How to Repair Damaged Clear Coat on a Car

Peeling, flaking, or bubbling clear coat on your car can be repaired using the right tools, some elbow grease, and this guide.
Written by Claire Beaney
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
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If you notice your car’s paint is bubbling, blistering, or flaking, you may be dealing with a damaged clear coat. Small spots can be fixed with some buffing and repainting, but larger patches require professional help.
UV radiation, aging, and road debris all affect your car's paint, eventually resulting in your clear coat peeling or fading.
Taking your car to the paint shop can get pretty pricey, so it’s definitely worth learning how you can fix peeling clear coats yourself.
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How does clear coat get damaged?

The technical reason that clear coat peels is because the bond to the underlying color coat has deteriorated or broken down. This can be caused by several factors, but the most common reasons are:
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun and UV rays
  • Road debris
  • Scratches and pits
  • Manufacturing error 
The older your car is, the more likely you are to experience a peeling clear coat—which can be especially annoying when you’re well out of warranty.

Tools needed to repair clear coat on a car

While there is no easy fix or miracle product that will immediately repair a peeling clear coat, with the right supplies and know-how, an auto shop doesn’t have to be your only solution!
To start, gather the following supplies: 
  • Car wash supplies
    (soap, wash mitt, microfiber cloths)
  • Sandpaper (fine grit, multiple gradients)
  • Aerosol clear coat
  • Spray gun
  • Degreaser
  • Masking tape
  • Clean microfibre cloths
  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl)
  • Buffer
  • Wax
MORE: How to remove bugs, tar, and sap from car paint

How to fix clear coat on a car, step-by-step 

Prep the panel

Wipe down the panel to remove any dirt and debris. Cover the edges of adjacent panels that won't be repainted using masking tape. Ensure that the tape is inside the panel gap, but not touching the repaired panel, so you don’t peel off your new clear coat!

Remove peeling clear coat 

Take your fine sandpaper (automotive grade) and begin rubbing the most troublesome places first. Try to remove all of the peeling flakes with light to medium pressure. If the color coat is visible, apply light pressure mainly on the borders.

Scuff adjacent areas and create blend zones

After removing any flakes and scuffing the repair area, create a three to four-inch blend zone in each direction. Scuff the blend zone with the same sandpaper or 2000-grit wet sandpaper, using light pressure, so the new clear coat has a good foundation.

Final clean 

Clean with water first, then wipe with isopropyl alcohol or a tack cloth to remove any remaining debris and dust. Before moving on to the next step, ensure that the surface is totally dry.

Mask the work area

To prevent spraying over adjacent panels, use masking sheets, plastic foil, newspapers, or paper towels.
Tape over the work area and stop somewhere within the blend zone, leaving part of the scuffed area on the outside. Fold the paper so that you have a soft edge at the perimeter of the work area. When you're done spraying, it’ll be easier to mix the fresh and old clear coatings.

Apply your clear coat

Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before you start applying the clear coat for a full rundown of what to do for your specific product.
Once the hardener has been released (typically by shaking the can and pressing a little button on the can's bottom), shake the can vigorously again.
Put on a mask or respirator—you don't want to inhale anything! Spray for a few seconds to test the nozzle's spray. If you don't need the whole can or have extra, practice on scrap metal.
Here are some tips for applying the clear coat:
  • Hold the nozzle about eight inches away
  • Use light to medium pressure, overlapping your strokes by 30-40%
  • Go back and forth periodically, don’t spray all over the place or only in one place
  • Move slowly to avoid running or dripping
  • Release the button before finishing your stroke
  • Spray two to three coats, waiting 10 minutes between each layer

Blend, polish, and finish

After the clear coat has dried, take the masking tape off of the coated panel—make sure to do so carefully to avoid stripping your new clear coat!
You’ll likely still have a line distinguishing the new clear coat from the rest of the panel. Wet-sand the area to blend it more thoroughly, using 2000-grit sandpaper. Apply gentle pressure and keep the area damp as you blend.
Use a low-speed polishing machine with a medium-cut pad and compound.
To avoid peeling back the new clear coat, polish away from it. Hold the machine at an angle so the contact is on the pad's narrow edge and check the rotation. Then, using only the machine's weight, make individual passes, raising and re-starting from the repair area.
Key Takeaway With the right tools, steps, and a lot of patience, you should be able to repair a peeling clear coat in one afternoon!

When to get a professional involved

If your peeling or damage is larger than a small spot (think about the size of a cup coaster), then it’s best to take your car to a professional.
This will be the pricier option, but trying to fix major issues with your clear coat yourself can end up damaging your car further.
A professional clear coat application can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000, depending on the severity and extent of the damage.

Is clear coat damage covered by car insurance?

Whether or not your clear coat is covered by insurance depends on the cause of the damage.
If it’s started peeling due to normal wear and tear, you shouldn’t expect any costs to be covered. And if you only have basic car insurance, you might struggle for coverage as well.
Comprehensive coverage
is your best bet if you want to keep your clear coat protected. Comprehensive can protect you against things like:
  • Weather-related damage
  • Fallen objects
  • Vandalism
  • Fire
If one of these insured risks is to blame for your paint damage, you can file a claim and pay your deductible to have the remaining expenses covered.

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FAQs

Clear coat technically is paint—it’s just translucent! It’s applied over the colored coat as the final step to providing a clean, finished look to a car.
There are a few things you can do to keep your clear coat in good condition:
Avoid automated car washes, as you can’t control the products/harshness of the machines
Avoid using cheap, generic, or abrasive car wash products
Wax regularly
Apply paint protection film
Estimate your repair costs for free with GarageGuard™
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