Virtually every new vehicle sold in the last couple of decades has a clear-coat finish. Understanding that layer of paint, its purpose, and makeup will help you keep your vehicle clean and protect your investment — efforts that will pay off when it comes time to sell or trade.
The first coat of paint to be applied to bare metal, plastic or fibreglass at the factory is the primer coat. Its main functions are to act as a protector and a leveller, making it easier to apply the next layer — the base coat.
The base coat contains the colour and effects. It is commonly divided into three categories: solid, metallic and pearlescent. Solid paint contains only colour. Metallic paints have tiny aluminum flakes held in suspension that create a sparkle effect. Pearlescent paints have iridescent pigments that also result in a sparkle but a more three-dimensional look.
And finally, we have the clear coat, the top layer of finish. Usually urethane, polyurethane, polyester, and fluorine high-tech clearcoat systems. This coat of paint contains no pigments and thus no colour. When clean and polished, it imparts a deeper and wetter look, but it’s sole purpose is to protect the colour coat.
Clear coats became popular at about the same time manufacturers were encouraged by regulations to provide warranties against rust perforation. This also occurred at about the time we figured out that there was a tremendous amount of industrial pollution in the air, acidic fallout that damaged everything it came to rest on — including vehicles.
Like any finish, the clear coat is vulnerable not only to casual damage like scratches etc., but also, from the sun and ultraviolet rays that cause paint to fade and environmental damage and the resultant degradation. Damage to the clear coat can be more easily corrected than in pigmented surfaces. Which leads us to address two myths:
- 1. You do not need to wax a vehicle with clear coat paint; and
- 2. A “protectant” applied by the dealer or other retailer will last forever. WRONG on both counts.
The above-mentioned scratches, ultraviolet rays and environmental deposits will damage the clear coat and anything applied on top of it.
The beauty is that this damage can be minimized or eliminated by frequent washing and occasional waxing. The shallow surface defects and spotting caused by scratches and acid rain can be removed without damaging the colour coat. Because it has no colour, clear-coat paint cannot discolour. But it can become dull when laced with a steady onslaught from the sun and environmental fallout. This fading is a long and slow process and you might not notice how the paint’s reflective properties are diminishing.
The answer is regular washes and occasional waxing. The frequency of both depends on where you live and where the vehicle is parked. If it is left outside and exposed to the elements it will require more frequent attention, than one parked in a garage and only occasionally driven. Also, if you live near an industrial area, busy highway, airport or other source of fallout, that increases the likelihood the paint will need extra or more frequent attention.
A light rain, fog or that thin layer of mist on the vehicle in the morning may have brought a deposit of acidic particles. Combine those particles, moisture and heat from the sun and you have a process that will damage the paint over time, if not washed off frequently.
To check to see if your clear coat has lost some of its properties, hold this newspaper over the finish. You should be able to read it from the reflection.
- Never wash a vehicle in the sun.
- Never wash a hot vehicle.
- Use lots of clear, clean water before, during and after washing.
- Do not use dishwasher soap; it is too strong and will remove any wax and protective silicones. So will most commercial car washes. Use soaps especially formulated for car washes that are available at a variety of retail establishments.
- Wax doesn’t simply provide a shine, it is a protective barrier.
- Avoid abrasives, they can cause permanent damage.
- Use the least aggressive product available.
- Do not apply wax in the sun.
- Use a well-known name-brand and follow the instructions.
- Generally speaking, apply wax twice a year.