Clear Coat Damage
The What, Why, and How

Clear coat damage will mean different things to different people. Based on your particular knowledge and experience, you have likely come looking for ways to fix some type of damage to the clear coat on your car.

clear coat damage

And just as not all clear coat is created equally, clear coat damage can display itself in countless ways:

  • Clear Coat Scratches
  • Clear Coat Oxidation
  • Clear Coat Failure
  • Clear Coat Peeling
  • Clear Coat Bubbles
  • Clear Coat Flaking

I could easily overwhelm you by adding another 10 more descriptive terms with what people simply want to call damage to car clear coat.

I will start with the essentials, and you can follow along based on your need to know.

Clear Coat Damage:
Starting with the basics

I find most people come here for two specific reasons when it comes to their car clear coat:

  • How to identify different types of clear coat damage
  • Learning if the damage to their clear coat can be fixed

I will use various pictures of clear coat damage to highlight examples to help you identify some of the common damages to clear coat, along with my advice regarding possible solutions to fixing these clear coat problems.

Total Clear Coat Failure

total clear coat failure

Starting with the most extreme types of clear coat damage, I have this picture from a blue Ford sedan that has complete clear coat failure.

While much of the paint along the sides of this car remain intact, the majority of the top facing surfaces have complete failure of the clear coat.

Can Complete Clear Coat Failure Be Repaired: No. Not through traditional buffing and polishing. Not even wet sanding this area would save the clear coat on this car.

Not only has the clear coat completely dried out and burned out, but has flaked away exposing the underlying color coat/base coat (different industries label the underlying color coat differently)

The only way to fix this type of clear coat damage would be repaint.

Clear Coat Peeling

peeling clear coat

Here is an example of peeling clear coat as seen on the hood of this metallic, dark grey hood of this 1999 Mercedes Benz.

While you will hear and read endless opinions as to why clear coat will peel, the reality is that it is a case by case explanation as there does not exist one single answer to peeling clear coat damage.

Many so-called experts simply apply basic logic that is not grounded in actual real-word experience and will offer some of the following explanations:

  • Clear coat failure (a massive generalization)
  • Adhesion problem (clear coat does not fully cross-link at a molecule level during the initial application process)
  • Heat from engine caused clear coat peeling (this is an unsubstantiated claim. Most cars have insulation attached under the hood)
  • Top surfaces of car are exposed to more sunlight than the rest of the car
  • Inferior clear coat product used by factory that does not hold up long term

Can Peeling Clear Coat Be Repaired: No. Clear coat peeling will require repaint for true repair. While it would be possible to finesse the hood of this car and help make the clear coat damage look slightly better, the fact remains that the peeling clear coat will continue to peel over time.

Repainting of the entire hood would be required for acceptable results and a long term solution.

Clear Coat Bubbles

clear coat bubbles

Clear coat bubbles is more about people using different terms in labeling clear coat damage. Most cases where the clear coat begins to peel, crack, and bubble will be a combination of all the many types of clear coat damages that are simply described differently by people.

If the clear coat on your car appears to be "bubbling", the same bad news exist for you as there is no satisfactory repair other than repaint.

There is no magical clear coat paint that you can spray out of a can that is going to repair this type of clear coat damage.

Can Clear Coat Bubbles be Repaired: No. This is another example of clear coat damage that would require repaint for a true repair to this very common clear coat problem.

Clear Coat Flaking

clear coat flaking

Here we have an unusual picture simply because this is not the traditional car clear coat damage since this is taken from a diesel International truck hood. Since this in not what people would consider a true "big rig", 18 wheeler tractor truck, this International has clearly (no pun intended) been painted using the clear coat system as we can see how badly the clear coat is flaking, blistering, and peeling on this red paint.

Can Clear Coat Flaking be Repaired: No. If you are following along as I highlight the many types of clear coat damages, you might have guessed this is un-repairable.

A true repair on flaking clear coat is repaint. There is no magic product that can be applied to, or over the flaking clear coat that would be any kind of actual fix.

Clear Coat Scratch

clear coat scratch damage

This picture represents a very typical scratch in clear coat which most people simply refer to as a car paint scratch. These type of scratches are specific and isolated. Unlike an overall "scratched" effect to the entire clear coat surface of your car, these types of clear coat damage have to be assessed and treated individual since every scratch on your clear coat will truly be unique.

Not only is every isolated deep scratch like this unique from any other scratch, but the length of the scratch will prove inconsistent in depth and/or width of the scratch.

Can Clear Coat Scratches be Repaired: Yes. But as a case by case.

When it comes to fixing clear coat scratches, you have numerous strategies that will prove effective, but ultimately you will not know what is possible until you attempt a repair on this type of clear coat damage.

Most people want the easiest fix possible and are not looking for perfection when it comes to their daily driver. Based on the specific problem of your clear coat will determine the type of options as to improving the overall look of your car.

Clear Coat Oxidation: Severe

clear coat oxidation

This is an extreme example of what most car owners would call clear coat oxidation. Even though this clear coat remains mostly intact, it has burned out to the point where traditional clear coat restoration methods would not work (buffing with compound or polish).

This is taken from the roof of a Mini Cooper. As can be noted, the original color is what is called solid black , or non-metallic black paint. The black paint still remains, but the clear coat has completely lost all gloss and shine of any kind on most areas of this roof.

Can Clear Coat Oxidation be Repaired: Yes and no. Every situation of oxidized clear coat will truly be unique. Polishing with compound and/or polish would not save the roof of this severely oxidized Mini Cooper. Repaint would be in order here for a long term and viable fix.

Clear Coat Oxidation: Severe but possible

severe clear coat oxidation

I label the above picture as severe but possible since the clear coat damage on this Ford Explore still has potential to be polished to restore some gloss and shine. The biggest problem with this type of clear coat damage is you simply do not know the results you can achieve until you attempt to restore the clear coat through polishing.

And just like clear coat scratches that are never consistent in depth or width, clear coat will degrade at different rates from section to section of your car. You may have great success restoring the clear coat in one area, while having very little success in the very next area.

Can Clear Coat Oxidation be repaired: Yes and no. You simply won't know until you know. And regardless of the opinion you might hear or read from the countless so-called experts that can be found on the Internet, no person could say definitively how much of the clear coat damage in this particular case could be saved.

Since the clear coat still remains intact, I would certainly attempt clear coat restoration in this particular case.

Clear Coat Damage Summary

At this point you will have become a semi-expert on the subject of not just car clear coat, but the different types of damages to clear coat and the possible fixes.

The term "damage" is a broad term. The damages to clear coat include a wide spectrum of possibilities and my goal has been to educate you on the most common of problems suffering modern day clear coats.

I wish you much success in your efforts!


Darren Priest

  1. Home Page
  2. Car Clear Coat
  3. ››
  4. This Page