Aside from lava, which you should absolutely avoid, another silent killer is volcanic ash. It may look like dirt, but unlike dirt, ash tends to be finer and more abrasive. Ash can also be suspended in the air like smoke, and it can get into small openings and cracks in your car. Not only is ash difficult to clean, but it can also harm your automobile, both aesthetically and mechanically. That’s why most ashfall driving guides state that you should only go out when absolutely necessary because not only will you be wrecking your car, but you’ll also be putting your health at risk in the process.
As always, have your car inspected and worked on by someone qualified, and have these parts checked first before replacement. If your car's insurance policy includes "Acts of God" under its add-ons, you can make a claim if your car becomes damaged or irreparable. If you don't have one yet, this could be another layer of protection for your vehicle in the event that a volcanic eruption occurs.
On its own, the clearcoat on a car’s paint job is quite hardy, as it resists asphalt and grit quite well. However, volcanic ash is more like broken glass. The particles from ash tend to be jagged and can easily dig into a car’s topcoat if you’re not careful.
Solution: Pressure Washer, Shampoo, Two bucket method, leaf blower, vacuum cleaner and refrain from touching the car while dry.
Since volcanic ash can be as hard as glass, and in times of heavy ashfall, drivers have a tendency to use their wipers without water. Dry wiping your windscreen can cause permanent scratches that can even compromise the structural integrity of the front glass.
Solution: Use windshield washers, pressure washer, shampoo, two bucket method, leaf blower, vacuum cleaner and refrain from touching the car while dry.
Because ash particles can be suspended in air, and your car’s air conditioning system takes air from outside, it is possible that the airways and heat exchange system that most cars run will be compromised. Manufacturers recommend that in times of heavy ashfall, the air conditioning system should be turned off.
Solution: System clean, or part replacement
Air filters need replacing because they suffer the most in an ashfall. Most cars have four major filters: air, cabin, oil, and fuel. Only three filters need replacing in this case since the fuel filter is tucked in the fuel tank.
Your engine air filter should be free of debris as any particle can wreak havoc inside the combustion chamber of an engine no matter how small. Change out your OEM paper filter, but if you've modified your car with an aftermarket air filter, it'll be best to give it a thorough wash.
The cabin filter should also be replaced even if it doesn’t fully protect you against the finest ash particles. That being said, it still filters larger bits and traps them in its fibers, so after an ashfall, replacement should be automatic since it poses as a health risk if not regularly replaced.
You may not know it, but your oil filter could also be compromised. Having small pieces of glass in your oil is also not ideal, and since your oil filter is located in an exposed area, it would be better to err on the side of caution and get a replacement.
Solution: Replacement or wash filters
Oil is slick enough to ensure your engine works seamlessly, and no metal-to-metal contact is being made. If ash gets into your oil, it’s automatically due for a change because you may cause irreparable damage to the moving parts in your motor.
Solution: Oil change, engine flush.
Just like your engine, the transmission is also a case that is filled with oil. It is sealed off by gaskets, and in case those items are compromised, ash can find its way to grind your transmission’s gears.
Solution: Transmission Oil Change, or overhaul
Since ash can get into small cracks and crevices, your rotors and pads can get damaged. The brake piston and brake lines are points where ash may seep into your system, which can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your components.
Solution: Brake fluid change, system flush, brake pad change, rotor resurfacing
If your engine happens to ingest a cloud full of ash, it may sputter and stall. The best option, in this case, is to tow it out and get it to safety, then have a professional mechanic inspect the powertrain. Due to the abrasive nature of ash, the engine’s components may get damaged and can impede a motor’s stroke.
Solution: Engine flush, or overhaul
Because your radiator is full of fins that help maximize surface area, a blockage can make your engine overheat because not enough air is flowing through the fins. Ash can also find its way into your radiator fans, so it might impede efficiency or outright jam the mechanism. Fine particulate can also find its way into the coolant which automatically means you need a coolant flush.
Solution: Clean, coolant flush, or replacement.