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Causes and Fixing Peeling Clear Coat

Causes and Fixing Peeling Clear Coat

Each year, more than 17.5 million cars, trucks, and SUV’s are introduced to the consumer culture in the US each year. That’s nearly 18 million new factory paint jobs and clear coatings that are introduced to damaging UV radiation, acids found in bird droppings, bug splatters, and other contaminants.

If gone unprotected, a factory-applied clear coating can begin to deteriorate within a few months of ownership. While a clear coat helps to protect the base coat paint from direct exposure, it’s also the first sacrificial lamb of the exterior of a vehicle. But what happens if the clear coat becomes damaged? Can you fix it and if so, is it hard to do?

That’s what we’ll undercover today. In this article, we’ll explain the facts about clear coats, how they work, what causes damage to clear coats, and a few DIY tips for repairing clear coats that peel.

Breaking Down the Facts About Clear Coats

An automotive clear coat is basically a resin or paint that simply has no pigment or color. It’s applied over colored paints of similar chemical construction, meaning that the paint and clear coating is both water-based acrylic polyurethane enamels.

It is often assumed that a clear coating is comprised of special polymers that act as protectants to block UV rays and other contaminants from penetrating to the pigmented base color paint layer. This is both true and false.

While it can help reduce direct exposure, it’s also susceptible to damage from these harmful elements. As such, if it’s not protected with car wax, a car sealant, ceramic coating, or other paint protection product, it can and will eventually become damaged.

What Happens When Clear Coat Becomes Damaged?

An automotive clear coating is not without some negative attributes. While it helps to reduce the potential of oxidation, it is more prone to scratching. It’s also a statement of fact that polishing compounds are used to repair scratches in some cases. The common areas prone to spot damage include a roof, hood, door, or high metal areas exposed to direct sunlight.

But, what’s not well-known is that these cutting compounds damage the clear coat – not protect it. That’s what car wax is for – or another top layer of protection like a ceramic coating for comparison sake.

Clear coats can also fade due to excessive exposure to direct sunlight – specifically UV rays. Surface contaminants like bird droppings, bug splatters, acid rain, road dirt, and salt can accelerate clear coat damage. When it occurs, the finish of the clear coat will become foggy or faded, which causes the paint underneath to appear dull.

Clearcoat car paints not only provide protection to the car’s paint but also make repairs and maintenance easier. These paints also provide gloss and depth to the car’s finish and hence clear coat car paint finishes are here to stay. This is why it’s so important to protect your automotive clear coating as soon as possible before damage occurs.

What Causes Clear Coat Peeling

We have learned what clear coating is, and what its primary duty is – so what causes it to be damaged or peel? In most cases, it’s simply due to exposure to the elements. A few of the specific sources of peeling clear coatings may include the following:

Extreme Cold Weather

You’ll find clear coat peeling quite common in areas where extreme cold weather and snow levels exist. The extreme cold can cause a clear coating to become brittle. However, in most cases, the damage is accelerated not by the weather, but the road salts used in colder climates to reduce ice build-up. The salts, if not washed off quickly, can expedite the corrosion process.

UV Rays

Oxidation can occur as UV rays begin to slowly penetrate the clear coating. When this happens, the dry coat will begin to peel or flake. If caught early enough, this is a situation that can be repaired before excessive damage to the undercoating happens.

Chemical Agents and Cleaners

A final contributor to clear coating peeling is exposure to chemical cleaning agents. Cleaning agents made of harsh chemical compounds will eat away at clear coating rather quickly. This is why most chemical cleaners (if used at all) recommend diluting the formula with water or washing quickly after use.

If the clear coat is beyond simple repair by using polishing compound or sandpaper, you’ll have to have a professional completely repaint your vehicle. In most cases, this is from the primer to the clear coating.

How to Repair Peeling Clear Coats

If you’ve found that your car’s clear coating has become damaged, or is starting to peel, there are a few different DIY steps to take – before opting for a professional paint repair job. In the information below, we’ll outline the five steps to take when you’re going to attempt a DIY clear coat repair.

Step 1: Clean the Area Impacted

The first item that must be done before attempting any clear coating repair is to clean the area – like really well. Some DIY bloggers seem to assume that since you’ll be removing the top layer of the clear coating, clean-up is not necessary. These are usually the same dudes that duct tape to fix that annoying exhaust leak that they think sounds cool.

Anytime you complete any paint correction, decontaminating the surface area is a crucial step to complete. First, removing dirt and debris allows you to visually inspect and determine the entire extent of damage much easier.

Second, it removes contaminants that can – and will spread to bottom layers of the clear coating or the pigment paint layer. If that happens, you can guarantee oxidation, and that all your hard efforts will be a moot point and time wasted.

The first step for any clear coat repair is to wash the entire area. If you’re working on a section of the hood – wash the whole hood. The best way to accomplish this is by using the two-bucket method of car washing, which includes using a bucket filled with fresh water, one with car soap or shampoo and water,

This video will walk you through the steps for completing a two-bucket car wash. When you’re done with the car wash, make sure to fully dry the area using a microfiber towel.

Step 2 – Inspect the Paint Damage

The next item to complete is a detailed inspection of the paint damage. If the paint is peeling, then paint correction by using polishing cutting compounds is not an option. This type of damage will require removing the top layer of the clear coat with sandpaper. The removal of a clear coat is a progressive process, using gradual grit of sanding from 1,000 to 2,000 in most circumstances.

However, I’m going to introduce you to a pretty cool – quick fix – where we’ll use a Scotch Brite pad, then ‘blend’ the new with the existing clear coat.

Step 3 – Protect the Vehicle – and Yourself

Before you begin removing the clear coat, you need to protect your vehicle and yourself from damage. The dust that will be removed by the sandpaper is highly abrasive and will damage other areas of paint not damaged.

To accomplish this, get some painters tape and some newspaper or paint masking paper. Tape off the section you’re going to work on and cover at least 5-feet surrounding the area you’ll work on. You should also make sure to wear a dust mask to ensure you don’t inhale this toxic shit. When spraying the clear coat, please use a professional grade respirator.

Step 4 – Removing the Clear Coat

Many professional automotive paint experts argue (and I tend to agree with them) that in order to correctly remove spot damaged the clear coat, you need to sand it off. The problem with this is that it’s a highly technical task, that requires a solid understanding of paint conditions, using progressive levels of sandpaper, like starting with a 1,000 grit, then moving to 2,000 and such.

I’m not going to try to explain how to do this – as the potential of permanently damaging your paint is much higher for the average DIY enthusiast. There are several videos you can watch to learn how to accomplish this – including the one posted above.

For this article, I’m going to show you a pretty good method for removing older clear coat damage by using a mid-grade Gray Scotch Brite pad starting with the edges and moving to the center.

To accomplish this, start by masking your area (as described above – and explained in the video below). Once the area is masked off, use the Scotch Brite pad to scuff off and remove the top layer of clear coat paint damage.

When you’ve completely removed the damaged clear coat with the pad, use a painter’s tack rag to remove any dust or contaminants from the area you’re going to respray.

Step 5 – Applying the Clear Coat Spray

Once the old stuff has been removed, and the vehicle is prepped, you’ll then apply (3) coats of 2X clear coat. I like to use the blended clear coatings that include the hardening agent – as opposed to using two cans. You can find this stuff online or at a professional paint supply store.

Here is the process:

  • Shake the can well – then remove the activator and install to the bottom of the can (if you’re using the blend clear coat and hardener. Activate and shake again for at least two minutes.
  • Spray the first coat. You should watch the video above to learn how this guy does it because quite frankly, it’s the best demonstration of this method I’ve ever seen.
  • Complete this step 3 times, waiting a few minutes in between coatings.

Once the paint has been sprayed, and you’ve waited a minimum of two hours, remove the masking tape and wait at least 48 hours before proceeding to the final step.

Step 6 – Blending the Old with the New

Assuming you just completed a single section and not an entire panel, this is the method used to blend the new clear coating with the older coating. To do it, you’ll need a variable speed polisher or rotary buffer, microfiber cloth and a medium grade cutting compound. You can also wet sand using fine sandpaper, like 1,000-grit to accomplish the same thing.

The video above shows how he does it, and it’s a pretty good example. The key is (as he says) to move the polisher in the direction that blends into the older clear coat – not the other way around. This helps to spread the new stuff into the older – and not damage the new coating.

How to Reduce the Potential of Clear Coat Peeling

As you can see – repairing clear coats that have peeled or are slightly damaged can be a pain in the ass. And with all honesty, it’s a shade-tree repair that really doesn’t end up looking all that great.

So, if you’re looking to reduce the potential of this happening to you again with a newer car, truck or SUV, or if you’ve spent a few thousand dollars on a new paint job – consider applying a DIY Ceramic Coating – like Armor Shield IX.

A high-quality DIY ceramic coating like Armor Shield IX is formulated to provide an ultra-thin, yet an exceptionally strong layer of protection on multiple surfaces including clear coats on paint, carbon fiber, aluminum, chrome, plastic, and polycarbonate headlights. It also works bitchin on glass and vinyl or PPF.

Automotive ceramic coatings are specially engineered for cars, trucks, SUV’s, motorcycles, or other vehicles. They are comprised of a highly concentrated formula that is hand installed on vehicles by applying a small amount of the liquid ceramic coating to a microfiber cloth, which is supported by a sponge block.

When applied correctly, and on a completely clean surface, the coating can protect your clear coat about three years. Best of all, you don’t need to continually reapply after washing your vehicle. This not only saves you money but time over a three-year period.

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If you’d like to avoid hours of paint correction or attempting clear coat removal and repair jobs as described above, take the proactive step of applying a DIY ceramic coating. It’s simple, convenient, and more affordable than you’d think.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.

Tim Charlet

Tim is part of the AvalonKing team as a content editor. A 30-year automotive guru, marketing super freak, and accomplished publicist & columnist, “Timmah” is also a licensed NHRA Drag Racer, a proud dad of two, and loves a good Guinness two-part pour.
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