What is Polymer Degradation and Should I Worry?
Most Vehicles are Subject to It
There are certain words that you really only encounter when you’re working in certain industries. For example, if you work in the insurance industry, you probably use the word “indemnification” quite often. If you’re not in the insurance business, you likely have never used it, nor will you ever use that particular word.
When you work in the auto body restoration business, you come across a lot of jargon. Sometimes it’s pretty common stuff that’s easy to figure out even if you’re not an automobile buff; such as chrome alloy or paintless dent repair. Other times, you hear the word and you’re left thinking, “What?” For instance, polymer degradation is a serious issue on just about every vehicle more than a couple years old.
What are Polymer Parts?
A polymer is basically a part that is made up of a string of molecular components that are similar… in other words, plastic, rubber, vinyl, and the like. When we talk about a vehicle, polymer parts are just about anything that isn’t made out of metal.
If you take a look at your vehicle, you probably see polymer parts right away. Many polymer parts aren’t painted, they’re made out of polymer plastic that have been designed to be that particular color. The trim around the doors is often a polymer. There’s likely polymer in the grill, around the windows, and often much of the trim all the way around the vehicle.
In essence, a large part of your vehicle is made of polymers, and those polymers are subject to degradation over time.
What is Polymer Degradation?
There are two basic ways that items break down. Most of us are familiar with biodegrading material. That is how organic matter decomposes. Anything from paper, to food scraps, to wood that isn’t maintained will biodegrade. But man-made items like plastic and Styrofoam break down through a process called photodegrading. That is, when they’re exposed to light, the components start to break apart and deteriorate.
Polymers used on vehicles can degrade in a few other ways as well. Exposure to air pollution, such as car exhaust, can cause them to degrade faster. The same goes with dirt, road grime, and other pollutants that can get onto the polymers.
When they degrade, they don’t rot in the sense that we think about food and other organic matter rotting. Instead, they become brittle. They may crack, fade, or chip. They’re not as flexible as they once were, and they certainly aren’t as strong as before.
That fading is especially seen in black polymers. They turn a gray color, and often people mistake their degradation for having leftover wax that wasn’t buffed out. That can be the case, but most often it’s not wax.
How can you Prevent Polymer Degradation?
The good news is that if you take care of your vehicle, you can slow the polymer degradation as it comes along. It’s all about taking great care of your vehicle.
Keeping your vehicle clean of dust, dirt, tar, and grime is the first step to making sure the polymer parts don’t fall apart faster than you hope. We recommend regular washes, and make sure you have your vehicle detailed twice every year (at very least once per year!).
In addition to the detailing, you will want to use a product designed to protect polymers. Don’t grab the cheapest cleaner you can find, those will often speed up the degradation rather than prevent it.
Come to Big Sky Collision Center for Auto Body Repairs in Billings
If your polymer parts have degraded too far, you may need to have them replaced or painted. If that’s the case, give us a call at 406-259-6328. If your polymer parts are still in good shape, give us a call at that same number, and we can get you scheduled for an auto detailing.