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Published Oct. 14, 2021

You won’t see it on your car — it’s meant to be clear, after all — but the exterior layer of clear coat over the top of your paint job protects your vehicle from damage every day. Your clear coat protects against scratches and scuff, preventing you from having to touch up or redo your entire paint job as wear and tear happens. It’s like invisible armor that keeps your exterior looking glossy and shiny. If your clear coat has begun to fade away after miles on the road and years of ownership or you’ve scratched it, you can reapply some and easily restore your car’s shine and luster. In fact, if you have a two-stage paint job, you can add a new layer of clear coat right in your own garage. We’ve rounded up some of the best clear coats for cars right here.

Best Clear Coat for Cars Reviews & Recommendations

If you want a clear coat for your car that delivers a fantastic-looking finish, the USC Spray Max 2k High-Gloss Clear Coat is it. This clear coat delivers impressive final results, and its aerosol spray-on application method makes it very easy for anyone to apply on any vehicle. This product features a two-component clear coat process that flows smoothly when sprayed and dries into a long-lasting, chip-resistant, high-gloss finish. All you have to do to get started is activate, shake, and spray. Featuring a special nozzle that applies the liquid like a spray gun, you’ll be able to cover large areas easily.

And this clear coat is durable, too, offering excellent weather and chemical resistance, and it’s waterproof so you don’t have to deal with spots. Make sure to wait a full 24 hours for this clear coat to harden on your car’s exterior because you don’t want to start polishing or performing any kind of exterior detailing until it’s 100 percent cured. Additionally, there is a bit of a learning curve to getting this product applied perfectly, so take the time to read the instructions carefully.

Specs
  • High-gloss finish
  • Chip-resistant
  • Two components, both aerosol sprays
  • Spray-gun style nozzle
PROS

Delivers a long-lasting, glossy finish

Spray gun nozzle design covers large areas easily

Great water- and chemical-resistant finish when dry

CONS

Bit of a learning curve to achieve flawless application

Must wait a full 24 hours for it to cure

The Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat is a great option if you’re looking for an affordable clear coat for cars and plenty of value for your money. This reasonably priced product offers professional-level results, and you can put it to use for touch-ups big and small or covering your whole car. It’s suitable for use over any existing factory-applied finishes or Dupli-Color’s own automotive paints.

You’ll find it easy to apply in any direction or from any angle with the adjustable 60-degree nozzle, and it covers a wide spray pattern so you don’t have to work in small areas slowly. It’s also dry to the touch in 30 minutes. This clear coat is great for cars that have peeling or damaged clear coats, but you may need to apply multiple coats (and use multiple cans) to get complete coverage. Additionally, there is a significant amount of overspray, so make sure to cover everything you don’t want coating on.

Specs
  • Can be applied over any two-stage paint
  • Acrylic lacquer
  • 360-degree nozzle
  • Wide spray pattern
  • Fast drying
PROS

Professional-level quality clear coat

Affordable price

Can be applied to problematic clear coats in small or large areas

CONS

You may need to apply multiple coats

Oversprays quite a bit

One of the biggest problems your car’s exterior faces is sunlight, but with a coat or two of Speedokote Automotive Clear Coat, you can protect your investment. This universal clear coat might look like any other, but it’s formulated to be UV resistant. The clear coat is made with a mix of acrylic and urethane, and in addition to its UV protection it’s also chemical resistant. Easy to apply and fast drying, it cures in four to six hours.

You can even start buffing after six hours. Meant to be applied in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll get a high-gloss final result. While this clear coat for cars is quite glossy and shiny once it dries, do note that you’ll need to pay close attention to the weather. If it’s too cool, the final result can come out thick. It dries so quickly it’s tough to fix once you spot imperfections.

Specs
  • Acrylic-based clear coat
  • High gloss finish
  • Cures in six hours
  • UV resistant
PROS

Able to resist sun damage

Cures in six hours

High gloss

CONS

Quick-drying nature can make it hard to catch or fix imperfections

If applied in cold weather, solution will thicken and not apply smoothly

No matter how you plan to apply your new clear coat, you’ll get plenty of versatility if you opt for the Sherwin Williams Finish 1 Automotive Ultimate Clear Coat. This combination of clear coat plus universal hardener gives you everything you need to get the job done and achieve a great high-gloss finish on your vehicle. Made to refinish and restore your car’s appearance, this product is made with a blend of high solids and urethane so you get an excellent result.

You can use it for spot fixes, panel repair, or coating your entire exterior. It isn’t as temperamental as some other clear coats for cars, so it can be used in air-dry and force-dry settings. You’ll get a great sheen and a fantastic finish. The application process for this clear coat does take time and multiple coats, with some downtime in between coats. It can take up to eight hours to dry to the touch. Make sure you aren’t sanding or buffing until you’ve waited 24 to 48 hours after application.

Specs
  • Includes clear coat and universal hardener
  • Made with high solids and urethane
  • High-gloss finish
  • Works in air-dry and force-dry environments
PROS

Can be applied on base coats and single-stage enamels

High-gloss finish looks clear and wet once complete

Includes everything you need, including hardener

CONS

Application process does require multiple coats and a bit of waiting time

Can take up to 48 hours to cure

Best Comprehensive Protection

If you’re hoping to find a new clear coat for cars that offers all-around protection and impressive durability, then check out the KBS Coatings Diamond-Finish Clear Coat. This tough product isn’t just highly durable, it’s also flexible and can resist corrosion and some of the harshest chemicals. This moisture-cured urethane made with advanced coatings technology offers permanent high solids of more than 60 percent. It can be applied to existing coatings, exterior paint, and plain metal with little to no prep.

This coating finishes tough and hard with a water-clear high gloss that survives in even the harshest environments without yellowing, cracking, or peeling. And it doesn’t require any heat or UV lights to cure. The drawback to this clear coat is that it’s so tough that once you open the can, it’s nearly impossible to open again. It dries out quickly and hardens to a point where it becomes difficult to reuse. Store it with some plastic wrap so it doesn’t glue itself shut.

Specs
  • Can be applied over other coatings, on existing paint, or on bare metal
  • Moisture-cured urethane solution
  • Corrosion and chemical resistant
  • Applies with a brush, roller, or spray gun
  • Cures without heat or UV lights
PROS

Offers great durability, flexibility, and protection against potential damage

Can withstand harsh chemicals

Won’t yellow even in temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit

CONS

Product dries out and hardens quickly

If not carefully sealed, you can’t reopen the can

Best Easy Application

With U-Pol Clear Urethane Clear Coat, you’ll get an easy-to-apply layer of protection for your vehicle that restores its glossy finish, enhances exterior durability, and protects against potential damage. This clear coat, made of urethane with nanoparticulate technology and accompanied by a standard hardener for mixing, can be used in small or large applications. It offers enough for spot, panel, or whole-body repairs, and it’ll leave behind a smooth high-gloss finish that’s sure to impress.

UV resistant with a high-build finish, your vehicle will be well protected from damage thanks to the product’s excellent scratch and abrasion resistance. It goes on clear and will lay flat with little prep. It’s so easy to apply that you can even get a fantastic finish in less-than-perfect weather. The deep, clear finish and ease of application make this clear coat a standout for cars. However, it is thick, which can surprise first-time users who are used to thinner products.

Specs
  • Made with urethane and nanoparticulate technology
  • Includes standard hardener
  • Can be used for spot, panel, or whole-vehicle fixes
  • Scratch- and abrasion-resistant
  • Lays flat with little prep
PROS

Easy to apply and achieve a flawless finish

Can be used in small or large amounts to restore gloss

Highly protective

CONS

Thicker than many clear coats, which can surprise first-time users

How We Selected the Best Clear Coats for Cars 

Clear coats can differ quite a lot from one another, so as we searched for the best clear coats for cars, we took an in-depth look at the ingredients, application process, and final results of many products. To choose the best of the bunch, we sought out products that were easy to apply on your own and weren’t highly temperamental. We chose clear coats that offered a brilliant glossy finish; could be applied to existing finishes, paints, and metals; and offered a high level of protection on multiple fronts. Those that offer all-around protection against potential damage were our winners.

Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.

Buying Guide/What to Look for 

We’ve got tips, shopping suggestions, and all of the advice you might need as you start your search for just the right clear coat. 

Types

Top-coat clear coat

A top-coat clear coat is the most basic kind of clear coat you can choose. It’s simply a product that’s applied over your car’s paint, and it offers a glossy finish. These clear coats are designed to be the final layer of protection applied to your vehicle, and they tend to dry quickly. A top coat is also nice and easy to polish.

Glamour clear coat

If you’re hoping to protect your car against moisture, a glamour clear coat is probably your best option. This kind of clear coat is the most resistant to moisture, but it does take longer to dry. A glamour clear coat also allows you to perform more leveling for a customized finish that’s just to your liking.

Turbo clear coat

A turbo clear coat is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a clear coat that’s speedy and gets your car protected immediately. These products dry fast, and they’re a great choice if you’re trying to fix or hide existing scratches, dents, or other damage. They do require a bit more polishing and effort to maintain a glossy look, but they can be buffed and polished in no time.

Higher-solids clear coat

If you’ve noticed that a number of clear coats advertise higher solids, you’re actually looking at a specific type of product. Higher-solids clear coats are thicker, and their mixture contains more solids in the formula. When one of these clear coats is applied, it takes longer to dry and goes on thick. They also tend to be more expensive.

Key Features

Gloss finish

Just about every clear coat for cars promises a high-gloss finish, but not all glossy finishes are equal. To determine just how glossy a particular product’s finish will be once applied, dried, and polished, you’ll want to look for a gloss-level number. This is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher glosses having the highest numbers. If you’re looking for extra-glossy clear coats, you’ll want to opt for products rated close to 100. A rating of 90 or higher is a great level of gloss for most two-stage paint jobs that need a bit of fresh luster. 

Drying and curing time

Clear coats can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to dry and cure completely. While some are rapid drying and others take their sweet time, it’s entirely up to you which is the best fit for your needs. If you’re hoping to get your car back on the road quickly, opt for a fast-drying clear coat that can dry to the touch in just hours. If you don’t mind taking your time and waiting a few days to polish, you’ll be perfectly fine with a clear coat that dries and cures in 24 to 48 hours.

Application method

Clear coats offer plenty of application methods. Some are aerosol sprays with nozzles that spray narrowly or widely, while others are made to be brushed on with a paintbrush or roller. Spray cans allow you to point, press, and apply. For even easier application, you can find spray cans that have triggers for a comfortable grip and a spray that can work from 360 degrees of positioning. 

Clear Coat for Cars Tips and Tricks

To help you bridge the information gap when it comes to clear coats, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Clear coats need to be applied in specific weather and ambient temperatures, so make sure to carefully read the instructions before deciding to apply yours on a hot (or very cold) day.
  • If you’re hoping to dry and cure your new clear coat faster, try a UV light. Many clear coats will harden faster so you can get back on the road in 24 hours or less.
  • Multiple coats are pretty standard when you’re applying clear coat, but you’ll want to give your car some time in between each coat. Application can go quickly, but make sure it’s dry to the touch before you go in for a second or third round.

FAQs

Q: What causes clear-coat peeling?

Several factors can cause your clear coat to peel. These include poorly applied factory paint, chips, and damage caused by flying debris and stones as you drive, prolonged exposure to UV rays, and acidic compounds in rain, tree sap, bird droppings, and bug splatter. Waxing your car regularly will help protect the clear coat from being damaged by some of these issues.

Q: What’s the best way to prep a car for clear coat?

Preparing your car to apply a clear coat is relatively simple and straightforward, as long as there isn’t too much damage to the paint underneath. Washing and thoroughly drying your vehicle is the first step. Move the car into a garage where it will be protected from rain, dust, and direct sunlight during the application process. You may need to wet sand any areas of old or damaged clear coat on your two-stage-painted car in order to create a surface that the new clear coat can adhere to securely. Read and follow all manufacturer’s directions before applying any clear coat.

Q: Is it possible to apply a new layer of clear coat, or do I have to repaint my entire car?

This depends on the condition of the existing clear-coat layer. If it is in good condition, then it is possible to just apply another coat. However, if the existing clear coat is flaking and delaminating, it is best to remove all paint layers, including the base coat. In a two-stage paint process, you need to apply the clear coat before the base coat is completely dry. If more than 24 hours have passed since the base coat was applied, you may not get a very good result.

Q: Can I wax clear-coat paint?

Waxing your clear coat is actually encouraged, as the wax will provide another useful layer of protection for your car’s paint and clear coat. Take care when applying wax not to overdo it or be too overzealous, as too much rubbing or a cloth that’s not soft enough can remove some of your clear coat.

Q: Will car washes damage clear coat paint?

Car washes will not damage a clear coat, but dust and dirt will. Therefore, if a car wash picks up debris and rubs it against your car’s paintwork, you could have a problem. Modern car washes have sophisticated systems that stop dirt and grit from getting caught up in the brushes and rubbed against the car. The same cannot be said of manual car washes, and some take more care than others. The manual drying process at the end of the wash can be especially hazardous. If the car wash personnel do not use clean soft towels for every vehicle, they are best avoided.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the best clear coat for cars, we like the USC Spray Max 2k High-Gloss Clear Coat. It has a learning curve, but you’ll love the finish and glossy look this product delivers in addition to all-around protection. For a combination of great results and affordable price, you can also opt for the Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat

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