a simple soap and water solution will work to remove light or medium overspray from cars if you catch it quickly. However, if the overspray is more difficult to remove, you may need a stronger solution or specialized overspray removal products.
Removing paint overspray can be a challenging and time-consuming task. But it’s important to take the time to do it right so that you don’t damage your car or cause further damage by using the wrong removal method.
Should I Consult a Professional Detailer or Body Shop to Remove Overspray?
If you’re not sure what type of paint overspray you have, or if you’re unsure of the best removal method, it’s always best to consult a professional. A professional detailer or body shop will be able to identify the type of paint and recommend the best way to remove it. They will also have the proper tools and products to get the job done right.
If you find yourself dealing with paint overspray, the best course of action is to remove it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to remove.
If you’re ever faced with dealing with paint overspray, don’t panic. In most cases, it’s not a serious problem and can be easily resolved. And if you do experience any damage, don’t hesitate to file a claim with your insurance company. They’ll be more than happy to help.
Paint overspray generally concerns unintentionally applying paint or a similar coating to a surface that wasn’t the original target. In other words, you accidentally created a mist of paint spray that floated away and landed on nearby cars, houses, and buildings.
For obvious reasons, it’s not a great situation to be in if you are the person that created the overspray.
And for reference, even though I’m focusing on paint and related coatings, overspray can occur anytime you spray a liquid chemical in the air.
Where Does Paint Overspray Come From?
Unfortunately, it’s often left up to the owner of an overspray-damaged vehicle to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes and search out nearby clues as to the source of the paint overspray.
Sometimes it’s as easy as looking up to see a bridge or office building getting painted. A simple Google search will result in large numbers of paint overspray horror stories. Like the water tower painter who accidentally covered 900 cars in a wet droplet cloud of epoxy paint.
In those situations, one of the responsible parties will usually hire a paint overspray removal specialist to fix the car paint at your house or take it to their local detail shop or similar facility.
List of Common Sources of Paint Overspray
If you need some ideas on where to look, the following list is a good place to start. Just remember, on windy days paint overspray can travel a fairly good distance before drying and falling to the ground.
Bridge painting projects. Look for white tarp-wrapped bridges. They use industrial epoxy coatings that stick to anything.
Construction site and large office building painting. They also use epoxies that aren’t clearcoat-friendly. The wind up there moves fast.
Painting Water Towers. Most hold a million or more gallons and are hard to tarp for painting. Both the insides and outsides are painted with heavy zinc primer and two coats of epoxy paint.
Residential home exterior painting. Never underestimate the power of one painter with a spray gun. They can overspray an entire neighborhood in less than a few hours.
Wooden decks and porches. The double whammy of epoxy deck stains and polyurethane sealers. Looks like tree sap, but sticks to anything.
Tree Sap. If you see something that looks like hard, sticky syrup on your car, look above and you will most likely see the tree that caused it.
Road paint and highway line paint.Highway paint removal is so bad that we gave it a page of its own here on the ADG website. It’s called hot melt marking paint and it’s sprayed on roads after heating it to 392 degrees (Fahrenheit). Road paint removal is difficult but entirely possible to do as a DIY project at home.
Will My Auto Insurance Cover Paint Overspray Damage?
According to insurance claims experts, more than 1,000 vehicles a day are damaged with paint overspray, resulting in damage claims in excess of $500 million annually.
The problem with quoting statistics is that they don’t always give the full picture. If a professional painter causes overspray damage to your car, they are usually liable to pay for damages.
Usually? Well, there’s the little problem of actually getting paid. We have a similar article here on our site that goes into more detail on locating the source of the overspray and figuring out how to get them to pay for the costs of professional paint overspray removal. Check it out when you have some time.
Contractor Insurance That Excludes Overspray Claims
Liability insurance carriers, the people that cover contractors, are painfully aware of the costs involved with damage to car paint and clear coats from overspray.
That’s why liability insurance costs so much. And also why many painting contractors don’t carry liability coverage. It’s an expensive cost of doing business for any professional contractor. So naturally, some contractors let their policies lapse because they can’t afford the cost.
Insurance companies understand that cost is an issue. So to make these policies affordable, companies offer cut-rate discount contractor insurance. It makes sense for a painting contractor that only offers interior painting services to save money on their contractor liability insurance by choosing to exclude coverage for paint overspray claims. On the other hand, some painting contractors that do exterior painting might choose to exclude overspray coverage if they’ve never paid claims related to that type of damage.
The other issue is deductibles. Yet another way that liability insurance companies can reduce their exposure and offer lower rates is by setting a per-incident deductible. So that painting contractor that says they have overspray coverage, may in fact have a policy that sets per claim deductibles above $500. This means the painter will be paying out of pocket up to $500 per car.
Here is where I add the obvious disclaimers about how I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. But it also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out your chances of recovering that money might be difficult. Either way, you should always consult with your auto insurance carrier and your lawyer.
Insurance Deductibles and Overspray Damage
Now let’s talk about your side of the equation as the victim of this overspray problem.
And most overspray removal service bills come in at less than $500, depending on the extent of paint damage and how much work is involved.
Regardless of how much money it costs, it is always frustrating being forced to pay for damage to your car paint that is caused by a “professional” contractor. Any professional should know how to properly do their job.
This is why I mentioned above about speaking with a good lawyer about your claim. They might have ideas for possible ways to mitigate your out-of-pocket costs and recover your money from the contractor.
Don’t give up if you run into roadblocks. It’s your money, fight for it!
How Much Does it Cost to Remove Paint Overspray?
The typical cost to remove paint overspray from a vehicle ranges in price from a low of $150 to a high of $500 or more. These rates are standard for professional detailers or reconditioning techs.
To clarify a few things, the price you pay will greatly depend on the size of the vehicle, the severity of the overspray damage, and where it’s located on the vehicle.
For example, is it just the windshield or is it covering the entire vehicle? And if it’s everywhere, is it a Kia compact or a Yukon Denali XL SUV? Obviously, the price points will be wildly different depending on those types of differences.
Another criteria that often affects overspray removal prices, is the type of surface. Removing paint overspray from glass windows is measurably less difficult than removing it from body paint or plastic trim.
DIY Paint Overspray Removal
So up to this point, as far as paint overspray is concerned, I’ve covered what it is, how it happens, who is responsible to fix it, and ways you might be able to get reimbursed for your out-of-pocket costs.
If you exhausted all of those options and you are paying for paint overspray removal out of your own pocket, then you might be interested in fixing the problem on your own.
Let me just point out, upfront, DIY paint overspray removal is absolutely something you CAN try at home. A lot of people think it’s something only professionals can handle, but it’s not.
And it’s definitely NOT expensive. But as I will cover in the next section, paint overspray removal is very hard work. And you must be careful or you could end up destroying your car paint.
Is It Hard Work to Remove Overspray from Cars?
Yes, paint overspray removal is very hard work. That’s why detailers charge so much to remove it. And by hard, I mean labor-intensive. Not like back-breaking work moving a truckload of concrete blocks to your backyard.
DIY paint overspray removal is more on the level of setting aside a bunch of hours to take a clay bar and rub it on the outside of your car. And wash it. And rubbing it more. And washing it.
Clay on. Wash off. Clay on. Wash off. Very good Danielson.
Wax On. Wax Off.
Speaking of Mr. Miyagi. Removing overspray is one of those things that takes a frustrating amount of time to complete. Mainly because every time you think you’re done, you find some more.
Each time you dry your car after washing it, run your hands over the car again and try to feel for the tiny bumps of hard overspray paint droplets.
When you feel the paint bumps, you do that area over again.
And you will find some. Again. And Again. It’s frustrating how there are always a few that you miss.
Then you keep doing it all over again. And again. And again…
Wax On. Wax Off.
Disclaimer: I am obviously not Mr. Miyagi. I’m good, but not that good. So no, you won’t mysteriously know blackbelt level karate after you are done following my instructions for removing overspray from your vehicle.
You will, however, be as sore as I imagine Danielson was after he spent all day waxing all those cars for Mr. Miyagi.
Step by Step Paint Overspray Removal Instructions
If you are ready to get started, I have included a step-by-step instruction list for removing paint overspray from your car.
So let’s go!
First, a quick note. If you have any corrosive damage to your paint from environmental causes, paint overspray removal processes like the following will most likely not repair that type of damage. This is for the removal of hard droplets of dried paint overspray on your car exterior.
What are the environmental causes of corrosive paint damage?
Since I brought up environmental causes of corrosive paint damage, let’s briefly discuss this so you know the difference going into this.
Paint corrosion problems caused by the environment have been in the news for decades. These are issues like acid rain, toxic industrial exhaust or plant discharge, even bird crap that’s sat on your paint for too long.
It’s all toxic to paint.
These environmental conditions can eat away at your car’s clear coat and paint. It’s fixable, so don’t think you need to repaint the entire vehicle. That’s usually not the case.
Many auto paint repair and reconditioning services can fix those problems without the need for a body shop.
But the tips I’m including here in these instructions, like clay bars and high-speed buffing, usually won’t fix corrosive damage problems.
So now that we are on the same page, let’s get started.
Wash Your Car with a Pressure Washer
The first step in the overspray removal process is to scrub your car. With soap. But the more important part of this step is to use a pressure washer during the entire wash process. Even the self-service car washes with the bays sometimes have enough pressure for this step.
Can I Use a Pressure Washer to Remove Paint Overspray?
Well, yes and no. Using a pressure washer while removing paint overspray is effective in blowing off or loosening droplets of overspray that were somewhat dry when they landed on your vehicle. Even though these droplets are still attached to your car, the bond with the clear coat isn’t always strong. Especially if you were quick to fix the overspray damage.
So yes, using a pressure washer will sometimes remove a significant portion of the overspray droplets from your car.
Especially if it was a long-distance that the paint droplets traveled in the air from the paint sprayer nozzle to your car.
The longer the distance traveled, the drier the droplet when it lands on your car. Ultimately, that results in a bond with the car clearcoat that isn’t as strong as fully wet droplets.
So always start with a good wash and always use a pressure washer.
How to use a Clay Bar on Car Clear Coat
When it comes to painting overspray removal you need to start with a good clay bar. Detailer’s clay, as it’s called, is a special mix of clay that works incredibly well at removing impurities from your paint.
But how do you use a clay bar to clean a car clear coat? It’s a simple enough system. You take the detailers clay and wet it. You are also going to need some form of lubricant for the car paint surface. This is always a subject of debate whether you need special lubricants or not.
Some detailers will tell you that you need to use everything from spray-on finish wax to showroom shine products to keep the clay lubricated.
From my experience, a simple solution of Joy dishwashing detergent works great.
Your goal is to keep the clay bar lubricated as you rub it across the clear coat in a circular pattern. So whether it’s spray-on finish wax or dishwashing detergent, both will work.
Detailer Clay Bar and Lubrication
It’s a one, two process. Rub the clay in circles and keep following behind it occasionally with your other hand to feel for the dry bumps that overspray creates.
Keep going over it with the detailer’s clay until it’s gone, lubricating your work area as needed. Also, keep rinsing the areas you have completed, so you don’t let the clay dry as you are moving forward on the vehicle.
Another cool feature of clay is if you have already waxed the car, the clay bar won’t remove the wax on the painted surface, but it will remove the overspray.
Always Use the Clean Side of a Clay Bar
Something else to keep in mind while you are using the clay is that you need to keep folding it back into itself while you are rubbing it.
The clay will start getting dirty as it’s pulling everything off the painted surface of the car. So keep folding it over on itself, and you will always have a clean surface.
Eventually, the clay will need to be replaced, but one bar will do many, many cars. If you are doing this at your home, that one container of clay will last you a long time.
Another thing to keep in mind. Always keep the clay wet. It should come in a bottle with a replaceable cap. Fill the jar or container with your water and Joy detergent solution and put the cap on tight before you put it away after using it. This will keep it ready for the next time you need it.
After you have completed the entire car, you will want to wash the vehicle using your standard car wash soap mix with a soft wool wash mitt.
Once it is dry, you will be able to feel for any areas that you missed.
Can I Remove Paint Overspray with a High-Speed Buffer?
Short answer, no you should not remove paint overspray from your car paint or clear coat with a high-speed buffer.
Is it possible? Sure. But even after I spent a decade becoming an expert wheelman with a high-speed buffer, I still limited the situations where I needed to use one. The reason was simple. High-speed buffing can damage car paint and clear coats. The longer you use it on the car, the higher the chance for burnt or damaged paint.
When I was first learning how to use a buffer, we had an old car door we practiced on in our shop. I burnt straight through the paint to the metal on my first time. It was practice, so it didn’t matter much. But it was scary how easy it was to do that.
And burnt paint is just one of the many possible things that can go wrong with high-speed buffing. Spend too much time with a buffer on car paint and you are just asking for burnt paint, ripped molding, damaged accessories, and so many other possible and exciting ways you can damage a car.
Take my advice that I give to everyone that asks about high-speed buffer. Get an orbital buffer. My favorite for the past two decades is the Porter-Cable High-Speed Orbital Buffer. It’s a variable high-speed orbital buffer. The orbital aspect is what I love about it since it all but eliminates the chances of both burning paint and the clear coat swirl makes that a lot of buffers leave in dark color cars.
Nano Ceramic Coating or Polymer Sealant After Clay Bar
A car that has been through the clay bar cleaning followed by either high-speed buffing or orbital buffed to remove any swirls looks absolutely incredible. Apply a nice coat of Nano-Ceramic Coating or a Polymer Sealant to the paint after you are done, and your car will be ready for six months until you need to reapply. Personally, I love the Hydro Slick Ceramic Coating Hydrowax from Chemical Guys. It makes your car clear coat incredibly smooth.
The paint overspray removal process is not an easy one, but it looks great once it’s done.
When it comes to my preferences for detailers clay, I tend to stick with Meguiar’s brand detailing products. They have a Meguiar’s C-2000 Professional Detailing Clay which is a great product. These clay bars do a fantastic job of paint overspray removal. Highway paint, tree sap removal, and more.
Over the past two decades, I have used hundreds of bars of detailer’s clay. Meguiar’s and Griots are the best clay bars I have used, but my personal preference is Meguiar’s. I just really like the feel of their clay bar in my hand when I’m working it over the car paint surface.
Hopefully, this information helps you to get your car back to top condition after dealing with paint overspray damage. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note on our Facebook Page and/or sign-up for our free weekly ADG newsletter. We share exclusive content with our subscribers that isn’t always posted publicly.
As always, thanks for spending time here at Auto Detail Guide!
As a professional business owner, it’s important to understand the different types of insurance that your business needs.
Some types of insurance coverage are very different from others. So you might think that standard liability insurance would cover you and your business from damages that you or your employees cause, but you would be mistaken.
Especially if the damage happened while you were in control of your customer’s vehicle. In that situation, you want to know about garage keepers liability insurance and how it can help protect you and your business.
Pro Tip: Specialty commercial insurance should only be offered by experienced brokers. Your agent might be great at personal auto insurance, but asking them for Garage Keepers Liability Insurance is like asking a veterinarian to deliver a baby. Sure, they can probably do it, but don’t you want more of an expert for something that important?
In this article, we are going to cover a few important aspects of general liability coverage and answer the question of What is Garage Keepers Liability Insurance and how can it help you.
We will learn about Garage Keepers Liability Insurance. What it is. What it is not. And why your business needs it.
Discuss the differences between Garage Keepers Insurance and standard liability insurance.
Both car detailers with fixed location shops and mobile detailers need to consider Garage Keepers Insurance.
Discuss the need for the right insurance coverage for the type of services that you offer.
So let’s get started.
What is Garage Keepers Liability Insurance?
Garage Keepers is a very specific liability insurance policy designed for businesses that work with vehicles or equipment in a garage setting. This type of policy offers insurance protection for your business from liability arising from damage claims caused by you or your employees while conducting your professional services.
These types of liability policies protect your business by extending insurance coverage onto the customer-owned vehicles in your care, custody, and control. That is the 3 C’s that I reference in my article on the subject of auto detail liability insurance.
How is Garage Keepers Insurance Different from Other Liability Insurance?
Standard Liability Insurance protects your business from a long list of other potential issues. Everything from advertising liability to a customer slip and fall in your waiting room.
Garage Keepers insurance extends coverage to customer vehicles while under your care, custody, and control. So if your shop burns down with a customer vehicle inside, Garage Keepers insurance would be the policy you need to help with those claims.
Clearly, it’s important to contact your insurance agent or broker to discuss which types of liability insurance coverages are best for your business.
The differences between the types of liability coverage boil down to what is required to protect your business and customer vehicles while you and your employees are in control of their property.
When you look at the different insurance coverages from this perspective, it makes it easier to understand why you might need to have both in force protecting your business.
Car Detailers Need Garage Keepers Insurance
There are many reasons why car detailers and mobile detailing businesses need garage keepers liability insurance. All of these reasons come down to one issue. How much time is a customer vehicle under your control when there’s a chance it could be damaged?
While you are working on customer vehicles in your garage, there are many times it can be damaged. Think about all the services you offer. Car detailing, washing, buffing, removing paint overspray, engine cleaning, heavy equipment cleaning, paint chip repair, essentially all the reasons that the customer would hire your business.
Customer Vehicles are Protected
All of these services have the potential for causing accidental damage to a customer-owned vehicle. It’s important to make your customers aware that their valuable vehicles are protected while under your care, custody, and control.
Garage Keepers Liability Insurance is the financial protection device that allows you to extend that peace-of-mind protection to your customer.
Cost is obviously an issue for any detailing business. Unfortunately, Garage Keepers coverage can get pricey depending on many factors. Everything from how long you’ve been in business, your claims record, the physical location of your business, and numerous other factors that your insurance agent can discuss with you in more detail.
Mobile Detailers Need to Consider Garage Keepers Insurance
Another item worth mentioning is mobile detail businesses will need to be very specific with your insurance agent about exactly how you perform your services on customer vehicles. The answers to your questions will determine the type of insurance coverage you may need.
It all comes down to how are the cars moved? Do you move them or do your customers? Do you ask the customer to move the vehicle for you? Do you drive the vehicle? Even if you are mobile and set up in a business parking lot, you may still need to move your customer vehicle to another spot after you are done doing work on it.
Get the Right Coverage For Your Services
Any of these questions might seem insignificant, but it’s important to tell your insurance agent everything you do so they can offer you the right coverage for the services that you offer.
You might not think it’s a big deal until an employee crashes your customer’s car into several others while moving it across a parking lot. Or accidentally hits another car while pulling out of a driveway.
Problems happen. All the time. Insurance allows you to focus on your business instead of trying to anticipate those potential problems and protect yourself from the costs associated with paying to fix damages that were caused by your business.
Garage Keepers Liability Insurance is a Valuable Tool
Garage keepers liability insurance is a valuable tool to help keep your business profitable so an occasional accident doesn’t destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build. You should discuss this with your commercial insurance broker and allow them to quote you prices for comprehensive coverage to protect you and your business.
One of the most important aspects of running any kind of business is having the right business insurance coverage. Auto Detailing Liability Insurance is no less important.
At an auto detailing shop, your insurance requirements are more specific than many other businesses. This is due to the fact that you have higher potential liabilities while you are working on your customer vehicles. As a result, you also need a more specific version of liability insurance called Garage Keepers Liability Insurance.
What is Garage Keepers Liability Insurance?
General liability insurance alone won’t cut it, you need garage keepers liability to cover the vehicle while in your care, custody, and control. You can learn more in this article on our website about it and you should also discuss it with your insurance agent.
What is Proof of Insurance?
As a business owner, you have an obligation to protect both you and your customers with insurance coverage on your business. When you have the insurance, prove it to your customers. A certificate of insurance aka proof of insurance is the best way to do that. The certificate details exactly what your coverage includes and how it pertains to the services you are performing.
Reputable detail shops will have one right in their office that they can copy, fax, or email to you. Many of our customers will simply ask us to fax them a copy before they bring their car down for service.
Why Do Customers Ask for a Certificate of Insurance?
Regardless of what kind of vehicle you have, you want to make sure it’s protected while under the care, custody, and control of the shop and it’s employees;
If you have a more expensive vehicle you want to make sure their coverage exceeds the value of your car. For example, a $90,000 BMW owner would want to look for at least $100,000 in “Garage Keepers Liability Coverage”. This means that the shop is covered regardless if they drive your car into a wall or the shop burns down while your car is in it;
General Liability will not cover your car! This is important. A lot of shops will try and get around having Garage Keepers Liability while simply carrying General Liability and telling their customers they are fully insured. They are not. General Liability covers your painter if he drops his ladder through your stained glass window, but he’s not in control of your house when he does that damage. Garage Keepers Liability covers the shop while they are in the care, custody, and control of your vehicle. There’s an important difference. Most reputable shops carry both General and Garage Keepers Liability.
You want to call the insurance agent that is listed on the certificate and make sure to check on auto detailing liability insurance and garage keepers liability insurance coverage. Also, verify that the policy coverage will be in force when you bring your car down to the shop. They will usually verify this for you over the phone. You can also ask them how long they’ve had the policy and whether or not they’ve had any claims. Sometimes the agent will tell you and sometimes they won’t. They will at least tell you whether or not the policy is current, active, and in force.
Care, Custody, and Control
So why is auto detailing liability insurance so important from a shop owner perspective? Here are some things you may not have thought of. Did you know that while your customer’s vehicle is in your care, custody, and control (the three C’s), you are liable for their vehicle?
Don’t Use Personal Auto Insurance for Business
Small businesses are frequently caught committing fraud. Many times without knowing it. They soon find out that ignorance is never a defense when it comes to breaking the law.
How are these businesses committing fraud? One way is by using personal auto insurance as the business auto insurance coverage. As ridiculous as this sounds, it happens often.
Get caught and you’re screwed. Especially if you lie to an insurance agent, claims adjuster, police officer, or customer about having the proper insurance. This has the potential to land you in court or possibly even jail. It’s a big deal, so get the right insurance coverage and don’t play games with your future.
It Can Happen to You
The first thing shop owners tell me when it comes to insurance coverage is, “I’ve never messed anything up, never had a claim, never had a problem.” Same old story, different day. So you don’t think it can happen to you? Think again! I tell people they just jinxed themselves by telling me that. Here are some of the things that have happened at my shops and mobile rigs over the years:
Burned the paint off a car with a high-speed buffer. One of my detailers went straight to the metal thinking it was “dirt” he was buffing off.
Ruined all the carpets in a Mercedes after leaving them too wet by forgetting to extract the water from the carpets after cleaning.
Accidentally etched a windshield with acidic cleaner. This happened several times until we finally switched to a non-etching cleaner because the windshields were costing us so much money.
Backed a car into another customer car. Inside our shop. Yes, it happened. Several times.
Drove a Limo through our giant shop garage door. This happened in both forward and reverse, with the same guy stuck between seats cleaning each time. I moved him to our industrial pressure washing team where he wasn’t driving anything. And he became one of my most loyal employees.
These are just a few examples of the many “accidents” that have all happened over the years. It just goes with the territory when you have a booming business with lots of employees. The courts and insurance carriers don’t care if you “didn’t know.” You are expected to know these things if you are in business.
Nothing Good Comes From Lies
So get proper insurance coverage for your business. Start with Auto Detailing Liability Insurance and then go from there. It’s not the only insurance you need to be in business, but it’s a great start.
And never lie. I don’t mean that from a morality basis. It’s just bad for business. Nothing good comes from lies. A customer will catch you and put the word out about you and your business. Trust is almost impossible to earn back after you’ve been caught in a lie. Insurance carriers will drop you, or worse. Other businesses with blackball you. I’ve seen what happens to detailers that lie to dealerships and get caught. You don’t want this to be you. So just be honest.
And you need to set an example in your business. We had a zero-tolerance policy at our shops. Our guys knew the rule, “you lie, you’re out”. Simple.
1099 Contractors or Cash Workers?
When it comes to insurance, another important aspect to think about is the classification of your employees. Are you a business with 1099 contractors or cash workers? If you are, you need to think carefully about how you classify your workers.
Am I passing judgment? Probably. We never had this situation in my businesses. When we were growing fast, there were a few times I had to borrow money from my personal savings to cover payroll, employment taxes, etc. Just workers comp alone will kill many small businesses. I get it. I even missed a few quarterly tax payments when we had several bad months in a row. Getting caught-up nearly killed my business. So I’m telling you from experience. I get what you are going through.
Pass The IRS Criteria to be Considered a Business
Taxes are an unfortunate part of any business. Just keep up with them and everything will go smoother for you.
Paying workers by check as a 1099 independent contractor is inappropriate unless they have their own business. They need to pass specific IRS criteria to be considered a business. Essentially, that means you hire them to do a job, then you leave them to do it. They don’t use your equipment or listen to you tell them how to do their job.
And the most important item? They must have their own insurance. At a minimum, your contractor needs their own liability insurance. All businesses should have this. It’s just good business.
Other insurance coverage depends on the services you offer and the state where your business is located. For example, depending on your state, the contractor might also need to provide you with a proof of coverage certificate for workers’ compensation insurance.
What is Workers’ Compensation Insurance?
Worker’s compensation coverage, also known as worker’s comp, is a type of business insurance that provides benefits to employees that suffer work-related injury or illness. In most states, workers’ comp is: 1) mandatory for employers; 2) replaces 66 2/3% of employee wages; 3) includes payment of medical costs associated with their work-related injury or illness. These benefits are provided to all employees covered under the policy, in exchange for giving up their rights to sue the employer for negligence.
Your state might also allow exemptions from coverage for workers’ comp coverage. Usually, this is only available to the owners or executives of a business. So you definitely need to discuss this with your insurance broker, lawyer, and accountant.
Limit Your Direction or Control of Contractors
This is important in any relationship with your 1099 independent contractors. The directions and control you exert over them must be limited. You hire them for a project, they complete it, give you an invoice and you pay it. Any additional direction or control by you could have them reclassified as W2 employees.
You’re not being smart and getting away with anything. If you get audited, the IRS will notify other government agencies like your state Departments of Revenue and Labor & Industry. You could eventually be responsible for many years of back taxes for both your business and the employee.
that you assumed thought you were getting away with. Try firing a “1099 worker” who then goes to file unemployment because they don’t understand what a 1099 contractor is. The next call you receive might be from a representative of the government just asking a few questions. That’s all it takes to trigger an investigation of you and your business.
Cash and Under the Table Workers
An old friend of mine used to boast about paying all his workers under the table at his construction company. He used all the different methods. Cash payments, 1099 checks, he tried everything. From what he boasted about, this went on for quite some time. He would just laugh at everyone else for paying out taxes. Then he got nailed in an audit because several of his independent contractors filed for unemployment. The department of labor started investigating. They notified the state department of revenue and the IRS. It was a mess. And it cost him dearly.
Don’t be stupid. Follow the rules. And don’t lie. Three simple rules to follow that will help in all aspects of your life. I’m no fan of taxes, but you have to pay them, or eventually, people in suits will show up at your business and take them from you.
Your Insurance Will Not Cover 1099 Contractors
We cover this in more detail on our Detail Shop 1099 Contractor page. I’ve also written a few posts on the subject. As far as your business insurance is concerned, 1099 independent contractors are not employees. So your business insurance will not cover 1099 contractors that are working for you. They are supposed to have their own insurance coverage. It’s actually one of the criteria necessary to prove that they are, in fact, actual businesses.
I won’t even mention cash workers because, well, it’s stupid. Your insurance won’t cover an accident if your ‘contractor’ is involved. Even if you lie and say they are an employee. The insurance adjuster is going to have your $10 or $15 an hour employee state, under oath and penalty of jail time for insurance fraud, that they are an employee. The adjuster might even demand payroll records if they are suspicious of their status as an employee.
You will get caught. I’ve seen shop owners that I’m still friends with that were forced to shut down their businesses because they got nailed with penalties and fines for getting caught doing this.
Garage Keepers Liability Insurance with Transporter Plates
Insurance is also tough when transporting cars. In Pennsylvania, they have special plates called “Transporter” plates. Auctions use these plates to transport cars between auctions and dealers. Detail shops use them for the same thing, except they aren’t really designed for that.
The only way you can get “transporter” plates is to convince a dealership to do a contract with you that says you will be transporting cars for them. The application specifically says that you can’t be driving their cars between your shop and the dealership. So basically they don’t want detailers moving cars and this is their way of making it hard on them. You need garage keepers liability insurance with transporter plates since you will be housing the cars when you transport them to your shop. Even though technically the plates aren’t designed for that use. We cover this in more detail on our Detail Shop Transporter Plate page. Our shop got around this by just getting repair/towing plates since we were doing auto reconditioning services on cars. It worked out and allowed us to stay in compliance with the law. Check out the transporter plate page for more info on this.
Get Proper Insurance Coverage
The detailing business is like any other when it comes to being properly insured. The reason you have auto detailing liability insurance is to make sure you are covered in the event something bad happens. So by cutting corners like many detail shop owners do, eventually you will get burned in some scenario that you might have thought sounded good but in reality just doesn’t work.
Just do the right thing and get the proper insurance coverage with good auto detailing liability insurance and garage keepers liability insurance if needed. The nice thing about the garage keepers insurance is that most policies cover both the physical damage part of your activities and also the other liability issues that you need coverage for in your business.
Liability insurance is one of the most important types of insurance you can obtain for your business. So get it. You will be glad you did.
Transporting cars is an easy thing to do as long as your customer has their own license plate on the vehicle.
Unfortunately, doing business with individual customers is much different from wholesale or commercial work. When you start doing commercial detailing services for auto dealerships, car auctions, and even corporate fleet detailing, your needs change quickly in one major area of business – transporting vehicles.
Adding detailer transporter plates to your business sounds like a great idea until you start working on it. It’s expensive, complicated, expensive, and did I already say expensive? Yes, it’s going to cost you.
Commercial detailing work is a great profit center for any shop or mobile detailer. Provided you are able to ramp up your ability to do higher volume work and maintain consistent quality at the same time.
So let’s discuss the first step in the long process of getting started doing commercial or wholesale detailing work – obtaining detailer transporter plates for your business.
And don’t worry if you don’t understand a part of this. I explain everything in detail and start with the basics.
What are Detailer Transporter Plates?
Every vehicle on the road needs to be registered and insured. Each state has a DMV or Department of Motor Vehicles that regulates this process and issues a license plate to identify each vehicle. The DMV’s also have temporary commercial license plates for businesses that need to transport vehicles without the hassle of obtaining new license plates each time a car is moved. These license plates have names like Dealership, Repair/Towing, Transporter, and Detailer/Transporter.
Differences Between Transporter Plates and Standard License Plates
There is an insurance term called Care, Custody, and Control or the 3-C’s. In a standard vehicle license plate, the registration and insurance are tied to that vehicle owner and identified by that license plate. With a Transporter plate, the 3-C’s move with that plate, and subsequently the registration and insurance also go with that license plate. So it does not matter the vehicle, as long as that license plate is properly maintained and current, while also being used by an employee of the business that owns the plate, then that car is legally allowed to be driven.
Car Salespeople Use Dealership Plates Every Day
If you’ve ever visited a car dealership and took a vehicle on a test drive, then you’ve seen these commercial temporary license plates in action. Auto dealerships don’t have license plates for each of their cars. It would be a nightmare to keep track of everything.
So you pick out a car you like and the salesman grabs a dealer or dealership plate and puts it in the back window. Then you take the car for a spin around the block. Car salespeople use dealership plates every day.
The dealer plate is convenient because it allows car salespeople to use multiple vehicles without needing individual license plates and insurance on each.
The Insurance Goes with the License Plate
Since the insurance goes with the license plate aka dealer plate, it’s easily transferable between vehicles. Move the license plate and you move the insurance to another vehicle.
That’s the point of these types of license plates. That dealer plate insures that vehicle while the salesman is driving it.
So how does this help you? It doesn’t. You can’t secure dealer plates because you don’t own an auto dealership. I’m using it as an example for you to understand how the plates are utilized.
No, You Can’t Borrow Dealer Plates
I know you are thinking that. Right? I asked myself when I first went down this road. Why can’t I just borrow one of their plates? I’m moving cars for the dealership after all. But no, you can’t borrow dealer plates. It doesn’t matter that you are working with them, it only covers dealership employees.
None of the benefits of the dealer plates cover you as a contractor doing services for the dealership.
So what are your options? As a professional detailing business, you can choose to bring your equipment to the dealership in the form of a mobile detailing rig or van.
Or you can transport the vehicles to your detail shop to complete the work. To do so you need to insure the vehicles you are transporting.
Care, Custody, and Control
This is why most dealerships want you to have either “Repair/Towing” license plates, or “Detailer Transporter Plates”.
Insurance is tough when transporting cars. It depends on the state you reside in.
Detailers and Repair/Towing Plates
I’m not kidding when I say that DMV’s don’t like auto detailers. They don’t want you transporting vehicles.
For example, in Pennsylvania, you can’t get a Repair/Towing plate if you have the word “detail” in your name.
The government has its reasons for this. I’m simply relaying information.
Specialized Transporter License Plate
Although repair/towing plates are preferred, there is an option for detailing and reconditioning businesses. Most states have a specialized transporter license plate or a detailing transporter plate.
So why, if you own an auto detailing shop, would you want a repair/towing plate? Especially if states already make a special plate for detailers?
Let’s first start with this comment. If you only do car detailing, then you should get a detailer transporter plate.
If you also do other vehicle services, like reconditioning, paint repair, interior repair, dent pulls, bumper repairs, etc., then you should be able to utilize a repair/towing plate.
Ultimately, the repair/towing plate is better and more flexible for your needs.
Talk to Your State DMV Office
Either way, talk to your state DMV office that handles these types of license plates. They will tell you exactly which plates you are eligible to obtain.
Here are a few reasons the Repair/Towing plate is preferred if you can get it:
You can use them 24 hours a day versus transporter plates being limited to use only during your business hours. A big problem if you happen to be driving a car beyond your regular hours of operation;
They are easier to get since the DMV is much more stringent on detailing applications than they are for mechanics shops and towing companies who use these plates most of the time;
Many states are phasing out the transporter plates and just telling detailers not to move vehicles. Amazing how bureaucrats can think their solutions are so easy to live with, isn’t it?
Detailer Transporter Plates
The concept of auto detailer transporter plates was specifically designed for transporting cars between auctions and dealerships.
Auto Detailers picked them up when the state DMV’s didn’t think they were actually considered repair shops. So they rejected the detail business applications for repair/towing plates.
Unfortunately, this means that many detail shops with these detailer transporter plates use these plates beyond their intended purpose when they transport cars between dealerships and their own shops.
Unfortunately, the only way you can get auto detailer transporter plates is to convince a dealership to do a contract with you that says you will be transporting cars for them.
The application specifically says that you can’t be driving their cars between your shop and the dealership. So essentially, the DMV doesn’t want the auto detailers moving cars.
Denying car detailing shops the use of these plates is their way of making it more difficult for detail shops to do their work.
Auto Mechanics shops have repair/towing plates.
Auto Dealers have dealer or dealership plates.
Automotive auctions have transporter plates that they use to transport vehicles between dealers and the auction warehouses.
Commercial Profits Come with a Price
Unfortunately, those profits come with a price in the form of new insurance, equipment, and a host of additional headaches if you don’t know what you are doing.
From scaling the volume of cars you can complete per day to increasing the number of employees to be able to handle that volume. It takes an organized approach to expand your business in this way. And the first step is to start the process to obtain detailer transporter plates.
It’s absolutely not easy to get these types of commercial license plates. But I’m going to give you some background, teach you about the different types of license plates, cover insurance requirements, and the step-by-step process for getting your own detailing transporter plates.
The Key to Profitability with Car Dealers
Commercial detailing can be rewarding if you are careful to focus on providing solutions for the pain points of your potential customers.
For example, with car dealerships, a major issue with them is where you plan on detailing their vehicles. Space is a premium and they won’t just hand over a repair bay. Those make too much money for the dealership.
Once you see the problem, you realize the solution. The key to profitability with car dealers is the ability to transport their cars.
This creates the need for your shop to obtain specialized license plates. And that just opened another Pandora’s box of issues for your business.
We Qualified as a Body Shop
So auto detailers are in a weird limbo area between these other types of automotive businesses.
My company didn’t have as many problems because we did so many types of reconditioning services that we qualified as a body shop.
We also got around a lot of these issues by simply building up our mobile detailing crews and sending them to the dealer locations to do the work at their facility.
Plus the state makes you get the insurance BEFORE they even look at your application. That makes it fun since it takes them over a month to process it.
You Can’t Be In Business Without Being Properly Insured
The auto detailing business is like any other. You can’t be in business without being properly insured. The reason you have insurance is to make sure you are covered in the event something bad happens.
So by cutting corners like many detail shop owners do, eventually you will get burned in some scenario that you might have thought sounded good but in reality just doesn’t work.
When securing auto detailer transporter plates for your shop, you need to make sure the insurance part is set up and maintained correctly.
When Naming Your Business, Don’t Use The Word Detail
***TIP*** When naming your business, don’t use the word detail anywhere in your legal name.
Call your business something along the lines of Joe’s Vehicle Reconditioning or Auto Recon Experts. Or many other variations that don’t include detailing in the name.
This way when you apply for a Repair/Towing plate and they ask you what you do you can honestly tell them that you recondition vehicles, which is entirely true.
Set it Up Right From The Start
Too many detail shops start out just detailing, but by the time they get big enough to need something like detailer transporter plates, only a small portion of their business is actually performing actual car detailing.
So keep this in mind early on when you are naming your business or when you eventually incorporate, consider slightly changing the name.
I hope you have success in securing your transport plates. They are hard to get but definitely advantageous. Most of your competition won’t have the knowledge or the financial resources to get these plates. So they offer you a definite competitive advantage in your local area.
I hope this overview of detailer transporter plates is helpful and informative. As I said, it’s a long and expensive process, but it’s so worth it if you can manage it.