Repairing and replacing clear coat

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Example of a full body reapplication of automotive clear coat to a red Camaro.

Full body clear coat application is possible at home, if you know how. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Jerome Williams/Indy Bodywerks)

Sometimes, scratches and exposure to the elements can cause damage to your vehicle’s clear coat covering, which helps protect the paint and gives it added shine. Repairing minor clear coat scratches is not difficult, and even if clear coat reapplication is required, you can easily manage it yourself if the damage is light. Here are some tips for cheap clear coat repair.

Repairing light clear coat scratches

If your fingernail doesn’t catch in the scratch, the clear coat can be repaired without spraying on more. All you’ll need is a soft cotton cloth that isn’t entirely smooth, a bottle of 3M Imperial Hand Glaze and sandpaper. A dual-action power buffer is very helpful, but not required.

First, apply the glaze to a cloth and rub back and forth with pressure on the scratch for 15 seconds, then see if the scratch is still there. Repeat the process until it is no longer visible.

Wet sandpaper — very wet

If the scratch is deeper, wet sandpaper alone or with the buffer come into play. Soak sandpaper for at least 10 minutes in clean water. The wetter the sandpaper, the better. Sandpaper that is too dry will damage the surface of your car. As a safety precaution, re-wet the paper as you go while sanding. Always be sure to use the sanding surface along the folded edge, if you aren’t using a buffer sanding screen.

Using moderate pressure, it can take as many as 30 strokes of wet sandpaper to eliminate the clear coat scratch. Stop often to see if your work is done; excess sanding will damage the finish.

When finished sanding, clean and dry the area with a clean cloth. Apply a buffing agent by hand or via power buffer to restore the shine. The previously scratched area should be smooth, shiny and dry.

Re-spraying clear coat

If the clear coat damage is greater than a small scratch, re-applying is necessary. If the area of clear coat damage is large and you aren’t an experienced auto painter, consulting a professional is advisable.

However, if the scratch cannot be removed by wet sanding, here’s what you’ll need to re-spray clear coat:

  • A covered garage
  • Wood or rubber block
  • 1,500- to 3,000-grit sandpaper
  • Adhesive
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • A few drops of mild dish soap
  • Auto wax
  • Paint gun
  • Clear coat resin paint
  • Towels

Get ready to spray

Once the car is in a garage and out of the sun, start wet sanding. Again, if you have a buffer, this part of the job is easier. Otherwise, attach the sandpaper to a rubber or wood block with adhesive, so that you have a hand tool. If using a block, the sandpaper must hang over the edges of the block, or you’ll risk scratching the car further while sanding.

This process could take several days, depending upon the area of clear coat damage. Work slowly to remove the clear coat, but not the paint. Once sanding is done, towel off the area with soap and water, then dry completely.

Wet sanding gives way to spray

Once the car is dry, re-spray clear coat with a paint gun, making sure to apply it smoothly. Never brush on clear coat, as bristles will leave marks in the coat and make the car look scratched. Once the coat is dry, wax for a shiny finish.

Clear coat: Spraying it on


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