Clear Coat Failure
Is there a fix to this problem?

Clear coat failure will mean different things to different people. You likely came here looking for both pictures to identify what clear coat failure is, as well as ways to repair your clear coat if it has "failed".

Before I can address any possible clear coat repairs, I need to identify the many problems of car clear coat so you can not just be an informed car owner, but make informed decisions.

clear coat failure

What is Clear Coat Failure

I will start with the obvious question and work from here.Clear coat failure is a general statement used to describe a number of extreme problems with clear coat to suggest that the clear coat is beyond any traditional or non-traditional repair.

Clear coat will go through many stages of aging and weathering before clear coat completely fails. At any point of the aging and weathering process, clear coat can be restored to "like new" through traditional car polishing processes. Restoring clear coat prior to complete failure will require the use of a machine car buffer and some form of abrasive technology like car polish.

polishing car before clear coat failure

If you are a car owner with zero experience polishing a car, you are not alone. Most people don't find themselves at this page until the damage has become significant enough to motivate them to attempt to do find answers:

  • What is clear coat damage?
  • What is clear coat failure?
  • Can either of these clear coat problems be repaired?

Unfortunately in a large percentage of the cases, people will have deferred any viable solution to their clear coat problems to a point where the clear coat has aged to the point of complete clear coat failure.

If you are beginning to come to this stark conclusion, you don;t have to give up hope completely since clear coat will age and weather at different rates on your car.

This means that sections or areas of your car may be experiencing complete clear coat failure, but most other areas of your car's clear coat can still be saved through traditional car polishing steps.

What Is Car Clear Coat

Think of car clear coat as you would varnish on wood furniture or clear top coat on fingernails. And just like these two example, the clear coat on your car enhances the shine, gloss, and depth of the color of which the clear coat is applied.

what is clear coat failure

But unlike these two examples, the clear coat on your car is also the greatest protection for your car's color coat (or your car paint, based on your understanding of the clear coat or 2-stage paint system).

This clear coat that is the top layer to any factory paint system also filters out harmful UV light from the sun. The clear coat is also a protective barrier for the underlying color coat for basic defense against the elements of weather and other attacks to your car's paint.

Does Clear Coat Require Special Products

The simple answer is no, as every cosmetic car care product that you would normally use on the paint finish of your car, can also be used on the clear coat.

The most basic rule to remember is that any discussion regarding car paint, is really a discussion about the clear coat on a car. Every factory built car has clear coat as the top layer of any paint system.

The fundamental problem is two fold:

  1. There is no standardization regarding terms (clear coat is really the same as what most people would call car paint)
  2. People simply do not understand paint systems of factory built cars (most people talk about car paint and clear coat as separate things, when in fact you cannot have one without the other)

The reality is that clear coat paint system has been used virtually exclusively on every factory built car regardless of expense, model, color of car that has been produced since the mid-eighties (there is no hard line year as every car manufacturer introduced the 2-stage/clear coat paint system progressively over a period of time).

Cars With No Clear Coat

For every rule, there always remain exceptions to that rule. Car clear coat is not immune to this and there are a few, isolated cases where you may come across a car or truck that has no clear coat.

Since these cases are so rare, I do not discuss them as part of the basic understanding when it comes to a discussion on all things related to car paint or clear coat.

Clear coat was introduced in the early to mid-eighties. Car manufacturers began applying clear coat as the top layer, but did not do this on every car/truck, or on every color of car/truck.

The basic rule is that any car painted with metallic or pearl flake, would necessarily be finished with clear coat. Solid colors remained the exception for a few years, and can still be the exception even today (very few cars back then were painted with solid, or non-metallic paint like white, black, or red). By the end of the eighties, virtually every car was being finished with a clear coat as the top coat.

But with all this said, there are a few examples I have come across as a professional detailer that still represent a car/truck with no clear coat and so far, it has always been a white truck:

  • Toyota trucks (only solid white, or non-metallic white)
  • Commercial trucks (these also have all been white)

Clear Coat Failure:
Can clear coat that has completely failed, be repaired?

No. At least not using traditional clear coat restoration methods which require using a car polish and a machine car polisher. Once the clear coat has failed, repaint at a paint and body shop is really the only fix.

There are certainly do-it-yourself kits to perform repaint at home, but this is an entirely different subject. I imagine there are a lot of people experiencing severe clear coat problems hoping for some wonder product that could be applied or sprayed over clear coat failure that would magically "make it disappear", but there simply isn't.

Clear Coat Failure Summary

If you have made it this far and have paid attention, you can now crown yourself as the neighborhood expert on all things clear coat related. You will now have more intelligence regarding this subject than most "professional detailers" that I come across in my travels as a consultant and trainer for all things detail related.

I may have been the bearer of bad news for you if you in fact are one of those unfortunate people looking for a quick fix to clear coat failure, but if nothing else, you will have updated information that will prove useful for your next car!

Much success in your cosmetic car care efforts!


Darren Priest

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