Clear Coat & Tips on its Restoration
By Robert Roundtree
Nearly all cars manufactured today have a clear coat finish. In the automotive world, clear coat refers to a clear layer of resin that is applied over your cars paint. Unfortunately, like most things today, they don’t make or should I say paint them like they use to. Newer cars often have an extremely thin and often only one clear coat sprayed on by an automated machine. The thickness of your vehicles clear coat would be similar to the cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. If you remove it and press the two sides together this thickness represents the depth of clear coat that protects your vehicle’s pigment layer. Keeping the clear coat in pristine condition by waxing keeps your vehicles paint in good condition.
The outer surface of the clear coat is the “hardest” and “densest”. This layer contains the critical UV protection that keeps the paint color from fading. This surface is assaulted by acid rain, bugs & bird droppings all of which can cause it to get worn away revealing the softer, underlying clear coat. The outer surface of the clear coat not only protects your car’s paint but it also increases the depth of it and gives it the glossy, wet look. The down side of the clear coat is that is prone to oxidation and or dulling. This can happen slowly over time and you may not see the change on a day-to-day basis. Regular washing and periodic waxing will prevent oxidation and dulling. In addition, storing your car in the garage or covered parking helps to maintain the clear coat’s appearance.
The great thing about the clear coat is that it is easily restored. Swirls and minor scratches can be removed with a rotary polisher. Rotary polishers work at high speeds to smooth out the clear coat. Rotary polishers can offer complete removal of scratches and swirls as long as they do not penetrate beneath the clear coat. A rotary polisher is sometimes referred to as a circular or high-speed polisher. It’s called “circular” because the head spins on one axis. This single motion allows a circular polisher to level the clear coat that surrounds a scratch so that the “edges” of the scratch disappear. If you want to completely remove a deep scratch must use a circular polisher.
Before ever touching the paint with ant type of polisher it must be cleaned and clayed first. A clay bar will remove environmental debris or industrial fallout that simple washing can not remove. Your vehicle must be clay barred before it can be polished! Otherwise your run the risk of further scratching your clear coat with any debris that is bonded to the surface.
The head on a rotary polisher very hot more so than a dual action polisher because the pad is capable of spinning at a higher speed. You MUST keep the head of the rotary polisher moving at all times so this heat doesn’t concentrate on one spot. It is possible to burn through your vehicles paint in seconds! I highly suggest practicing on a scrap car panel before you attempt any work on your own vehicle. You can pick up an old hood at your local junk yard for $20-30 which is far less expensive then repainting your vehicle!
- Start slow & work at speeds between 1000-1200 RPM. The head on a circular polisher is capable of getting extremely hot, especially at high speeds. While a little heat can make the clear coat more malleable, too much will burn the paint.
-Keep the head of the polisher moving at all times: Never let aHead of the polisher rest on the paint. It will burn through the clear coat in seconds!
-As you polish keep the pad flat against the paint and with the back edge of the pad tilted very slightly upward (that’s the edge closest to you). This position will help you avoid dragging the edge on the paint, which creates holograms or what some detailers call “cookie-cutting”.
As long as they do not penetrate beneath the clear coat, a rotary polisher can remove scratches, swirls and most oxidation. A good way of assessing a scratch is to run your fingernail over it. If your fingernail catches in the scratch; that generally means it is too deep to be removed without professional help. Scratches and swirls that extend through to the color coat will require repainting or a touch-up at the very least. Do not attempt to remove these scratches because you can remove the entire clear coat, resulting in paint system failure.
Automotive clear coats cannot only enhance the look of your car’s base paint but they also help to protect it and are can be easily repaired and enhanced. These types of paints provide a dimension of gloss to your car’s finish. If you have lost that luster you can most likely restore your vehicles clear coat to it’s original looking finish with the help of a clay bar, rotary polisher and a good wax. If you don’t have any experience with a rotary polisher you may wish to begin with a dual action polisher. Either tool should be practiced on a scrap piece of car. Your local junk yard is a great place to pick up a $20 hood to first fine tune your technique before experimenting on your own vehicle.