What Is Clear Coat

Asking what is clear coat will deliver up a mind blowing amount of results!

Despite car clear coat having been around since the mid 80's, most people simply do not understand the essentials of car clear coat:

  • What is clear coat
  • What does clear coat do
  • What is a car paint system
  • Why is this information important to you

what is clear coatclear coat failure on the trunk of this blue Ford car where the clear coat is failing and turning white, while beginning to peel

These three basic answers will be your foundation to understanding. Not just what clear coat is, but just as importantly why it matters.

What Is Car Clear Coat

Officially, clear coat is the very top coat of any car. Well, almost any car.

Unfortunately there will always remain an exception to any rule. So with that said, I will start with what is called factory paint (also known as OEM paint jobs, which is an acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer).

For the duration of this article I will simply refer to this as factory paint. This differs from any car that has been repainted - either entirely or sections of the car.

Most people find it helpful to think of clear coat as traditional car paint with no pigment or color to it.

What Does Clear Coat Do

Clear coat serves two distinct purposes:

  • Creates the gloss, depth, and shine of the color (base) coat
  • Adds protection to the color (base) coat

Clear coat was originally developed as a way to comply with tighter air quality requirements. The key factor being the VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) that were part of traditional car painting systems.

By developing and using clear coats, the industry was capable of meeting these tighter VOC compliment rules

Car Clear Coat: Protection

Protection can mean many things. The clear coat on your car helps protect against the elements of weather, UV rays from the sun, and the many types of airborne pollutants.

These things can be, but are not limited to the following:

  • Bird poop
  • Bee pollen
  • Water spots
  • Bugs
  • UV rays
  • General air pollution

What you need to remember is that at a basic level, clear coat is simply regular car paint with no actual color to it. Which makes clear coat just that: clear.

It is like putting clear plastic floor mats over your regular carpeted floor mats. The clear floor mats will protect your carpeted floor mats below, but they are still vulnerable to "life".

This means that car clear coat is not a bullet-proof shield that protects your color coat from everything possible. Clear coat is a great barrier of protection, but still remains vulnerable to the normal aging process and the countless attacks of life as a car.

Car Clear Coat: Visual enhancement

As can be seen below where the clear coat remains and where the clear coat has failed, clear coat areas remain shinier, glossier, and have more depth to the car paint. This is highlighted specifically with the palm trees that show in the reflection of this car which has severe clear coat failure.

car clear coat burnout

Clear coat adds dramatic levels of gloss, shine, and depth to any color coat of paint and is part of the overall paint system.

What the picture above also reveals is that clear coat does not oxidize like regular car paint, or car paint systems old timers like myself grew up with. (old school paint jobs are called single stage paint)

Single stage paint (clear coat is referred to as 2 stage paint: the color coat is the first stage and the clear coat is the second stage) would dull and become chalky. You could literally rub your finger on chalky, dull, oxidized paint and remove some of the dead paint most people referred to as oxidation.

oxidized clear coat

The picture above is a perfect example of how clear coat (2-stage paint system) oxidizes when compared to car paint (single stage paint system) of cars made prior to the early eighties.

The clear coat simply dries out over time due to neglect, then begins to decay to the point of complete clear coat failure where the clear coat then begins to blister, crack, and peel.

There is no fix for clear coat once it has completely failed as can be seen in the pictures at the top of this page.

What Is Clear Coat Summary

If you have made it this far down the page you are now among the enlightened! A small group of people that have taken the time to become informed car owners.

Not you have better understanding as to what clear coat is and what clear coat isn't. this will only add to your foundation of understanding so that you can not only get better results with the car of your car, but not become prey to the endless hype of this industry.

I wish you much success!


Darren Priest

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