What Does Clear Coat Do
Fact versus Fiction

What is clear coat and exactly what does clear coat do are two of the most frequently asked questions of car owners, beginner detailers, and car enthusiasts. 

Like every other subject of cosmetic car care and detailing, any discussion on clear coat will be a subject filled with more hype and fiction, than actual fact.

car clear coat failure

Understanding what clear is and what does clear coat is important. But more importantly is understanding how you as a car owner need to apply this information when it the general care and maintenance of your car moving forward.

What Is Clear Coat

Before we can talk about what clear coat does, we first need to know what clear coat is. In the simplest terms, clear coat is the top layer of what I call the paint system of your car.

I call it a paint system since each component, which I will call a layer, offers a unique strategy to the overall paint system. And as stated, clear coat is simply the top most layer of the paint system on your car.

Clear coat can be looked at as car paint, minus any coloring or pigment to the paint. And knowing this is usually followed by wanting to know what is the purpose of clear coat in the paint system.

What Does Clear Coat Do

I will answer this question based on two sides of the equation:

  • Car manufacturers
  • Car owners

Originally clear coat paint systems (also referred to as 2-stage paint) was how car manufacturers responded to tighter environmental government regulations. Pulling away from traditional (single stage paint) paint systems that contained high VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), the clear coat paint system answered this demand put onto car manufacturers.

As car owners, we simply want very shiny paint. We would also like to do less maintenance, not more maintenance when it comes to our car's paint. The clear coat system answers both f those needs.

You can think of clear coat like you would varnish on wood stain. The clear coat on your car does two specific tasks:

  • Visual enhancement
  • Protection

Clear Coat: Visual enhancement

Ferrari clear coat

Since most people like shiny paint versus dull paint, having clear coat as part of any original paint system is a good thing! What clear coat does is add depth, shine, and gloss to the color coat of a car.

Clear Coat: Protection

But clear coat doesn't stop there as clear coat also adds a clear protective coating (or layer in the form of clear car paint) to the underlying color coat of your car.

This protective layer is not a bullet proof shield against anything and everything, but it does act as a barrier to many of the insults your car is required to endure out in the harsh environment called life:

  • UV sun rays
  • Airborne pollutants
  • Bird droppings
  • Bugs
  • Acid rain
  • Etc., etc.

What Does Clear Coat Do:
The deep dive into understanding

Clear coat paint systems (2-stage paint) have been around since the early eighties. While this seems like a long time, the reality is that new technology often takes decades before it reaches mainstream understanding.

clear coat safe polishesPerfect example of how the industry adds complexity by creating more products than is necessary

The fact that the search term "what does clear coat do" only confirms what I am saying. Most car owners really don't know what clear coat is, what clear coat does, how to take care of clear coat, and is there special products needed to take care of clear coat.

You now have the most basic understanding of what clear coat is and what it does, but now you need the understanding of how you as a car owner need to approach the care and maintenance of your car moving forward.

As this is where most of the hype and fiction come into play as the industry will use your ignorance to separate you from as much of your money as possible.

Does Your Car Have Clear Coat


The rule is that any car made since the early eighties will be finished by using a 2-stage paint system (the color coat is considered the first stage and the clear coat is considered the second stage).

This means any factory or original paint job from the factory, will have clear coat. As noted, only in the event of repaints will there be a possibility that a paint job has not been finished with clear coat.

How To Tell If Your Car Has Clear Coat

The simple answer is for you to believe me when I say that every car produced since the early eighties will have clear coat on it.

Every car, regardless of how much it cost or where it is manufactured will have what is often referred to as factory clear coat.

But with that said, there will always remain exceptions to any rule.

A few notable exceptions:

  • Repaint

It is possible to have a body shop or collision repair shop repaint your car or parts of a car without suing clear coat as the top coat. This is simply a way for a body shop to save money.

  • White paint

White paint on cars or trucks represent a possible exception to the rule of every car having clear coat.  And when I say white paint I mean solid white paint. Solid white paint is different than most of the "white" paints on new cars that come in the form of metallic or pearl white's.

Any pearl white or metallic white will also automatically have a clear coat. But when it comes to solid white paint that is most commonly used on trucks or commercial vehicles, it is possible that these will not have a clear coat on them.

How To Take Care Of Clear Coat

If I had asked you this before you found this page, you may not have had an answer for me. At this point you will at least have a clue since you now know that clear coat is basically car paint with no color added to it.

What this means to you is that you can go about your car care chores as you normally would. The moment you heard about car clear coat, suddenly everything changed.

Because now you think you might possibly have to go about things differently simply because of your ignorance along with the hype the industry uses to keep you in the dark. 

What Are Clear Coat Safe Products

Every product is clear coat safe. Labeling products as clear coat safe is simply a marketing strategy. More and more people understand what clear coat is and what does clear coat do. This means the industry uses this marketing tactic less and less as more and more people become educated. 

This means that any car wax, polish, or sealant is safe on any car regardless of whether the label says clear coat safe. The ONLY exception to this would be matte finish paint jobs where gloss and shine are not wanted. These new and unique paint finishes that are not intended to be shiny, and therefor traditional car waxes, polishes and sealants that also enhance shine and gloss would necessarily be unwanted.

What Does Clear Coat Do Summary

If you have made it to the end of this page you are now among the select few in society called the informed. A person who has taken the time to become educated so you work form a place of knowledge, not a place of ignorance.

Now you know what clear coat is and I have answered what does clear coat do.

I congratulate you as well as wish you much success in your care care efforts!


Darren Priest

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