Seeing a vehicle today with peeling clear coat is not too uncommon or some single stage paints flaking right off the primer. Is it because the vehicle wasn’t washed or waxed regularly, or was it washed and waxed way too much? Did the sun and weather start this delamination or is it just a bad paint job? If so, how do you fix peeling clear coat?
I get a lot of questions and comments on this subject and I find many people thinking and looking for a magic fix. Like there is a cheap little tool or something you can rub on the surface or spray out of a can and it is going to restore that peeling back to a brand new car look. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no such thing and anybody telling you there is, don’t believe them.
Paint History Lesson
So let’s do a little history on clears first. Cars really didn’t start seeing cleat coats till around the 80’s. Now back in the 50’s and 60’s, cars were painted with lacquer paints and in that time period, you could apply many coats of clear lacquer over the existing paint job to give it a really deep glossy look.
In the late 60’s, polyurethane enamels were introduced. It was the first enamel that required a hardener to activate the resin in the paint. These were widely used on industrial equipment, it was durable and stayed glossy, however due to its hardened finish, you couldn’t buff it out. It was pretty much like a concrete surface thus making repairs difficult.
Towards the end of the 70’s, they started making base coat clear coats with these acrylic enamels. Of course this was still basically taking a single stage enamel and covering it with an acrylic enamel clear. I personally at this time didn’t see the big deal of shooting clear, I was getting a fantastic look out of single stage but this was due to the base coat clear coats not quite being right yet.
Then in the beginning of the 80’s the first real base coats were starting to come out. DuPont’s Chromabase was the leader in a urethane based base coat and was top coated with a polyurethane clear. Of course automotive polyurethanes are softer than fleet, (industrial), thus allowing ease of sanding, buffing, blending and repairs. These type of base coat clear coat are now used today.
Base Coat Clear Coats
Any quality base coat requires a basemaker and not a reducer. Basemakers have additives like binder enhancements and stabilizing agents in them to optimize the metallic and pearl paints. In other words, these additives will actually make the metallic and pearls separate away from each other keeping the paint job from looking blotchy. These additives also make the paint dry extremely fast and promote bonding between it and the clear coat.
There are generic lines of paint out there for example like DuPont which is now Cromax has their Nason Line or BASF’s generic line is called Limco. Both of these and many other generic line base coats use plain urethane and enamel reducers and you will not get a stabilized metallic spread or a fast even drying, which can lead to a blotchy look. Another factor which is the most important is that when using a regular reducer in a base coat, there is no additive to promote adhesion or bonding between the base coat and the clear coat.
If you paint your own cars or want to learn, you need to understand flash times between coats and this includes the flash time between the final base coat and the clear coat. Many people think that you should let the base coat dry for an hour or more and this is very far from the truth.
They make activated base coats, in other words base coats with hardeners and I will not use them. I want my base coat and clear to bond, therefore I don’t let my flash time ever exceed 20 to 25 minutes between the base and clear. For me, I usually will shoot the clear between 15 to 20 minutes after the base or when I can tell that the full surface has tacked.
If using just a plain reducer in your base coat, you might need to ensure that it has flashed, (dried completely) before applying the clear as vapors can be trapped between the clear and base. Again you don’t want it drying for an hour, so when using a base coat with a plain reducer, just apply thinner coats and allow a bit longer flash times in between coats. Never apply a base coat thick and heavy…
Reasons Why Clear Coat Peels
Here is where everyone has an opinion or theory and honestly a little bit of all of them are right. You hear that not washing or waxing your car can make the clear peel, well that is true. Another one is that people wash and wax their car too much and wear the clear off, well that one is more of a stretch but is possible. Possibly the type of wax or polish used enough could wear the clear down, imagine buffing it every day, about the same idea.
A lot of people swear up and down it is the sun that is delaminating and burning the clear off or the UV’s from the sun are breaking down the adhesion between the base color and clear. Again this is somewhat true and is one of the things that happens but only if the paint materials are inferior or not applied correctly.
Then there is the cheap paint products used or that the clear coat was applied to thin and this one folks is the main reason. If the base coat and clear are applied correctly, they bond together, they will never separate. If the clear coat is at least 2 coats thick, it would take a long time in any condition to burn off. If the clear and base coat are of a good quality product, then you are looking well over a decade or more before it starts having problems.
Honda and GM has had its run of failed paint jobs. Don’t get me wrong, they are not the only ones but more of them than others. Honda from about 1996 to 2013 and it was the Blacks, Dark Blues and Red vehicles that all peeled like a disease. GM’s paint failures ran from the early to mid 80’s, to the late 90’s but this failure was the paint coming loose from the primer.
Paint failures like these came from either the clear for Honda’s were sprayed too thin and not properly applied and for GM, the type of primer/sealer used. When cars are painted at the factory, they are not shot by some guy with a spray gun or go down a conveyor with paint spraying wildly to cover it. The cars do enter a booth on a conveyor but paint is applied with an electrostatic process that uses an electrical current to precisely deposit paint on the metal. The process uses less paint and offers more uniform paint coverage.
Where this assembly line process can cause later paint failure is due to the drying time between coats. For GM, if they inadvertently allowed too much drying time between the primer and the actual paint coating, then the paint wouldn’t have bonded correctly with the primer and is why you have seen so many GM vehicles running around with primer spots from the paint coming off in huge chunks.
This also applies to Honda, if they let too much time go by between the base coat and the clear coat, they will not bond and the clear will separate. Now this doesn’t mean that they actually just let the time go by on purpose. In Honda’s case, it was specific colors that peeled the most. This indicates that the base coat was drying and curing up faster than normal not allowing a wet to wet bond occur.
GM would be the same thing, the primer/sealer they used was drying and curing too fast not allowing a top coat to bond with it. Now I can’t say this was because they used a cheap product but it does say whatever brand they used wasn’t that good or thought out too well.
How To Fix Peeling Clear Coat
Now here is the million dollar question and the answer isn’t what people want to hear. I have videos on YouTube on this subject and I get comments from people looking for something quick or magical to fix this issue. Well there isn’t a quick magical fix and the solution means some work and or an expense.
There are some half-baked ways to hide peeling clear and there are even some quick fixes that may work for a little while but won’t last. There are some methods floating around out there that are in my opinion stupid. Here is a list of things that are rumored to work but will not at all and these things should never be done or tried as you will make the situation worse in the long run…
Things You Shouldn’t Try:
- Spray WD40 over the peeled areas to make it shiny: This is not true, I have tried it and have demonstrated it in this video. Spraying oil on the peeled areas will not hide the peeling, it may make the flat areas glossier but the oil is going to do two things. One, it will start lifting what clear you have left and two, it is going to make the car harder to paint in the future. Also the WD40 is going to wash or burn off in a day or two, there is no point in doing this at all.
- Polymers that will remove scuffs and scratches and restore a dull finish: This will not work and is a waste of time and money. Even if you can get the flat base color to shine, the peeling clear for one has an abrupt edge to it and will remain visible no matter how shiny you get the dull flat parts. Also this is also something that will hurt trying to paint it in the future. Waxes or polymers will stop primers and paints from adhering to the surface. Even though you can wash it and degrease it, you are just creating a possible issue.
- Using a razor blade to scrape the edges of the peeling clear: There is a video of someone actually taking a lot of time to scrape the abrupt edges of the peeling clear, then respraying the base color and then re-clearing it. This is along the right idea, just not using a razor blade. One this is going to take way too long but secondly, if you mess up, you are going to put some deep scratches in it and have to work those out. Sanding the clear is what you must do, not scrape.
- Spray clear coat over the entire peeled area: This will make it shiny but this is not going to hide the peeling clear. If you want to know what that would look like, take a water hose, wet the area that is peeling and take a look. You will see it looks the exact same, just glossier.
- Spray clear in just the areas that the clear came off: This will give you the exact same effect as above, which is a waste of time and money. Both this method and the one above will only create a lot more work for someone to repaint it properly.
Now How To Really Fix Peeling Clear
I will go from the least ideal way to the best way:
Sand and feather back the peeling clear, you may find that the old clear wants to chip away more than sand still leaving an abrupt edge. Sand it the best you can and try not to sand through the old base color as much as possible. Wash, wipe down and prep surface with tack cloth and then spray a new coat of the matched base color, (Spray can or a spray gun will work). Spray at least two coats of clear over the base coat. You can use a gun or buy a catalyzed spray can urethane clear.
Sand as much of the clear off as you can and feather back what you can’t making sure the clear feathers back leaving no edge at all. Apply at least 2 coats of a urethane primer over the area. Block sand the primer with 400 grit. Wash, wipe down and prep surface with tack cloth and then spray a new coat of the matched base color, (spray gun preferred or spray can). Spray at least two coats of clear over the base coat. Again, spray gun preferred or buy a catalyzed spray can urethane clear.
Watch this video for a little more detail: See Video Here
See what a great look you get by primering before top-coating: See Video Here
To locate your paint code and to buy your match base color and urethane clear in spray cans: Learn More Here
The reason I prefer to use primer and block sand is that you fill all the uneven places that the clear still exist and dips you created sanding the old clear off. If you primer then block sand it down, you create a nice level surface, plus the urethane primer helps seal from the old surface. I always use a urethane sealer before top-coating just to ensure none of the old issues will come back to haunt me.
If you top-coat over the sanded area, in other words just spray base color over the sanded area then clear, this will work and look OK but the question is how long? This method will last for years, you just may see waves or scratches in the paint later down the road. Sanding and buffing later can often remove this look or if you have no intentions on keeping the car, this is a quicker get it out the door fix.
Wrapping it up
So like I said, there is no magic fix, in order to fix clear coat peeling, you are going to have to sand the surface smooth and repaint or pay to have it fixed. Paints in spray cans are far better than they used to be and now you can get spray can paint to match by paint code so if you don’t have a gun and equipment, this can be an alternative.
I know I hear people complaining that information like this sucks because it isn’t what they want to hear but this is the cold hard facts. Clear is paint, so if this was a single stage color peeling off like the GM’s have done, you wouldn’t complain about having to repaint it, so why complain about clear?
There are many wrong ways to hide peeling clear but remember, you are not fixing the issue, only masking it briefly. If a product ever comes out that can fix this or have a longer lasting hiding factor, believe me, I will let you know and promote it…