Polymer Degradation: Is Your Car At Risk?

How many times have you ever heard the term polymer degradation? Every industry has its own jargon. In a school setting, ‘cooperative learning’ is heard often while you might here a police officer saying ‘code 5’ while engaging in radio talk. One common subject that comes up often in auto body shops is the discussion of polymer degradation.

Because polymer degradation (PD) is such a common issue when it comes to cars, it is likely that you’ve dealt with it, even if you don’t know the phrase. In this article, we will discuss what exactly it  is and  how your local auto body shop can help you deal with this type of breakdown.

What is Polymer Degradation?

Polymer degradation is a change in the properties of a polymer-based product because of environmental factors. These could include, heat, light, or chemicals. The degradation or breakdown can influence strength, color, shape, etc., of the product. 

To understand what this really means, you first have to know a bit about polymers.

Speaking scientifically, polymers are chemical chains that are crafted from repeating elements. Usually, these elements include carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur.  Many, if not most, of the things we use every day, are made of polymers,  include our clothing, shoes, ink pens, paint, and even our vehicles.

When you’re trying to figure out what is a polymer where your car is concerned,  think about anything not made of metal. If part makers craft a vehicle piece from plastic, rubber, or vinyl, it’s probably polymer and susceptible to polymer degradation.

auto stiegler team photo
car bumpers with no polymer degradation.

Why are Polymers Important?

Over the past several decades, automobile manufacturers have been on a constant search to find ways to reduce the weight of the vehicles they create while also improving safety. High-quality plastics (polymers) continue to answer this call. They are used to develop crash-absorbing dashboards. They are used to protect passengers in the form of tough-tightening seatbelts. Google is even developing a polymer-based bumper for its self-driving cars that will protect pedestrians in the event that they are hit by a driverless vehicle.

But as useful as they are, polymer-based products have a drawback: polymer degradation.

What Does it Look Like?

Just like products made of any other type of material (wood, metal, etc.) polymer-based items can be broken down or deteriorate. This can happen in a number of ways. One common cause of polymer degradation is exposure to air pollution. Pollutants from factories as well as car exhaust can cause polymer degradation to happen faster. The same is true of road grime and dirt that can get onto the polymers while driving about.

Even natural things like exposure to light, air, and humidity can cause polymer parts to degrade. If your car is more than five years old, it’s probably showing wear caused by PD.

But it is important to note that polymer degradation doesn’t look like the breaking down of biodegradable items. For example, the black trim around your windows isn’t going to rot off like an apple in a trash bin. Instead, you will notice:

  • Brittleness/cracking
  • Less scratch resistance
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Fading/discoloration

Polymer degradation changes not only the look of your car but also its overall safety. For this reason, you must address it like any other serious vehicle problems would be.

What Can Be Done?

Here’s the positive: polymer degradation is preventable. Consistently maintaining all polymer surfaces and parts in your vehicle will cut down on the damage caused by polymer degradation.  Ways to do so include:

  • Finding ways to keep your car or truck out of the direct sunlight
  • Keeping polymer parts free of dirt, tar, dust, and other debris
  • Not using products that speed up degradation
  • Having your vehicle professional detailed by an auto body specialist every six months.
  • Replacing parts that have been seriously affected by polymer degradation.

If your vehicle has polymer parts that are degraded and need to be replaced, give our Orlando Auto Body experts a call at 480-418-4737. If you have parts that are still in good shape and want to keep them that way, call the same number and we will get you scheduled for a auto body repair to protect you from polymer degradation before it begins.