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what is paint overspray? how does it get on my car? picture of a bridge painter creating overspray.
What is Paint Overspray? It’s created by people like this. Professional painters spraying the underside of a bridge. PHOTO CREDITS: AdobeStock – Elroi

What is Paint Overspray?

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.

We are the definitive resource on learning how to both protect your car paint and clear coat as well as how to clean and remove paint overspray from cars. One of our most popular do-it-yourself pages is our guide to Paint Overspray Removal. When it comes to removing paint overspray, we know what we’re talking about.

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.

What is Overspray?

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
  • Construction painting
  • 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.