Safety driving tips through volcanic ash fall

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer January 19,2020


If you live anywhere near Taal Volcano, you would undoubtedly know about the on-going eruption, and that ash fall has reach far north.

Volcanic ash isn’t just hazardous to humans, animals and vegetation. Our cars are also susceptible to long-term damage when exposed to volcanic ash. It is an abrasive matter that when viewed under a microscope, resembles small and sharp little pieces of glass or ceramic that can lodge itself into almost anything. We gathered some driving tips to help minimize the negative impact on your vehicle.

1) Avoid driving through volcanic ash—the best option is always prevention rather than cure. If you can avoid it, do so by all means.

2) As slow as possible, as fast as necessary—an age old adage for 4×4 guys who are veterans on the trail. The aim here is to prevent as much volcanic ash lying on the ground to get kicked up, sticking to your vehicle and potentially causing more damage.

3) Change your filters and oil – volcanic ash and similar particles are very small and can even slip through the filters of your intake system. The engine can suck it in, causing more damage and can even be pushed by the rotating assembly into the oil pan. Thus, if you happen to drive through heavy ash fall, or in places with volcanic ash lying on the ground, replace your engine intake filter, engine oil and oil filter. Additionally, if you have had to get in and out of your vehicle, have the A/C system cleaned, cabin filter replaced and vacuum your seats and carpet. Steam-cleaning / bacterial cleaning is highly recommended.

4) If your car is covered in volcanic ash, don’t wipe it away even with a wet rag—SONAX, a leading German car care products company says that since volcanic ash is abrasive, it can cause deep scratches onto your paint. Running your wipers to clear your windshield will also scratch the glass. The best way is to blow away the ash using pressurized air as much as possible. Then run water with low pressure to wash away the remaining volcanic ash. Do so for an extended period of time. Once the ash is all gone, you can proceed to wash your car using the normal method of car shampoo and pressurized water. Pay heed also to your car’s various heat exchangers: the radiator, A/C condenser, and a turbo intercooler of your car is so equipped, will invariably find itself lodged with lots of volcanic ash. Run water with low to medium pressure, together with a soft brush to remove any lodged volcanic ash. The foreign matter will impede cooling performance and can potentially be a source for poor cooling and overheating, causing engine damage.


5) Don’t forget the underside of your car—according to Tough Dog Suspensions Philippines, the car’s underside, particularly the suspension system has numerous rubber bushings. These rubber bushings are self lubricating over time, slowly releasing oil to soften and lube the moving parts or seals that protect the moving parts like shock absorbers. Volcanic ash will latch onto the soft rubber bushings and dry them up prematurely or worse cause them to tear and crack, causing squeaks and rattles and necessitating an expensive repair / replacement job. An underchassis wash is highly recommended after driving through volcanic ash.

6) Cover your car – if you live in an area close to the eruption, park your car in a covered parking area or garage, or underneath an all-weather, plastic based (non-fabric) car cover to prevent volcanic ash from falling onto the exterior directly.

7) Extra filtration—if your car is equipped with a snorkel or an exposed, open-type performance air intake filter, consider covering the exposed element with thin sock or similar fabric to provide an extra layer of filtration against volcanic ash. Performance will go down, but your engine’s safety increases.

8) Consider paint protection —consider applying professional paint protection on your vehicle, like ceramic coating or even clear film to help prevent damage to your car’s paint finish. Companies like SONAX or Ceramic Pro offer professional paint protection, making the paint surface resistant to chemical damage, makes it highly hydrophobic (water resistant) and even impervious to small stone chips in some cases.


9) Keep your headlights on at all times—according to PIAA, driving through volcanic ash is like driving through a thick fog, only more damaging to your health and your vehicle. Therefore always keep your lights on when driving through ash fall. It’s not just for you to see the road ahead, but it’s also for other cars and pedestrians to see you approaching.

10) Should you find yourself in a slippery / muddy situation due to ash that has been rained on or wet and turned into mud and have difficulty progressing, you can air-down the tires to 20-24psi to get more of the rubber in contact with the ground and give you more traction. But in doing so, drive very slowly and carefully, keeping speeds in the 20km/h range. Once clear of slippery surface, inflate the tires to normal operating pressure before driving at normal highway speeds. Remember: anything lower than 20psi, combined with faster speeds increase chances of de-beading your tires, causing an accident so tread carefully when deflatting your car’s tires.

We hope these simple tips can help you continue with your motoring life despite the eruption, and will keep you and your vehicle safe throughout. Drive safe!

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