A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a brand new Volkswagen Golf. We’d been happy with our previous VWs (a Mk2 and two Mk4 Golfs, a 2004 Polo and a 2005 Passat) so were more than happy to purchase a Mk5 Golf 1.9TDI Match (in Blue Graphite Metallic) as a family runaround. Fast forward around a year and we were slightly less pleased with our purchase…
…The car had started to develop white marks on the paintwork. Each time they were polished out, they came back. Strangely, some of them looked like little handprints and, when I asked the dealer about them, they instantly recognised the problem. “That’s sunscreen”, they said, “and it’s not covered by the warranty”.
Sunscreen?! Yep. It seems that the modern (water-based) paints are not as hard as the nitro-cellulose or isocyanate paints used on older cars and that they are susceptible to damage from titanium dioxide – an ingredient found in many sun protection products, including the sunscreen we had applied regularly to our young children.
With just a few thousand miles on the clock, I wasn’t taking no for an answer, but we decided to use a little of the motor industry’s sexism to our advantage too as, from this point on, the negotiations weren’t with me but with Mrs W. instead! After escalating the issue to an appropriate level within the dealership, it was agreed that the car would go into the bodyshop and the offending panels would be machine polished, as a gesture of goodwill. Even though the job took much longer than it should (most of the panels on the rear and sides of the car were affected – have you ever tried keeping toddlers from plastering their hands on a car?) they dealer was true to their word and the car was returned to us in as new condition.
When I asked if this was a regular issue, Volkswagen told me that it wasn’t (although, later, an Audi dealer was a little more truthful, admitting that it happens a lot with modern VW-Audi paints and that the resolution is usually a machine polish – we also have friends with similar marks on their silver Bora). Had it been necessary, I would have kept on pushing until the car was completely resprayed (I might have settled with a compromise agreement to pay for the materials but not the labour)
but, as it happens, the problem seems to have been resolved, with just one small area of damage still visible.
We were lucky. With just a few thousand miles on the clock, it was difficult for Volkswagen to suggest this was “normal”. If the car had been used a little more, we might have been seeking legal advice to see if we were entitled to a return under the Sale of Goods Act (it is a family car after all, and blemishes as a result of contact with sunscreen might question its fitness for purpose) but I frankly wouldn’t fancy our chances at suing Nivea et al. for damages because their products don’t carry a warning that they may damage car paintwork!
Needless to say, these days we’re ultra-careful to wipe our childrens’ hands with wet wipes after applying sunscreen…
[I waited a while before publishing this because a) I wanted to be sure we had resolved the issue and b) it's not the normal sort of content for this blog. As a result, the events in this post are written as I remember them; however it's entirely possible that there may be some minor errors as part of the effect of time on my memory]
[Update - 5 September 2012: Two years after writing this post and I'm sorry to say that fingermarks are back again. It seems that the long term damage of the sunscreen goes deeper than a polish can deal with and our choice is either to accept the damage (on our now four-year-old car), or respray.]