How to fix peeling clear coat

Seeing a vehicle today with peeling clear coat is not too uncommon. Some single stage paints flake right off the primer. Is this because washing and waxing, too little or too much? Did the sun and weather start this delamination or is it just a bad paint job? No matter the cause, how do you fix peeling clear coat?

I get a lot of questions and comments on this subject. Many of these people are looking for a magic fix. Like a cheap tool, or something you can rub on the surface. Maybe something you can spray out of a can. A magic fix that 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. Anybody telling you there is, don’t believe them. The issue is in the name itself, PEELING clear coat. This means that the clear has peeled off. It means the clear is gone and if the paint is gone, there is nothing to fix.

A History Lesson On Paints

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. In that time period, many coats of clear lacquer were applied over the existing paint job. This gave the paint job 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, because 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 acrylic enamels. Of course, this was still basically taking a single stage enamel and covering it with an acrylic enamel clear. Back in that time period, I personally didn’t see the big deal of shooting clear over enamel. I was getting a fantastic, deep wet look out of single stage enamels. Although, in that time period, base coat clear coats were not really developed correctly.

At the beginning of the 80’s, the first real base-coats were became available. DuPont’s Chromabase was the leader in a urethane based, base-coats. These base-coats were topped with a urethane clear. The urethane clears were far easier to sand and buff, compared to the industrial polyurethane that originally came out. We are now using this type of base-coat, clear -coat 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” These additives optimize the metallic and pearl base-coat paints. Stabilizing agents actually make the metallic and pearls evenly distance themselves from each other. This won’t let the metallic or pearls modal, keeps it from looking blotchy. Binders help the paint dry faster and promote bonding between it and the clear coat.

fix peeling clear coatThere are quality generic lines of paint available. DuPont, which is now Cromax, has their Nason Line. BASF’s generic line is called Limco. Both of these, and many other generic line base coats, use plain urethane and enamel reducers. Stabilizers or Binders are not present in plain reducers. So you have to be careful how you spray as you can get a blotchy job that won’t dry fast. Another concern, which is the most important. Without a binder using a regular reducer, it lacks the ability to promote bonding between the base-coat and the clear-coat. Just a little point to make here. When the base-coat and clear-cost lack the correct additive like binder. The two will not properly bond, in which the clear will separate over time and peel. Sound familiar?

Flash Times Are Important

If you paint your own cars or want to learn, you need to understand flash times between coats. This includes the flash time between the base-coat and the clear-coat. Some think that you should let the base coat dry for an hour or more. Doing so would be a mistake, you want the two coats to bond. If the base-coat thoroughly dries, the clear will not be able to mesh and bond with it. So, it will just sit on top of the base-coat and eventually flake off.

They make activated base coats, a base coat with a hardener. I will not use them; I want my base coat and clear to bond. For me, I never let my flash time ever exceed 20 to 25 minutes between the base-coat and clear-coat. Usually, I will shoot the clear between 15 to 20 minutes after the base, or when I can tell that the full surface has tacked. If you use an activated base-coat, just ensure you get the clear on in about 15 to 20 minutes. I find an activated base-coat a bit redundant. If you get your clear on in time with a regular base-coat, the activated clear mixes and it all hardens.

If using a plain reducer in your base-coat, ensure that it has flashed, (tacked up), before applying the clear. Vapors can be trapped between the clear and base and cause bubbles to show up in the clear. As I mentioned, you don’t want the base drying for an hour. When using a base-coat with a plain reducer, apply thinner coats and allow a bit longer flash times in between coats. Never apply any type of base-coat thick and heavy…

 

 

Reasons Why Clear Coats Peel

fix peeling clear coatHere is where everyone has an opinion or theory, and honestly, all of them are a bit right. You hear that washing and waxing can make the clear peel, either too little or too much. Many swear up and down it is the sun delaminating and burning the clear off. That the UV’s from the sun are breaking down the adhesion between the base color and clear. Again, this is somewhat true on all counts. There are cheap inferior paint products used. The clear coat gets applied too thin.

All of these have something in common, the base-coat and clear-coat didn’t bond. What this type of bonding means is, the clear actually mixes in with the base-coat. If this occurs like it should, you can’t separate them, meaning the clear can’t come off unless the base-coat does too. So, washing and waxing too much, might wear the clear off because the clear isn’t bonded. Never washing your vehicle can aid in the deterioration of the clear, again if not bonded. However, never washing your car is bad period, more on that later.

Applying the clear coat too thin can be a cause of peeling, but again, if it bonded, it won’t peel. Cheap paint products are really high on the list of peeling, why, the coats don’t bond. The sun destroying the clear is possible, but again, if the clear bonded with the base, it can’t peel. Here is the cold hard fact. If low quality paint products are used, and the base-coat, clear-coat don’t bond, it is going to peel and flake. There is no other reason. Yea all the theories and opinions others have that I listed are valid. But only because the job wasn’t done right or low-quality products were used.

 

Vehicles Common To Peel Or Flake

Honda and GM are the worst for failed paint jobs. Don’t get me wrong, they are not the only ones, but more known than others. Honda was from about 1996 to 2013. 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. GM’s failure was the paint coming loose from the primer.

When cars are painted at the factory, they are not shot by some guy with a spray gun. Nor do they go down a conveyor with paint spraying wildly to cover it. The cars do enter a booth via a conveyor but paint is applied with an electrostatic process. Their system uses an electrical current to precisely deposit paint on the metal. The process uses less paint and offers a more uniformed paint coverage.

Where this process possibly failed, was due to the drying timehow to fix peeling paint between coats. For GM, they may have inadvertently allowed too much drying time between the primer and the top coat. The paint wouldn’t have bonded correctly with the primer/sealer. This would account for why you have seen so many GM vehicles where the paint flaked off. If you recall, many GM’s ran around with primer spots from the paint coming off in huge chunks.

This also applies to Honda. If their process isn’t allowing the coats to bond, the clears will peel. Since Honda had specific colors, this might indicate the paint manufacturer is to blame. As I mentioned, inferior paint products are one reason the base and clear won’t bond. GM’s issues would be the same thing. The primer/sealer they used, was inferior and not allowing the topcoat to bond.

Do The Big Manufacturers Use Cheap Paint?

Any clear that is applied correctly, bonds with the base-coat, and will never separate. Clear-coats should be at least 2 coats thick. However, no matter the thickness, if bonded to the base, it still won’t peel. Paint products that are of good quality and done correctly, will take well over a decade before possible problems.

I highly doubt these manufacturers were using cheap products. Most likely the products weren’t good enough for the way they were applying the paints. As I mentioned, they deliver and apply the paints with an electrostatic process. However, the paints are still paints, and it is highly possible due to pigments and other factors, this effects drying times. Remember, I talked about too much flash time between coats can cause the coats not to bond. Due to the electrostatic process, certain color pigments could dry faster than others. This would’ve caused the failures, especially in certain colors.

From my year’s experience, I have noticed that some colors seem to dry faster than others. Honda’s process was probably not taking in account that some pigments flashed faster than others. Thus, having certain colors peel more than others. For GM, the primer/sealer was probably not designed to be applied the way it was. There were many GM’s the paint just fell right off of. Although, it could have been just as easily, the topcoats didn’t use a very strong solvent. Meaning that paints were not mixed with a solvent that was strong enough to bond with the primer/sealer.

We could speculate where the process went wrong, but obviously it did somewhere. I have worked in the automotive manufacturing environment, they are always trying and testing better ways to increase quality. I doubt cheap products were the issue.




How To Fix Peeling Clear Coat

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 a quick magical fix. These people get all upset to learn that there isn’t a quick magical fix.

grinding a surfaceThere are some half-baked ways to hide peeling clear. Some are quick, most are not , and they won’t work or last. There are some methods floating around out there that are in my opinion stupid. Below is a list of things that are rumored to work. Pay attention, the below will never work and you should never try them. All these ideas will do is make the situation worse. It will also waste time and money, and you would just be avoiding the real fix.

Things You Shouldn’t Try:

Apply WD40 over the peeled areas to make it shiny
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 cause problems. One, it will start lifting what clear you have left. Two, it is going to make the car harder to paint in the future. Keep in mind, WD40 will wash or burn off in a day. There is no point in doing this at all.
Polymers that will remove scuffs, 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 will still be seen. The peeling clear will have an abrupt edge to it and will remain visible. No matter how shiny you get the dull flat parts, this won’t hide the defect. This method may cause issues when trying to paint the vehicle latter on. These waxes and polymers can get embedded into the base-coat and cause other topcoats not to adhere.
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. Afterwards, respraying the base color and then re-clearing it. The right idea, just not using a razor blade. This method would take way too long, and you could mess up. You could possibly put some deep scratches in the surface. Deep scratches would require to sand them out. If you are going to have to sand, why not do that to start with?
Spray clear coat over the entire peeled area
It could make it shiny but will not hide the peeling clear. If you’re curious to know what that would look like, use a water hose. Wet the area that is peeling and take a look. You will see it looks the exact same, just glossier.
Apply clear in just the areas that the clear-coat came off
This will give you the exact same effect as above, which is a waste of time and money. You will only create a lot more work for someone to repaint it properly.

 

How To Really Fix Peeling Clear

how to Sand and feather back paintUnderstand, that you are not fixing the clear on the vehicle. If the clear has peeled or flaked off, it is gone and there is nothing to fix. This concept seems to elude many people. They want to hear something simply magic, and I can’t give that to anyone. I will tell you generally, what you must do to restore the clear.

The less involved and quicker method would be to sand and paint without using primer. Try and sand the remaining clear back from where it has peeled. You can feather edge it with a DA sander or you can hand sand it. Try not to sand through the base-coat if you can help it.  Once you have the clear sanded back and the surface fully sanded, it is ready for base-coat. Apply enough coats of base color to cover it correctly. Spray at least two coats of clear over the area you are repairing. 

The better method is to use primer. With primer, you can sand the entire area level, plus the primer will act as a sealer. After the primer has been sanded, spray your base-coat and then clear.

Watch this video for an example of painting without primer:

 

This is the kind of great look you get by using primer before top-coating:

To match your base-coat exactly, you will need your paint code. For locating your paint code and to buy your match base color in cans or aerosol, follow the link:  Learn More Here

Why The Preference For Primer

The reason I prefer to use primer and block sand is for leveling and sealing. Primer fills all the uneven places that the clear still exist and dips you created sanding the old clear off. If you prime, then block sand it down, you create a nice level surface. The urethane primer helps seal from the old surface. I always use a urethane sealer before top-coating to ensure none of the old issues will come back to haunt me.

If you topcoat over the sanded area, in other words just spray base color over the sanded area then clear. It will work and look OK, but the question is how long? This method should last for years, however you may see waves or scratches in the paint later down the road. Color sanding and buffing can often remove these imperfections. If you have no intentions on keeping the car, this is a quicker get it out the door fix. Just be aware that when you shoot paint straight onto old paint, it can react with each other.

 

Wrapping it up

As I pointed out, there is no magic fix. In order to fix clear-coat that’s peeling, sand and repaint is the only correct way to repair it. I know this isn’t what people 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? Understand that once the clear is peeled off, it is gone, and you can’t fix what isn’t there.

There are many wrong ways to hide peeling clear. However, you are not fixing the issue, only masking it briefly. If a product ever comes out that can fix this with a long lasting results. Believe me, I will let you know, as I will promote it…

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.

 

  • Ken Sternberg says:

    If I understand you, after prep you spray basecoat and clear, then sand again and apply primer, base and clear? Why even apply the first base and clearcoats?

    • rdpshop says:

      No, you fix the damaged areas by sanding, applying fillers, straightening metal or whatever the repair needs to be. Then you prime the repaired area or areas. Wait for primer to dry and cure, block sand the primer and if you sand most of the primer off leveling your repair area, you would prime again. Then sand that primer, usually with 400 grit wet sand, then clean off the area, apply a sealer, base coat and the clear.

  • Ed S. says:

    Thanks for the more precise info on the paint flaking.

    I have an original owner new white 1994 GMC Suburban with near 100% paint gone on hood, and front fenders, door jambs, and roof. It does seem UV plays a part with the bad primer, which the clear evidence is the primer does not fail and is in perfect condition well after paint has flaked off.

    I also previously owned a white 1990 Mazda Protégé the paint did full flake fall off after 3 years. Mazda actually re-painted the Protege a year after warranty and to this day I still will buy Mazda cars because of that action; including later on a full motor replacement of a Mazda 3, 2.0 motor because too much zoom, zoom on a 10 to 1 compression ratio motor, with a standard transmission and 87 octane fuel means pre-ignition of cylinder gas and the exhaust valves getting smacked.

    However, the bad news was the shop was supposed to take the Mazda paint down to bare metal and repaint it but they only hard buffed and sanded until no more base coat flaked off from force. I stopped by the shop announced to verify the work. Since I wasn’t paying the bill, I did not fight the issue. The paint job was beautiful until 4 years later full paint flake started again. So, clearly there is an adhesion flaw of the primer between primer and paint which the UV light severely intensifies the flaking on those areas. Both cars the primer never failed and stayed in tact many years after base coat was gone.

    Unless the angle of incidence of a UV light ray is from 45 degree to 90 degrees the ray will reflect off surfaces. This is true for windows, houses, solar panels, and horizontal car surfaces. The color white occurs when all visible light spectrum reflects off the paint and seen by the eye. Black color means all colors are absorb by the paint. Any other color like blue green red etc. means that the surface reflects only that colors and absorbs the remaining light color you see. So blue color means the surface reflects blue. Black painted surfaces also become much more hot from the sun as UV light is absorbed not reflected then transforms to infrared heat which is why the surface warms and why black surface are used for solar heat collection panels. White surfaces obviously stay much cooler as the UV light is being reflected.

    Here is the crazy thing about this paint flaking and UV light. I have observed and seen that by far white paint has the greatest amount and more severe paint flake then the other colors. The GM medium blue paint of the late 1980s also seemed to flake badly. I know for a fact as my white GMC and Mazda were always parked in direct sunlight, the worst flaking areas are where the sun hits at that 45 to 90 degree angle. On both, there has never been any paint flaking on the sides downward where the car surface is greater than 90 degrees or less than 0 degrees contingent on the vehicles angular contours.

    My theory is the UV light bounces off the white base coat then immediately reflects off the underside of the clear coat then back to base repeated until the angle of incidence is such that the painted surface absorbs the UV light in much greater quantities. So early morning and afternoon sun may very well be giving the white paint a double wham of UV exposure per day if the UV light gets trapped between the base coat and clear coat dependent on the reflected angle. The question arises on any UV protectant paint additives, were they UV absorption or UV reflective or UV directional or a mixture of all three properties?
    I have to put a large part of the flaw directly on the paint company supplier since both my 1990s white made in Japan Mazda and my white made in Mexico GMC Suburban paint flaked identically. Obviously, a combination of paint process, and additionally the UV additive could have been a major factor as there was no reason by the laws of physics white paint has the greatest and worst paint flake then other colors. UV light is also closet the visible color blue in terms in nanometers so potentially why bad flaking blue paint as observed caused from UV absorption.

    Thanks

    Ed

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