All automotive paint will fade or even peel eventually, but with the right care, you can put this off for years, keeping your car looking like new as it racks up miles. A big part of this is mitigating the damage caused by UV light. How does it affect your paint, and what can you do to stop it?
Paint, Clearcoat and UV Light
Ultraviolet light can split molecular bonds, breaking down everything from plastics to bacteria and even your skin. Old cars were painted from the factory with primer followed by several layers of pigmented paint. This paint had little or no resistance to the effects of UV, so it eventually broke down, leaving the surface chalky. This layer could be polished off with a rubbing compound, but repeat polishing would strip off the paint layers, exposing the metal and primer.
In the late 1980s, automakers started using clearcoat finishes. This paint process uses a pigment layer to give the vehicle color, followed by a translucent layer that has UV protectants that resist damage to the sun by absorbing the radiation and converting it into light or heat. This makes this paint far more durable than coatings of the past, but it isn’t perfect. Eventually, the clearcoat will break down, cloud up and finally flake off. This damage shows up in top-facing surfaces like the roof and hood since they get the most exposure to sunlight. Preserving the paint is a matter of limiting this exposure while also making sure the clearcoat is preserved so that the protectants are still there to deal with the ultraviolet light that reaches the paint.
Stopping UV Exposure
If ultraviolet light isn’t hitting the paint, it’s not being damaged. Ideally, your vehicle should be kept in a garage or carport, but if that’s not practical, a cover will do the job just as well. Even if you do have a garage, a cover can be handy for long term outdoor exposure, such as leaving your vehicle at an airport parking lot.
Keep Your Car Waxed
While there are waxes that claim they have additives that deflect UV light, there has been no conclusive evidence that these additives are effective. After all, a coat of wax is far thinner than an effective coating of sunscreen or the clearcoat layer on your car. However, wax does reduce other paint damage, maintaining the clearcoat so that the UV protectants can do their job.
Use Cleaning Methods That Reduce Paint Wear
Wash your vehicle frequently to keep dirt from building up and scratching the surface. Going to a car wash or using a pressure washer at home to blast off dirt is far less likely to scratch the paint than hand washing. Paint cleaners and cleaning waxes are fine for frequent use, but scratch removers, clay bars and other abrasive cleaners should only be used when absolutely necessary.
Be Wary of Bird Droppings
Bird droppings are highly acidic and, if left to bake in the sun, can eat off enough clearcoat that a dent can be felt in the surface. If you’re going to a bird-heavy area like the beach, it’s not a bad idea to pack a rag and a bottle of quick detailer to remove droppings before they can cause damage.
Dealing with Paint Damage
Buffing can remove mild clouding, but it can be a double-edged sword since it also leaves the paint with less protection. For thick clouding and peeling, the only answer may be a complete repaint. How do you know which method will work? Take it to the professionals.
Merton Auto Body is a complete auto body repair shop, so we can help with everything from detailing to a complete paint job. We’ll be able to look at your paint damage and help you choose the right method to restore your paint job, and since we’re an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop and our technicians are ASE certified, you know the job will be done right.