Exploring Options for Fixing Faded Car Paint

Exploring Options for Fixing Faded Car Paint

Last week, we introduced the first in a series of three blogs talking about fixing oxidized car paint. In that opener, we explained how modern cars, trucks, and SUVs are painted, what causes paint oxidation, and introduced a few ways of fixing said paint damage.

If you need a refresher, read part one first, then head back over here to follow along. In today’s second step, we’ll explore the options you have for fixing faded car paint.

In the information below, we’ll explain why it’s important to do some initial research about your current paint job, and how to determine the type of paint job (specifically the clear coating used). Finally, we’ll outline the two ways you can fix the oxidized clear coat.

So – let’s get back at it.


Why it’s Important to Understand Paint Used on Your Car

Here is a quick question – how do you fix a broken car part? For example – let’s say you have a spark plug wire that is frayed, and you need to replace it. Do you just head to the parts store and select the cheapest plug wire on the shelf? Of course not.

Most intelligent car owners understand that although a part might be similarly designed, there are certain parts that are unique to your make, model, year, and sometimes – the trim level.

The same thing applies to paint – specifically clear coatings. If you don’t know what type of paint is on your vehicle, it’s hard to fix areas of the paint or clear coat that has oxidized. While you can totally bypass this important step by taking your car down to the local Joe’s paint shop to have it completely redone, that is gonna put a huge dent in your wallet.

So, to save yourself a lot of stress, money, and ensure you do the job right, make sure you complete due diligence to determine what type of paint job you’ve got. You don’t need to know exactly what paint manufacturer or clear coat batch from the factory was, just gain a general understanding of the type of paint used by the factory – or previous owner.

Tips for Identifying Your Cars Paint Job

In the good old days, painting a car was universal. You’d prep, prime, paint, clear, flake, pearl, some more clear, curing, and color sanding – with varying levels of coats in each step to produce a desired look. While most custom paint jobs still follow a similar mentality, the factory paint job is much more streamlined.

It breaks down to whether you’ve got a single or dual stage paint. The single stage uses a unique paint that is urethane-based that combines the paint (which is clear coating with a pigment) and a hardener – which serves as the ‘clear’. It’s typically applied on lower-end or mass production models, commercial vehicles, and heavy-duty vehicles.

Most production cars, trucks, and SUVs use the dual-stage method – where they’ll apply the pigment (paint) followed by a separate clear coating. There are usually multiple coats of each stage.

So – how do you know what type of paint job your car has?

Well, there are a few ways to determine this. Here is how you can tell if you have a clear coat.

Visit your local dealership. For the time sensitive car owner, call your local dealership and speak with the service department. Give them your VIN number – which is located on your registration or the inside of your driver door (or under the hood). They’ll look it up and tell you the type of paint job – and even the paint code if you want to match it.

Locate Paint Code on the Door Plate. If you’re a hands-on guy or gal, try to find the paint code on the door plate. On the vehicle ID tag (the one on your door or under the hood) you’ll find several numbers and letters. To find the paint code, look on the vehicle certification label or the service parts identification sticker.

Here is a cool link to a website that will help you identify the location of your VIN ID Tag.

The Old Paint Thinner and Sandpaper Test: There are two ways to hand-test your paint to determine if you’ve got a clear coat or single-stage. First, put some paint thinner on a rag. Find a location on the vehicle that isn’t too noticeable.

If you lightly wipe the paint thinner soaked rag on the paint, and you see the color of your paint – the clear coat is non-existent. You can also use 600 grit sandpaper and lightly sand a section. If the debris is clear, you have a clear coat. If it’s colored – well, you know.

How to Decide if Clear Coat Repair is a Good Idea

If you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely you’re a DIYer – that loves to take on projects that otherwise would have to be completed by a PRO. But sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to invest time and effort into fixing something.

This is applicable to clear coat oxidation. Here are a few indicators that should help you determine if it’s best to have the vehicle repainted correctly vs trying to fix the damaged clear coat.

Single Stage Paint

If your OEM paint job is the single-stage version, you can’t really fix the oxidation or sun damaged paint with the methods below. The clear is mixed with the paint, so when you attempt to remove the damage, you’ll eventually damage the color coat.

Bare Spots on the Paint

If you have a two-stage paint job, and can see primer spots on your hood, roof, or other parts of the car, it’s best to have it repainted. At this point, the oxidation has worn through the clear and most of the paint. So, you can spray a new clear coat on it, but it will look like crap.

Any Rust?

If you notice any rust or what appears to be damage to the bare metal or plastic, it’s best to remove any damage, rust, or imperfections before trying to add a clear coating. If oxidation has penetrated to the bare substance, it will grow under the clear coat, and eventually break down the material.

What Are the Options for Repairing Oxidized Clear Coats?

Finally, when you’ve determined that your car is a good candidate to repair the clear coat, you’ve basically got two ways to accomplish this task.

DIY Panel or Section Clear Coat Repair

There are some “hot spots” of a car that typically show signs of clear coat damage. This includes hoods, roofs, rear trunk lids, and rounded corners. Many DIY’ers choose to focus on these damaged areas and repair them a-la-carte for lack of a better term.

This is more than acceptable if you’re looking for a quick and easy way of repairing small areas of clear coat damage. However, there are some pros and cons to consider:


It’s initially cheaper and quickest option. If your daily driver is showing early signs of paint oxidation, repairing that small section is the cheapest and quickest way to fix it.

It gives you experience. Fixing clear coat damage is not the easiest DIY product out there. In fact, applying spray products like paint or clear coats can be challenging. Repairing a smaller section gives you a change to try a repair and learn from mistakes. If you screw up, it’s easier to fix it when you focus on a small area.


Leaves other areas unprotected. The biggest CON of fixing small areas is that you leave other areas of your car unprotected. While the “hot spots” typically wear quicker, it’s important to remember that other parts of your car are likely thinning.

Eventually fix those other areas. If you only fix small areas, eventually you’ll spend more time and money on fixing other damaged areas eventually. The problem with clear coating(s) is that once you activate the hardener, you’ve got to use the whole can. You can’t keep it on the shelf until the next job – so you’ll spend more money.

Complete Car Paint Restoration

The other option to consider is to remove the clear coat on your car and spray the entire vehicle with clear coat. This typically is the option of choice for those with some painting experience and professional equipment – like spray guns, compressors, and regulators.

If you have the means – can afford to not drive your vehicle for a month (the average time needed for prep work, spraying and curing), then this method will produce the best results. One way to expedite the process is to consider having a professional paint shop apply the clear coating – after you handle the prep work.

Again, this is a great way to gain auto body experience, while letting someone with commercial equipment handle the technical tasks.

Wrapping it Up

As you can see, there are many questions that you should answer before attempting to repair oxidized clear coating or paint. Just like any other DIY project, there are pros and cons to consider, which mainly depends on your budget, time, and experience.

The best advice is to make a list of the pros and cons of each type of paint repair method and determine which is best for your individual application.

With the final edition of this topic, we’ll provide some steps for completing DIY clear coat repair, and a few ways of protecting freshly applied clear coat to reduce future damage.

1 comment



Would love to learn how to paint getting ready to retire January next year

Would love to learn how to paint getting ready to retire January next year

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