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What is an Automotive Clear Coat Finish

June 03, 2019 6 min read

A common question we get from our customers is, “Do you clear-coat your painted car parts?” The answer is yes, we certainly do! Applying clear coat to our painted auto body parts is an important step of the painting process. Simply put, a clear-coat protects your paint job and is vital to look of any vehicle. We understand the importance of clear coat and how it benefits your vehicle. Everyone takes pride in their ride, so let us share our knowledge and experience on clear coat with you.

 

What is Clear Coat on a Car?

A clear coat is simply a layer of clear resin that is applied over painted panel. It’s often referred to as the glossy or mirror finish. It’s considered as one of the most important parts of your car’s finish because it the layer of protection for your vehicle’s painted exterior. Just about all the vehicles manufactured today have a clear coat, except for those that have a matte finish and to a certain extent, single stage paint jobs.

 

Why is it important?

The clear coat not only gives your car a vibrant, healthy gloss, it also adds more depth to your vehicle’s exterior appearance. The overall purpose is that it offers protection from the suns UV rays, harmful chemicals and many environmental factors that could cause the car paint to fade. Think of it as teeth enamel, but for your car. If the enamel is weak it will affect the color of your paint. Usually in the form of oxidization, or paint fading. The clear coat resin also solidifies after application protecting the vehicle from small dirt and debris that may hit your car. If clear coat wasn’t applied properly or a low-quality clear coat was used, it will eventually lead to fading. Once fading occurs, it exposes your cars paint job to the elements, especially rust. It’s important to maintain a healthy coat but don’t worry, we’ll tell you the proper maintenance below.

 

How is a clear coat applied?

Typically, a car’s finish is applied in this order; primer, sealer, basecoat (color paint), and clear coat. Primer is a preliminary coating put panels to protect against corrosion. Just about all metal aftermarket auto parts come from the manufacture with an e-coat (more on this later) primer finish. All plastic parts will come with a regular primer coat from the manufacture. Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts from the dealership may or may not come with a primer coat but instead are bare plastic. When a part is bare plastic, a special plastic primer is applied.

We also apply a coat of sealer on top of the primer to further strengthen the paint adhesion for the basecoat stage. What sealer does is open the pores on the plastic allowing the paint to stick deep into the plastic. It’s not a necessary step but it is one we like to take to ensure a better bond with our painted parts.

  • Primer - all aftermarket parts come with and E-coat primer from the manufacture.
  • Sealer – this an added step we use so the paint bonds with the plastic/steel panel.
  • Basecoat - this is the painting portion of your panel/car.
  • Pearls – this step is only necessary if your car is a white pearl color
  • Clear Coat – this is the final step for any panel/car unless you have matter finish or single stage paint job.

 

Basecoat is the specific color of your vehicle that is applied until full coverage is achieved. Full coverage is just elaborate way of saying that there should be no spots or blotches when the paint is sprayed on the car or auto body part. After this stage, the color of the paint looks flat, like any ordinary color with no gloss or shine to it.

There is an exception to white pearl colors. Before the clear coat is applied, a pearl coat will be applied on top of the basecoat. White pearl colors are often referred to as a 3-stage paint job. This pearl-coat is a milky substance loaded with pearls that sits a top the white basecoat. If your car isn’t a white pearl, then you would only require a 2-stage paint job.

Clear coat is applied after the basecoat and is the final step in the paint process. The industry standard for clear coat application is 2-3 coats. Another term used in the paint industry is “film build,” and this refers to the thickness of the clear coat applied on the panel or car. This is the step that gives your car that glossy mirror finish, and as we mentioned prior, it will protect the paint from the elements.

 

Additional Information

As I previously mentioned, almost all parts come with a primer coat from the manufacture but in addition, all steel parts also have an electrophoretic coat or e-coat. E-coat is an anti-corrosive coat that will protect the metal panel from rust and other corrosive elements. The e-coat and clear coat are essentially what will protect your cars paint coat.

All clear coat brands are not all equal as they differ in levels of quality from your economical to a “Showroom” quality clear.  The clear that we utilize is high quality clear which is a top of the line clear that has superior durability to guard against UV rays.  All types of clear coats have different life spans but with proper maintenance they should all last for a long time.

Lastly, the technician applying the clear will also affect the durability, lifespan and overall look of the clear coat. Many factors from psi pressure from the paint gun and the painters experience and technique are a huge factor. Some shops may use less clear to save on supply cost and other may use the proper amount or more.

 

Maintenance

To protect the layer of clear coat on your car and prevent dullness, it is recommended to wash your car once a week to prevent contaminants from settling in the clear coat that could ruin the finish. This also depends on how and where you drive your car. If your car is relatively clean, you could probably stretch this to every two weeks. Adhere to common car practices and do not use materials that are abrasive when drying or polishing your car. Clear coat polish is sensitive and can scratch easily. Stick with blue shop towels, car wash mitts and, or micro-fiber towels.

Do not use household cleaning products such as hand soap, detergent, or glass cleaner as they may ruin the protective wax. Use milder agents designed specifically for cars and a soft sponge for washing. Use a separate sponge/towel for the wheels and tires as they may be coated with coarse debris that could harm the car’s coat. To further avoid premature fading and oxidation problems, if possible park your car away from the sun’s harmful UV rays. If you don’t have a garage or covered parking, car covers are the next best thing.

Many factors will ultimately determine the clear coat’s durability and longevity. Not everyone has the time to wash their car weekly or the ability to park in a covered area. It’s important to remember that long exposure (this could be years) to the sun will harm a cars finish. Geography is also a factor. The summers down south can be intense while up north icy roads cause salt-rust problems. Such things as debris, pollutants, UV rays and harmful environmental factors will be daily occurrences. Today’s clear coat finishes are much better quality in application because of improved formulation, they are more flexible, and are more UV resistant compared to decades ago.

 

Did we get it all?

Whether you are purchasing a car part or repainting your entire vehicle, a clear coat is crucial. Therefore, make sure you confirm with auto part store or local paint shop that they have the proper experience and dedication to apply a proper clear coat finish. This simple, colorless layer can do much more than just make your car look good. With proper care and maintenance, having a clear coat on your car can protect your vehicle from harmful elements and looking its best for years to come. Remember, It’s how often we maintain our cars finish that will save us a lot of money and time in the future.