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Why is my car’s paint peeling?

If you’ve had your car for a few years then it’s quite possible that it’s starting to look a little shabby in places. To be precise you may have noticed the paint is beginning to bubble and peel. You may even have noticed it happening to quite a few other cars on the road today and it’s really not a good look. So what’s happening?

The technical term for it is delamination and it’s what happens when the clear coat of your car’s paint gets dry and weathered and starts peeling and cracking and just generally flaking away.

Clear coat is the top layer of paint that’s applied to all modern cars and it’s exactly what its name suggests: a clear coat of paint that covers the colour coat beneath it. The other description for modern car painting methods is 2-stage paint, where the colour coat is the first stage, covered by the clear coat, which is the second stage.

Clear coat is designed to protect the colour coat beneath from UV rays and other damage like bird droppings and harmful chemicals, while adding lustre and depth to it. It’s one reason why most car finishes look so impressive today. Virtually all cars have had clear coat since the 1980s.

Why the peeling?

Age and weathering causes clear coat to crack and peel, with UV rays in particular causing it to oxidise. Air pollution can also contribute to it, as can dirt and debris, while salt is also known to be a culprit, a point worth remembering if you live near the coast.

The problem was a little worse with some cars built in the early-to-mid 90s when there was a problem with colour coats and clear coats being incompatible. Clear coat damage frequently starts on plastic mouldings and bumpers.

Repairs

Go online and you’ll find plenty of DIY solutions for repairing damaged clear coat if it’s not too extensive. But before you head down the DIY route you have to ask yourself if the risk is all worth it if your best efforts fall short and you’re left with an unholy mess of a paint job. You’ll also find professionals online who’ll repair minor clear coat damage, and that’s probably a better option. Sadly, however, if the damage has gone too far you’re looking at a respray, and that’s going to cost you the proverbial upper and lower limb.

Prevention the key

Benjamin Franklin’s old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure has never been more apt when it comes to preventing expensive and unsightly clear coat damage.

Prevention starts by keeping your car out of the sun as much as possible, so always try to park it in a garage or carport whenever you can. Failing that try to park in the shade of a tree.

Wash it frequently using non-abrasive cloths to prevent the dirt from building up and finish the job with a good quality wax. Use a cleaning product designed for washing cars, not household dishwashing liquid or similar, because it can damage clear coat. Some people advise that you keep clear of automated car washes because those rotating nylon brushes can damage clear coat, as can high pressure water jets.

If you get bird droppings, tree sap or anything else that looks nasty on your car it’s best to get rid of it early. Leave it on for any length of time and it could do lasting damage to your paintwork. In short, clean early and often is the key to maintaining your car’s shiny new appearance for as long as possible.

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