Written By Car Bibles Staff
Published May. 26, 2021

If you own a vehicle that’s newer than the mid 1980s, it most likely has a clear coat over its base paint color. The clear coat, as the name implies, is a transparent and glossy coating that forms a protective, UV-resistant layer over your car’s paint job. Clear coat also helps protect against unsightly scratches and scuffs that would otherwise ruin your paint. Surface scratches and swirls can often be easily and inexpensively buffed out without having to touch up or redo your car’s entire paint job.

If your car is looking faded, oxidized, scratched, or just rough, consider restoring its shine and luster with a new clear coat. There are plenty of options on the market, ranging from super affordable to pretty pricey, but price isn’t always the best way to gauge the quality of a product like a clear coat. To help you sift through the various fodder and pick a high-quality and durable clear coat that falls within your budget, Car Bibles has come up with a helpful buying guide and an in-depth product review of our top picks.

 The Best Clear Coat for Cars

This acrylic clear coat comes in an aerosol can, and you can buy one can or a pack with up to six cans. All you have to do is activate the two acrylic components, shake the can, and spray it on the surface. The nozzle is uniquely designed so that it flows smoothly and delivers a finish similar to that of a spray gun.

This clear coat dries quickly to provide a finish that is glossy and durable. The clear coat is weather-resistant and chemical-resistant and can be used over all base coats on any type of vehicle.

Key Features
  • features
  • Acrylic clear coat
  • Flows smoothly and dries quickly
  • Weather-resistant and chemical-resistant
Specification
  • Brand Spray max
  • Model 3680061-2PK
  • Weight 2.1 pounds

The Dupli-Color Effex Metallic Clear Coat gets a shout out for being a relatively affordable, high-performance clear coat that adds a brilliant metallic sheen to lack-luster paint jobs. Formulated with miniscule, bright metallic particles that change color in different angles of light, this clear coat is the ideal way to add some personality to your vehicle.

Being an aerosol spray coat, it takes some practice to apply the paint evenly. The can is equipped with an EZ touch fan spray nozzle to help you apply it as precisely and evenly as possible. It’s dry to the touch in 30 short minutes and even adheres nicely to thermoplastic or polyurethane bumpers. In some cases, you may find that you need to apply multiple coats, making this paint a less affordable, but very sleek looking option.

Key Features
  • Perfect for light touch-ups
  • EZ Touch fan spray nozzle helps with uniform application
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes
Specification
  • Brand Dupli-Color
  • Model EFX100
  • Weight N/A

This product is an acrylic urethane clear coat that is resistant to both UV light and chemicals, so your vehicle’s paint is less likely to fade. Thanks to the new resin formulation, the coat cures rapidly and produces a high-gloss finish.

You get a gallon of clear coat and an accelerator. The medium accelerator is suitable for ambient temperatures between 65 and 80-degrees Fahrenheit, and you can buff the surface within four to six hours.

Key Features
  • Acrylic urethane clear coat
  • Product comprises clear coat plus accelerator
  • Produces high gloss finish
Specification
  • Brand Speedokote
  • Model 4333062037
  • Weight N/A

Rust Bullet Clear Shot is a versatile, environmentally friendly, durable clear coat that provides high-quality coverage. It’s suitable for use not only on automotive paint, but also on wood and metal finishes. It promises to provide a solid, UV-resistant coating that won’t chip, crack, yellow, or peel. It dries to a hard water-clear finish and provides solid rust protection for your precious vehicles.

We like that the formula of this clear coat contains no lead, zinc, acids, heavy metals, or pesticides, making it one of the safest to apply clear coats on the market. It’s also a very forgiving paint that can be sprayed, brushed, or rolled on and won’t leave unsightly brush marks. It doesn’t dry as quickly as some other options.

Key Features
  • Suitable for use on multiple surfaces
  • Environmentally friendly components
  • Self-leveling formula goes on evenly and cleanly
Specification
  • Brand Rust Bullet
  • Model 856084000418
  • Weight N/A

You can buy this automotive clear coat in a gallon, a pint, or a quart. It is well suited for automotive use but can also be used in industrial, domestic, and marine applications. It provides a high-gloss finish and can be used directly on metal, including acid-washed metal. It can also be used to over-coat existing paintwork. You can spray it straight or dilute it by 10 percent.

This clear coat will stand up to tough environmental conditions, and it will not turn yellow, crack, or peel. You can polish it 24 hours after application.

Key Features
  • Gives a high gloss finish
  • Can be used on bare metal or paintwork
  • Does not crack or peel
Specification
  • Brand KBS Coatings
  • Model 8504
  • Weight 9.3 pounds

For a completely different take on automotive clear coat, check out the Dupli-Color Custom Wrap Clear Coat Gloss. This formula is specially designed for people who want to customize the look of their vehicles quickly and easily. It provides a professional-looking, smooth finish that features EZ Peel technology for simple and effortless removal.

Considering it’s removable, it stands up fairly well to everyday wear and tear. It’s suitable for use on all factory painted automobiles, but also on aluminum, chrome, metal, plastic, and more. You can use it to restore shine to scratched, scuffed, or oxidized surfaces, or you can use it as an added layer of protection on new paint jobs that you want to keep pristine for as long as possible. This coat comes off easily, but takes some practice to apply it evenly. Several users noted bubbling and clumping on complicated surfaces like wheels and hubcaps. Since it peels right off, mistakes are easy to remedy, but you may want to purchase plenty of extra cans in case you mess it up a few times.

Key Features
  • Peel-off clear coat
  • EZ spray aerosol nozzle
  • Works well on multiple surfaces
Specification
  • Brand Dupli-Color
  • Model CWRC901
  • Weight 1 pound

This clear coat spray paint is suitable to use on bare metal or on painted surfaces. The quality is high enough so that professionals use it, and it can be applied directly from the aerosol can so it is easy to use at home.

The clear coat provides a strong barrier between the metal/paint and the environment, so it prevents erosion. There is no need to use a primer or an undercoat, but you may want to apply a rust preventative. It adheres very well to the surface of the bodywork and will not turn yellow when exposed to UV light.

Key Features
  • Applied directly from the aerosol
  • Provides a barrier to corrosion
  • No need for a primer or undercoat
Specification
  • Brand POR-15
  • Model 45718
  • Weight 1.05 pounds

VHT Flameproof High Heat Coating is specifically designed for those parts of your vehicle that are consistently exposed to scalding temperatures. It’s a matte-finish, silicone-ceramic coating that’s perfect for exhaust systems, headers, piston domes, and manifolds. It’s also popular in the aerospace industry, so you know it’s tough.

Formulated to withstand temperatures of 1,300-2,000 degrees Farhenheit, this clear coat will renew and extend the life of some of the most taxed components of your car. This paint requires a curing time in between coats, so don’t plan on rushing through the application process. It can be difficult to apply uniformly and may take some practice to get used to it.

Key Features
  • For parts that are exposed to ultra high heat
  • Matte-finish, silicone-ceramic base
  • Features EZ Touch conical nozzle
Specification
  • Brand VHT
  • Model SP115
  • Weight 1 pound

This product is designed for use by professionals, so you will need professional equipment to apply it. It comes with both the clear coat and the activator. It produces an even, satin finish that has a reduced gloss appearance.

It can be used over base coats, but it cannot be sanded or buffed because this will damage it and the appearance will suffer. It is easy to apply and cures quickly.

Key Features
  • Provides a satin finish
  • Can be applied over base coats
  • Designed for professional use
Specification
  • Brand SHERWIN WILLIAMS
  • Model QTFC710/8OZFH612

Supplied as a ready-to-use formula, this automotive clear coat spray can be used on any type of motor vehicle. It seals and protects the surface underneath and provides long-lasting protection. It consists of an acrylic lacquer that helps to prevent corrosion.

The clear coat is easy to apply and is dry to the touch within 30 minutes. The appearance of your vehicle will be enhanced by the rich gloss sheen. With this product, you can apply as many layers as you want as quickly as you want. There’s no designated wait time in between coats, saving you lots of time over some other clear coats on the market.

Key Features
  • Ready to apply
  • Acrylic lacquer clear coat
  • Touch-dry within half an hour
  • High gloss and durable
Specification
  • Brand Rust-Oleum
  • Model RM 262178 02
  • Weight 4.8 pounds

The Best Clear Coat for Cars Buying Guide

What to Consider When Buying a Clear Coat for Cars

Clear coats are not a new development but they are changing all the time. Therefore, it can be hard to keep up with industry trends and it can be tricky to know what to look out for when you are making a purchase. If you are considering buying a clear coat product to apply to your vehicle, here’s what you should consider.

Transparency

Clear coats have got to be clear! A completely transparent coat will enhance your vehicle’s appearance without changing the shade of the base coat. Make sure that you are buying a top coat that is completely transparent.

Level of Gloss

A car clear coat will enhance the appearance of the base coat by providing a layer that the light bounces off. Some clear coats have a higher gloss than others and it is possible to get a matte clear coat. In general, it is best to purchase the highest gloss coat that you can. This will ensure that the light bounces off it and creates a luster to the paintwork.

Method of Application

If you are serious about your DIY automotive paint jobs, you may already have a spray gun and all the associated equipment. In which case, you can buy the clear coat in any kind of container and transfer it to your spray gun. On the other hand, if you are attempting this for the first time and have only a small area to cover, a clear coat supplied in an aerosol can would be the better option.

Ease of Application

You should choose a product that is as easy as possible to apply. Many clear coats come in aerosol cans that have nozzles that make it easy for a novice to spray the coat evenly on the surface and achieve a reasonable result. This will help you to avoid bumps and blotches.

Environment of Application

Clear coats can be very sensitive to ambient temperature. If you do not have a garage or other enclosed space where you can carefully control the temperature, you will need to make sure that the clear coat can be applied in all sorts of temperatures. Relative humidity can also be an issue.

Resistance to Damage and Yellowing

It is best to choose a clear paint that is tough enough to withstand some wear and tear when you are out on the road. You may see it described as “scratch-resistant.” Also, some clear coats can become yellow with time as they are degraded by UV light. By choosing a coat that has UV protection you can avoid this issue.

Price and Value

It is best to carefully read the features of the clear coat in order to determine which will provide the best value for money. This is not necessarily the most expensive product.

Durability

Clear coats can break over time and can become flaky which detracts from your car’s appearance and from its value. It is best to choose a durable product that comes with a warranty for several years.

Rear-side view of a freshly coated car.

Benefits of Applying Clear Coat to Your Car

You may be wondering why you would bother to apply a clear coat to your vehicle at all. There are, in fact, some significant benefits of doing so. Here are some of the main ones:

Appearance

A clear coat deepens the pigment of your vehicle’s base coat. It gives the paintwork the appearance of being wet and having a higher quality finish. It can remove the faded and shoddy look of oxidation, leaving behind a like-new appearance again. If you have lots of surface scratches, scuffs, or swirls, a new clear coat will easily and quickly remove those and restore your car to a fresh-from-the-factory look.

Protection from UV Light

All vehicles are exposed to UV light in sunlight. Over time, it causes damage to the pigments in the paint which fade and lose their vibrant appearance. The clear coat is harder and more resistant to oxidation. Therefore, cars that have a clear coat applied can look like a new car even though they are several years old.

Protection from Contaminants

There are plenty of pollutants and contaminants in the air and environment that can damage automotive paintwork. The air contains atmospheric pollutants including particulates and acids that can corrode the bodywork of your vehicle. Rain can also be acidic and bird droppings can cause localized areas of damage. A clear coat provides an added layer between the base coat and the environment and protects the appearance of your vehicle.

Minor Repairs

If your paintwork does develop some minor areas of damage caused by road debris or acid rain, it is easy to deal with these if you have a clear coat. All you have to do is buff them out and the paint layer underneath is not affected.

Protection from Scratches

Debris from the road, including tiny stones, can get flung against the bodywork of your vehicle. The damage that they cause may be too small for you to see initially but they can soon develop into localized areas of corrosion. These are unsightly and significantly reduce the resale value of the vehicle. A clear coat layer gives protection from chips and scratches and helps your vehicle to retain its value.

Kinder to the Environment

These days, motor manufacturers often use a water-based color coat because they use fewer solvents and are therefore less damaging to the environment. However, they are not strong enough to withstand the weather and atmospheric conditions on the road. A clear coat is needed to protect it.

Types of Automotive Clear Coats

Clear coats have changed considerably in recent years and it can be hard to keep up. They can have a big impact on the way your car looks so it is worth the effort of finding out more about them. If you decide to add or repair a clear coat yourself, you have plenty of products to choose from. Here are the broad categories of clear coat that you have at your disposal.

  • Top coat clear coat. This is the basic category of clear coat that is applied over the colored base coat. It provides a glossy appearance and is easy to polish.
  • Glamour clear coat. This is a type of clear coat that dries slowly and therefore allows you to carry out more leveling. It is also more resistant to the presence of moisture.
  • Turbo clear coat. This is a rapidly drying type of clear coat that is commonly used by collision repair workshops. It needs a little more polishing to keep it looking glossy.
  • Higher solids clear coat. This may be suitable if you want a thicker film. However, it will take longer for it to dry as the solvent fully evaporates and it is the most expensive.
  • Euro clear coat. Some consider this to be a superior type of product but others are not so sure. You need to apply heat to speed up the drying process.
Clear coat can give your car a brand new shine.

The Best Clear Coat for Cars FAQ:

Q: What is clear coat paint?

As its name implies, a clear coat is a colorless paint that has no pigments. It’s a layer of clear resin that’s used to cover and protect the vehicle’s paint job. It can range in thickness between 30-80 microns, depending on the formula that the manufacturer uses. It makes the paint look shinier and glossier, but also deepens and enhances the pigment of the underlying paint.

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 paint or clear coat 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 the whole paint layer including the base coat. 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 actually 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.

Don’t forget to polish, too.

Our Top Pick

Now that you’re an expert in selecting a top-performing clear coat for your car, it’s easy to see why we chose the USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol as our top pick. It’s formulated with dual acrylic components that when combined, spray easily and thoroughly onto your vehicle’s surface. It dries super quickly and leaves behind a durable, high-gloss finish that makes your car really pop. For a more budget-conscious option, consider the Dupli-Color Effex Metallic Clear Coat. It adds a fun and eye-catching metallic sheen that changes color in certain lights. 

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