Everyone wants a car that looks brand new even after years of ownership and thousands of miles on the clock. The simplest way to keep your paintwork looking sharp is to keep it protected by a strong clear coat varnish.
A quality clear coat refreshes and protects the factory paint job on your car, makes colors more vibrant, and creates a shell over the bodywork, shielding your ride from minor scratches, dings, and other damage. Keep reading to see
- Picking the Best Clear Coat for Your Car
- Top 10 Best Clear Coats for Cars 2023
- 1. Best Overall Pick: SpeedoKote SMR-130
- 2. Best for Paint Matching: Dupli-Color Clear Exact Match Top Coat
- 3. Best Premium Pick: KBS Coatings 8304 DiamondFinish Clear Coat
- 4. Best Budget Pick: USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat
- 5. Best Anti-Corrosion: POR-15 45718 Top Coat Gloss Clear
- 6. Best for Wheels: VHT SP184 Clear Coat for Wheels
- 7. Best Anti-Rust: Rust-Oleum Automotive Gloss Clear Body Coat
- 8. Best Full Kit: Color N Drive Deep Gloss Ceramic
- 9. Best for Gloss: SpeedoKote Ultra High Gloss Glamour Clear
- 10. Best for General Use: TopCoat F11 Polish and Sealer
- What You Need to Know When Buying a Clear Coat for Your Car
- Why Does My Car Need a Clear Coat?
- What Are the Benefits of a Clear Coat?
- How Do I Prepare My Car for Applying a Clear Coat?
- How to Apply a Clear Coat Over New Paintwork.
- How to Apply a Clear Coat Over Existing Paintwork or Repair a Patch of Damaged Clear Coat.
- Once My Clear Coat Is Applied, Can It Be Waxed?
- What Can Cause My Clear Coat to Peel Off?
- Where Is the Best Place to Apply My Clear Coat?
- Do I Have to Mask My Windows When Applying a Clear Coat?
- Can I Still Use Car Washes After I’ve Treated My Car With a Clear Coat?
- Final Thought
Picking the Best Clear Coat for Your Car
A clear coat is exactly what the name suggests it is. It’s literally a clear coat of paint, with no color or other pigmentation added to it.
Clear coats are applied to your car as a final step, on top of the other layers of paint. Because it has zero pigment and is completely clear, a clear coat sits on top of the existing color and acts as a varnish or second skin. Here is what you want to keep in mind while shopping for clear coat paints.
Finish and Gloss
One of the biggest reasons to buy a clear coat is to enhance the look of your paintwork. Some clears have higher gloss levels than others, for example, SpeedoKote Ultra High Gloss Glamour Clear has one of the highest levels of gloss we’ve ever seen, and that leads to a much better-looking finish. Obviously, this also means a little more work to polish it out, but we think it’s worth the effort.
How the Coat Is Applied
There are three ways to apply clear, by spraying it on and wiping, by rattle-can spray, and by professional paint spray-gun.
The first two methods are generally more suitable for single panels and spot work because you’re not going to get the same even coverage as you would with a spray-gun. But there’s a cost investment with spray guns, and it might not be worth picking up an expensive kit just to apply a clear coat to your car every couple of years.
Ease of Application
Spray cans or hand-applied clears are also much easier to apply. A spray clear requires a lot of initial setup and might lead to other issues like ambient temperature control or extensive preparation.
Toughness and Resistance
The second reason to apply a clear coat is to protect your car’s finish. If you’re not looking to maximize gloss and finish, you’re probably looking for the best protection you can find.
A clear like KBS DiamondFinish is incredibly tough, giving the best level of protection against impact damage, environmental issues, and chemicals.
No paint job lasts forever. The lifespan of a clear is based around many factors, but can include the quality of the application, where the vehicle is stored, how often you drive it, and environmental factors like how hot your summers are and how acidic the local rain is.
Most good clear coats will last at least a year or two, and some can last up to five.
No one has an infinite budget, and monetary cost is an obvious concern when you’re buying a new product. Most clears aren’t expensive, especially spray application clears. A lot of the cost can come from supplementary costs, like cleaning materials, spray-gun attachments, and more.
Types of Top Coats
Not all clear coats are created equal. There are different types of clear coat varnish, which are all suited for different situations.
Topcoat Clear Coat
A topcoat clear coat is what can be thought of as the standard clear coat. It’s generally applied as a last step by the manufacturers, over the base paint. Topcoats are normally simple to polish, give a glossy finish, and dry fast.
Turbo Clear Coat
Turbo coats are designed for a quick fix. They’re great for repairing paintwork after a crash, and help to cover superficial damage from scratches and dents. Turbo coats need a lot of polishing, but dry fast and buff to a glossy finish.
Glamor Clear Coat
A glamor clear coat is moisture resistant and takes a long time to dry, but buffs to a super glossy, showroom finish.
Higher-Solid Clear Coat
Expensive, and harder to apply because of the thickness and the extra drying time, higher solid coats provide the best level of protection, and are the correct choice if you live in an area with tougher weather conditions.
Top 10 Best Clear Coats for Cars 2023
1. Best Overall Pick: SpeedoKote SMR-130
The biggest reason we rate SpeedoKote so highly and the main reason it’s at the top of our list is the incredible level of protection it offers.
Once SpeedoKote has been applied correctly, it dries into a rock hard armored shell, which provides protection against almost everything your vehicle could face out on the road. SpeedoKote is the full package. It’s tough against impact, has fantastic UV sun damage protection, oil and chemical defense, including road cleaning chemicals, and one of the strongest weather resistances on the market.
How it Looks
Compared to other clear coats, SpeedoKote acrylic urethane clear coat goes on incredibly smoothly, and dries to a very high gloss, top quality shine. Once it’s dry, SpeedoKote is easy to buff, without many of the issues you might face from cheaper brands, for example, major smearing. That makes SpeedoKote a great product for amateurs as well as professionals.
Car detailers, driving teams, and other experienced professionals trust SpeedoKote to protect their vehicles. If it’s good enough for a seven-figure track car, it’s good enough for you.
Ease of Use
The only real downside with SpeedoKote products is how difficult they are to use. They are designed as a professional level solution, which means you’re going to have to have a decent setup to apply it correctly. The minimum is a garage and a spray gun, but being able to control the temperature and minimize dust particulates is also recommended.
The package comes with one gallon (128 ounces) of clear coat mixture and one quart (32 ounces) of activator. The product is mixed in a 4:1 ratio, which activates it and gives you a short window to spray it down. Once the coat is applied, it touch dries in minutes, and it is ready to buff in as little as 4 to 6 hours.
SpeedoKote should be applied at a temperature between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When you’re mixing, it’s also worth being careful about how much you use. The standard gallon is generous and far , so it’s deceptively simple to over mix and end up with waste. SpeedoKote clear coats can be more expensive than other products, but when you factor in the long shelf life, one purchase could easily keep your car safe several times over.
- Fantastic protection against everything
- High gloss, beautiful finish
- USA made, to match US car standards
- Needs a spray gun to apply
2. Best for Paint Matching: Dupli-Color Clear Exact Match Top Coat
Dupli-Color has been in business for 60 years, and it shows. This clear coat requires the standard 3 layers to provide sufficient protection, but once those layers have been applied the resulting finish is a tough and hard-wearing glossy shell.
It’s resistant to all of the usual suspects, protecting your paintwork from weather effects, salt, oil, chemicals, UV, scratches, and dings. While it doesn’t have the same level of protection as some more dedicated clears, you can always choose to apply more layers if protection is something you need.
How it Looks
Dupli-Color is a premium automotive clear coat, and it shows. When you order it, you order based on the existing paint job. Dupli-color can be ordered to precisely match the shade list of your vehicle, and each spray is formulated to provide the best finish possible, down to the precise year your car was made.
Spray cans like these can be harder to apply evenly over large areas, so we recommend a clear coat like this one for smaller touch-up jobs. If you need to cover an entire car, or you’re respraying several major panels, it could be worth either purchasing or hiring a spray gun, or going to a professional.
A rattle can like this is never going to match the appearance of a clear coat applied using a spray gun, and might require more buffing for an even finish. But with a little care and elbow grease, a can or two of Dupli-Color will leave your car looking fantastic, with a strong, clear gloss shine.
Ease of Use
Dupli-Color clear coats are made to color match your car’s existing paintwork, down to the year it rolled off the assembly. It’s compatible with all standard OEM paint finishes, and it’s designed to be used after you apply a new layer of spray paint. The list of compatible vehicles goes back over 50 years, so no matter what you’re driving you’ll be able to find the perfect coat.
Spray cans are the easiest type of clear coat to use, so even first-timers should be able to get an even finish. Dupli-Color cans are designed specifically for use on bodywork, with an EZ touch 360 nozzle which is simple to use and lays down the clear coat evenly, minimizing streaks and other problems. Be careful in cooler weather though, as that can cause the nozzle to clog.
Unlike a lot of clear coats, Dupli-Color dries incredibly quickly. Some coats can take upwards of a day to dry fully, but Dupli-Color is touch-dry in 30 minutes, and ready to handle in 60 minutes. Most clear coats need multiple layers, and the short drying time means you could do this in a day, saving you massive amounts of time and getting your vehicle back on the road as fast as possible.
The downside of spray cans is that they’re not designed to cover an entire car’s bodywork. Instead, it should be used for small scale touch-up jobs, body damage, and matching car accessories.
On the upside, you get a lot of paint for the money, and it’s very reasonably priced, making this the perfect choice for protecting repairs or damages.
- Suitable for any vehicle, with any paint job
- No mix, no fuss, easy to spray and apply
- Dries incredibly fast
- One can will only cover one panel with three coats, on average
- You might have to abandon the can with a small amount left in it, because of spatter
KBS DiamondFinish makes good on its name. Once it’s down and dried, it’s almost invincible. It’s a single part formula with 60 percent solids. This leads to a much tougher finish than you find with two-part, unmixed clear coats, which are most other clear coats on the market.
The coat itself is flexible, which minimizes chipping, peeling, and flaking. Sometimes, clear coats need replacing way before they should because of a scratch or chip that spreads, and this minimizes that.
It boasts strong environmental protection, including UV. It’s great against oxidation and yellowing, and resistant to harsh weather. Finally, the coat is highly heat resistant, which means this is suitable for the protection of cylinder heads and engine blocks.
How it Looks
We’re not going to lie. Compared to high-gloss performance clear coats, KBS DiamondFinish doesn’t have quite the same level of shine.
It’s only a semi-gloss finish, and will be ready to polish within 24 hours of application. With this in mind, it’s better for vehicles aimed at the race track and performance cars whose paintwork is already high-gloss, or vehicles that are going to see a lot of hard wear and tear, like trucks and vans.
Ease of Use
Despite being designed for industrial use, with applications that go beyond cars and vans and into domestic and marine machinery, KBS DiamondFinish is surprisingly simple to use.
You’re still going to need a spray gun or roller brush to apply this, but unlike a lot of other clear coats, it’s very user friendly. For a start, it can be used directly on metal, so you can treat chrome and other exposed metalwork as well as engines in the same coat without worrying about flaking or peeling.
Two, it can be applied directly over existing paintwork. Some clear coats need a brand new coat of paint to effectively bond, and if applied over existing paint that’s been dry for longer than a few days, won’t lay correctly and will quickly peel back.
Supposedly, KBS DiamondFinish can be used with minimal surface preparation, letting you spray this directly onto your car. Though we would still prepare the area properly, wiping everything down to remove all particulates and other foreign objects that could cause a poor finish.
You can buy exactly what you need, with pint, gallon, and quart options available, and you don’t need any extras or additives because it all comes as one ready-mixed package.
- Unparalleled protection
- Heat and corrosion resistant
- Simple to apply for such a strong product
- Only a semi-gloss finish
4. Best Budget Pick: USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat
For a single application spray, USC Spray Max 2k offers really good protection. The chemical resistance and all-weather coverage of the coat is really high, so this is great if you live somewhere that sees a lot of rain and snow. Like all clear coats, scratch resistance is down to how many layers you use, so if you’re worried about pebbles, debris, or branches damaging your paintwork, buy extra and put down at least 3 layers.
There is a slight issue. Lack of UV coverage. Most modern paints are a lot more UV resistant, but if you’re driving an older vehicle and want to preserve the color of your paintwork, you might want to look at another product.
How it Looks
Once it’s dry, USC Spray Max leaves your car with a high gloss, durable finish. As one of the more basic spray cans, you’re not likely to get the same finish you would with a higher-end product.
You also need to leave the coat for at least a week before wet sanding or buffing it to a polish. But with a little love and TLC, the results will come close to much more expensive products, for a lot less hassle and cost.
Ease of Use
Compared to most clear coats, USC Spray Max 2k is ridiculously easy to use. When your car is prepared, you activate the paint by pulling out the tab from a can, then giving it a good shake, just like spray paint. This breaks the internal seal and starts mixing the components. Packs start at two cans, which is enough for around one coat on an average-sized sedan.
The cans are light and easy to hold, with a special nozzle that’s different to regular spray cans. It’s designed to work just like a spray gun nozzle, so you get a level, even and clear flow. It only takes a few minutes to cover a panel, making this by far the simplest product on our list.
Spray Max 2k is great for quick jobs, touch-ups and repairs. As this is a rattle-can, it’s not suited for full-body coverage. If you’re careful it might be possible, but expect to have to buff out some streaks and runs. At this point, it might be worth considering whether you’d be better served dropping a little more cash on an air compressed spray gun and something like SpeedoKote.
This clear coat can be applied to almost all vehicles without worry, and adheres to the basecoats on all vehicles with very little preparation. Just remember that once you’ve pulled the tab on the can the contents will start to cure, so has to be used within 48 hours of breaking the seal. That means, if you need to apply multiple coats from one can, you should budget time accordingly.
- Simple to use and simple to apply
- Works on top of any base coat
- Budget cost
- Only lasts 48 hours after activation
- Not suited for full vehicles
5. Best Anti-Corrosion: POR-15 45718 Top Coat Gloss Clear
POR-15 is designed to prevent corrosion and other direct, physical threats to the paintwork of your vehicle. That makes this a fantastic option if you’re commonly driving longer distances, or driving on roads where you can expect your car to face chemical hazards.
As mentioned, this can also be used on bare metal, so it’s great for sealing aluminum parts on an engine, or areas that have been chromed.
One warning. Direct contact with oil will break down the clear coat. A quick spray down will fix the issue, but it’s something to bear in mind.
How it Looks
Despite being a clear coat that’s designed to fight against rust, the finish is really good. It blends well and buffs out easily, with no dry lines. Once it’s polished, you’ll be left with a high quality and super glossy finish.
Ease of Use
Ready to use out of the can, POR-15 can be used on paint or straight onto bare metal, with no primer or undercoat needed. Both common application options of spray can or ready mixed paint are available.
For best results, wipe down the area you’re treating, and make sure you thoroughly clean off any rust first, because it doesn’t bond well at all with rust. It’s also worth applying an anti-rust solution once the area has been stripped down, like POR-15 rust preventative spray, to keep it clear for longer.
While the formula has generally good adherence, for best results spray onto dry area, and don’t overspray, as it can dry to a gummy finish.
- Excellent anti-corrosion and anti-rust formula
- Easy to use, with rattle-can and paint options
- Can be applied straight to bare metal
- Oil attacks the formula
6. Best for Wheels: VHT SP184 Clear Coat for Wheels
The wheels on your car take the most beating. It stands to reason, as they’re the part that’s in contact with the road. Anything that gets kicked up, whether it’s dirt, oil, or chemicals, or even just plain old water spray, is going to hit them first and hit them hard.
That means wheels can age a whole lot quicker than the rest of your car, and if you’ve invested in a decent set of alloys, watching them dull down or even corrode is heartbreaking.
The main threat your wheels will face on the road is road-based chemicals and oils. VHT SP184 is designed to be chemical resistant, and works on all steel and aluminum wheels.
The powerful formula resists cracking and fading, resists oxidation, and is strong enough to stand up to the rigors of long drives, salt, dust, even large stones. Finally, it’s temperature resistant up to 250 degrees, so the finish isn’t going to bubble or warp even if you’re running big sports discs and have to slam down on your brakes in an emergency situation.
How it Looks
VHT SP184 clear coat is a wet-look clear gloss. It’s designed to be used straight over paint, especially VHT’s wheel paints, which can be bought alongside the clear.
As it’s so simple to use, it’s easy to get a professional finish, even if you’ve never done anything like this before. The finish lasts a long time, and even after several months will look like new after a quick wash and polish.
Ease of Use
VHT clear coat is a can based spray. It’s simple to use, and can be sprayed directly onto bare metal, primer, or finished paint straight out of the packaging. With a clear coat, especially a wheel paint like this one, most of the finish can be attributed to the preparation. Start by sanding down, cleaning, and degreasing your wheels.
Once the wheels are prepared, spray a single light coat for coverage. VHT clear coat is touch dry in around thirty minutes, and dries completely overnight. Once that initial coat is dry, spray a second, thicker coat for protection and finish.
Spray paints like these are more susceptible to runs, and you need to be especially careful when you’re using these as you’re not spraying onto large, flat panels. Make sure to spray from at least 12 inches away. It’s better to apply multiple smaller coats rather than one heavy one.
A single can is probably not enough to cover a large set of wheels, especially if you drive a larger vehicle or a truck. Plan for at least two, possibly three cans.
- Incredibly easy to use
- Good resistance to everything your car will face on the road
- Nice finish
- Can nozzles can occasionally jam
7. Best Anti-Rust: Rust-Oleum Automotive Gloss Clear Body Coat
Rust-Oleum’s acrylic lacquer formula is very durable and offers long-lasting protection against all the usual threats, including UV, weather, and scratching.
On top of the standard protection offered by clear coats, Rust-Oleum also offers great protection against rust, hence the name. Considering that rust is one of the issues that can cause the most damage with older cars, anything that can help you prevent that damage on your classic piece is great.
How it Looks
Rust-Oleum’s low volatile organic compound blend comes out shiny and sharp. It’s easy to polish, by hand or machine, and the rich formula can be buffed to an incredibly high-gloss finish.
Ease of Use
Rust-Oleum comes ready to use straight out of the tin. It’s easy to apply and sprays on smooth, but requires a paint spray-gun system.
Once it’s down, it’s touch dry in about half an hour and ready for more coats. Even better, with Rust-Oleum, unlike a lot of clear coats, there’s no recommended number of coats. That means you can lay down as many coats as you want, until you’re happy with the look and the level of protection you’re getting.
It works on almost all acrylic enamels, so should work with your manufacturer, unless you’re rolling in some super-obscure bespoke paint job. Even then, it should be fine. Just check with the manufacturer first.
- Light formula is easy to spray
- Can be thinned out as needed
- Dries to a protective shine that’s easily buffed
- Packaging is terrible
8. Best Full Kit: Color N Drive Deep Gloss Ceramic
Contrary to what you might think, a hand-applied clear coat can almost give you the same level of protection as a professionally applied clear that’s been laid down with a spray-gun.
Once applied, this clear coat can last for up to 5 years. It’s supposed to last for around 150 washes, according to the manufacturers, which translates out to washing your car about once every two weeks. However, if it’s not applied correctly or you face a lot of tough situations and rough weather it can start to peel sooner, after around one or two years.
The protective coating is acid rain resistant, water and dirt repellent, as well as UV and calcium resistant.
How it Looks
Considering this is a clear that’s designed to be applied purely by hand, the result is impressive. It’s a deep, glossy shine that bonds with an enhances the color of any standard manufacturer’s paintwork.
Ease of Use
Color N Drive Deep Gloss is specifically designed to be as simple to use as possible. The idea is that someone with zero experience in car detailing could use this. The boxed kit contains everything you need to treat and coat your car with a solid, long-lasting clear coat.
To use, you clean the car down, making sure that the surface is clean and free from anything that could cause the coat not to bond. Then spray it down with the included pre-treatment solution and spread it. Once dry, spray the ceramic clear coat over your car and spread this evenly with the included tools.
Once the first coat is dry, repeat the process, then polish up to an even and glossy shine. It’s as simple as that. The kit supposedly contains enough solution for treating two cars, so you can quite easily treat your partner’s vehicle in addition to your own, or save the remainder and re-treat your own in a year or two.
The only downside is how time-consuming the process is. Because you’re not using power tools, it can take a good half of a day to finish the whole process. But considering you should only have to do this once every few years, that’s not a huge ask.
- Incredibly simple to use, and the whole kit is provided
- Good protection
- Decent finish, with a high gloss
- Takes a little more elbow grease than some clear coats
- Bond might fail if the initial surface isn’t cleaned properly
9. Best for Gloss: SpeedoKote Ultra High Gloss Glamour Clear
SpeedoKote Glamour Clear has a high amount of solids, which translates to increased protection over lower solid clears.
The finish is tough, even after only the two recommended coats, and it has exceptional UV resistance, which is great as you’ve probably bought this with an eye to protecting the valuable look of your car.
The only downside with high solid clears is their increased tendency to peel, so you might need to reapply this a little more often than other choices.
How it Looks
Let’s be fair, if you’re spending the money on SpeedoKote Ultra High Gloss, you’re buying it for the look.
This clear coat is an elite level product that will give you a show level finish. It has the highest level of gloss and distinctness of image (DOI) out of any product on the market. DOI is how much light scatter you get from a surface, and the ridiculously high DOI of this clear coat means that you’re going to end up with a mirror finish on every panel, every time.
Compared to other clear coats, you’re also looking at better than average leveling and high levels of gloss retention. Both of these things make this ideal for restorations of older paintwork, or regular re-application in the case of track cars.
For professionals, the formula can be mixed at different thicknesses, letting you fine-tune the curing time and finish, and set it precisely to the look of your ride.
Ease of Use
To go alongside the professional quality finish is a professional difficulty of application. As with all SpeedoKote products, to apply this clear you’re going to need garage space and a spray-gun system.
According to SpeedoKote themselves, the best way to apply this clear coat is with a spray-gun with a specific 1.3mm tip. Apply the first coat, then flash harden with a heat gun and leave for 10 minutes, before applying a second coat and leaving to dry.
- The single best finish on the market
- Ultra-high gloss protective shell
- Good protection, especially against UV damage
- Very expensive
- Harder to apply than other clear coats
10. Best for General Use: TopCoat F11 Polish and Sealer
Once treated with TopCoat, your paintwork is protected from the full range of problems your car might face on the road, including dust and debris, bird droppings and bug residue, acidic rain, and weathering.
The application process also helps to cover up existing damage, including paint imperfections, scratches, and spiderweb cracks.
TopCoat F11 is designed to work with more than just cars. It can apply a protective, hydrophobic coating to almost anything, including bikes, planes, boats, and other vehicles. It also works on non-porous building materials (anything not brick or concrete) and even fabrics. That means you can buy a kit and treat everything you have. Restore the water-resistance of biker jackets, gloss to leathers, even spray down your garden shed for extra protection.
How it Looks
TopCoat F11 is a combined sealant and polish. Because of this, getting a glossy, even finish is incredibly simple.
It’s a single-step process that naturally improves color, hides imperfections, and brings paintwork up to a gleaming shine. It’s also designed to work alongside waxes and other polishes, lowering the time that it takes to wax your car by as much as half.
Ease of Use
TopCoat F11 is probably the simplest clear coat on our list. It’s a one-step application process that works on anything without and special preparation. But it’s still recommended that you clean down your car before application as you would with any other clear.
It contains no volatile organic compounds, solvents, or abrasives and it’s odorless, meaning it can be safely used in tightly enclosed spaces without ventilation. F11 can also withstand high temperatures, making it safe to use on your engine, brakes and other parts that are exposed to heat, as well as on grills and stoves around the home.
Finally, F11 is designed as a wax replacement, which means it polishes as it’s applied. You’re still going to need to go over the finish with the right tools, but it does save you time and money on wax.
- Incredibly easy one-step application process
- Good value for money
- Suitable for use on almost anything
- Not as protective as dedicated clear coats
What You Need to Know When Buying a Clear Coat for Your Car
Every clear coat is different. From the method of application to the finish, every individual brand does things differently. Here’s what you need to know:
Why Does My Car Need a Clear Coat?
Clear coats massively increase the protection your car has from damage to the exterior. A good clear coat can protect your car from the elements, including acidic rain and from paint fading through the sun’s UV rays. Thicker clear coats can even protect your paintwork from scratches and other visible damage, whether that be stones kicked up whilst driving, bushes and branches, or simple day to day wear.
There are two reasons you might need to purchase and apply an aftermarket clear coat is simple.
First, some car manufacturers apply a thin clear coat or don’t apply one at all. Because of the benefits of a clear coat, if you know that your car doesn’t have the protection of a clear coat paint job, buying and applying one yourself is a smart choice.
Second, like all paintwork, a clear coat slowly but surely wears out over time, meaning that it needs to be reapplied every few months to every few years, depending on outside conditions. With an older vehicle, or if you regularly drive on roads that are heavily salted, oily, or treated with chemicals, reapplying a clear coat to keep your paintwork protected is a smart investment.
What Are the Benefits of a Clear Coat?
Clear coats sit on top of your paintwork and act as another defensive layer, but they also have other benefits, including:
The main benefit of a clear coat. Another layer of paint protects the pigmented paint underneath, meaning that damage that would otherwise leave visible scratches or dents will just hit the clear.
Enhancing Existing Paintwork
A clear coat is much cheaper than a complete respray or spraying a panel. If you have a vehicle with tired or old looking paintwork, a clear coat can bring out the color and shine of existing paintwork.
Some paints require a clear coat. For example, illusion powders need a clear coat because a clear coat has different light refraction properties to paint, setting off the paint underneath.
Hiding Minor Damage
Scratches and other tiny imperfections in the paintwork might not normally be seen but are visible when you’ve recently had the car waxed. These imperfections ruin an otherwise perfect finish, but a clear coat will fill in these gaps and help hide the issues.
Selling Your Car
People buy with their eyes, and first impressions matter. A lot of the time, people decide whether they want the car in the first few seconds, and will only be put off if they find something wrong. Making your vehicle look as glossy and clean as possible can tip the scales when it comes to the buyer getting out their credit card.
How Do I Prepare My Car for Applying a Clear Coat?
Like all paint jobs, the key to an even and attractive clear coat is all about preparation. Make sure you have everything ready before you begin.
- Check your base coat for imperfections. Clear coats will do nothing to hide bumps, smears, swirls, or dirt. It can potentially make the issue worse by highlighting these problems, and once the clear coat is down, there is nothing you can do to fix the problem besides strip the paintwork down to nothing and start again.
- If you can, test your clear coat before you spray anything valuable. You can test on a scrap piece if you have anything available, or a piece of flat, glossy card.
- Most clear coat varnishes require multiple layers. Start light and build up. Applying a heavy first layer can cause shrinkage in the paint, which might lead to early cracks or peeling.
- Spray at a distance of around 6 to 8 inches, unless your specific product says to do differently. Any closer can cause bubbles or dripping, and too far can lead to irregular coverage.
- Your last coat should look the same as it will once the coat is dry. If your final layer of clear coat isn’t glossy, reapply the coat or stop and assess what’s going wrong.
Prepping your car when you spray your clear coat also depends on how you’re applying it. There are two situations when you will be applying a clear coat; when you’re re-spraying a panel or a whole vehicle or spraying clear coat over the existing paintwork to spot fix.
How to Apply a Clear Coat Over New Paintwork.
- Begin by following the manufacturer’s instructions for the base coat of paint you are applying to your vehicle.
- Once the basecoat has dried for the appropriate amount of time, make sure it is clean and dry.
- Apply the clear coat straight over the top, as if it was another coat of paint.
- Some clear coats may require multiple layers. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before applying.
- Once the clear coat is applied, leave to dry, then buff to a shine.
How to Apply a Clear Coat Over Existing Paintwork or Repair a Patch of Damaged Clear Coat.
- Begin by wet sanding the area that needs to be sprayed until it’s smooth.
- If reapplying clear coat over an existing surface, you will also need to feather the edges where the new clear coat meets the old.
- Clear the area to be treated with a degreasing finish cleaner.
- Once the degreasing cleaner is dry, wipe the area down to make sure it is free from dust.
- Apply your clear coat as you would any other vehicle paint.
Once My Clear Coat Is Applied, Can It Be Waxed?
Almost certainly. A clear coat is just another coat of paint, and applying a good quality wax on the top of a well-applied clear coat can act as another level of defense.
If you’ve recently applied a clear coat, it’s best to leave your car for 4 to 6 weeks to give it time to fully cure. Once a decent time has passed, you’re free to buff your pride and joy to a gleaming shine as much as you want.
It’s still worth checking the instruction of your favorite wax, because some waxes can be too high grain or rough for a thinner clear coat. Modern clear coat paints can be crazy thin, down to as little as 30 microns, (30 millionths of one centimeter) thick.
It’s also worth being careful when applying the wax, as rubbing too hard or using a rougher cloth for a long time in one area can wear away a newer clear coat before it has time to properly treat and harden.
What Can Cause My Clear Coat to Peel Off?
No clear coat is going to last forever, and a sign that your clear coat needs replacing is peeling, either in one place or across the whole body of your vehicle. Here’s a few things that can cause a clear coat to start peeling:
- Environmental damage: This is one of the most common causes of a clear coat starting to peel. Ultraviolet light from the sun is an oxidizer, and over time it’s going to damage your clear coat by burning the external surface, making it rough and turning it white.
There are two ways to deal with this. The first is to minimize sun exposure by keeping your car out of the sun when it’s not being used (another reason to clear out your garage.) The second is to wax your car often, which provides a second barrier against UV damage.
- Impacts from debris can cause a tiny chip in your clear coat, which can start to peel away from the rest of the car. If you have a single small peeling area, it’s possible that your paintwork was hit by something like a small pebble. If this is the case, you probably don’t need to replace the whole coat, and can just touch fix it.
- If you’ve recently received your car from the factory, and the clear coat is already starting to peel, there might have been an issue in the factory. The most common cause of this is the clear coat being applied a little too long after the main paintwork was finished.
Where Is the Best Place to Apply My Clear Coat?
A clear coat, like all types of spray painting, is susceptible to environmental conditions. Excess heat or cold, humidity, or strong wind conditions can ruin the finish before you even apply the first layer of varnish. It’s best to apply your clear coat in a garage if possible, because that gives you the best control over your environment.
If you don’t have access to a garage, wait for a day that has mild weather with low wind conditions. This is going to minimize the chances that you’re going to have issues when applying your clear coat. But this is still risky. No one can control the weather, and a sudden rain shower or burst of wind can spoil everything.
Do I Have to Mask My Windows When Applying a Clear Coat?
Yes. Just like when you’re painting bodywork with color paint, you will have to mask your windows to prevent the clear coat from getting onto the glass.
Once you’ve covered your window with masking film, you’re free to coat your car with a clear coat. It’s always worth leaving the masking film in place until the clear coat is completely dry.
If you do make a mistake and end up with clear somewhere on a window, it buffs easily out of glass with ultra-fine steel wool (0000 gauge is the recommended,) and some warm soapy water.
Can I Still Use Car Washes After I’ve Treated My Car With a Clear Coat?
This is a difficult question. Whilst car washes themselves aren’t going to damage your clear coat, if any dirt or grain is picked up during the process and ground against the bodywork, it will almost certainly cause damage to your clear coating.
Modern car washes have systems built into them that pick up when the machinery has grabbed hold of a pebble or some dirt, so this is less of a problem with machine car washes than you might think.
The problem is manual car washes. It’s much easier for a person with a cloth to pick up a tiny stone and carve a layer out of your clear coat without noticing. The worst part of this is that you might not notice until a few days later when it starts to peel away, and at that point there is nothing you can do except strip your paint down and start again.
If you regularly take your car to a manual car wash, this is something you need to think about. As we’ve mentioned earlier, even using a cloth that’s too rough can take the surface off of a clear coat, so make sure that the people washing your car are using soft towels and mild waxes.
If you’ve got the tools, a clear coat that is applied using a spray-gun, like either of the SpeedoKote products in our list, are easily the best choice.
It leads to a better finish and a tougher, more protective coating. While it takes a little more effort and set up, the results are more than worth it, and pay for themselves ten times over.