Best Automotive Clear Coats: Touch Up Your Vehicle
Restore your vehicle’s sleek look and protect the paintwork with automotive clear coats.
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON June 10, 2021
You have just got a new car, and while you like how it feels on the road, you aren’t too happy with how the paint job doesn’t stand out. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your vehicle’s factory-applied clear coating is starting to show signs of degradation such as yellowing, peeling, or cracking. Whatever the reason that has you looking for clear coat finishes, the important thing to keep in mind in your search for one is that you need a high-quality coat that not only adds gloss to your paintwork but is also less susceptible to wear and tear.
Automotive clear coats are pretty similar to pigmented paints. Much like the latter, most have resins, fillers, solvents, binders, additives, and so on. So the addition of a clear coat to your bass coat provides more protection to your car’s paint. Let’s dive deeper into the intricacies of automotive clear coats, and at the same time, help you find the best one for your vehicle.
This is an acrylic clear coat formulation that’s designed to seal and protect your vehicle's paintwork. It cures into a glossy finish.
- Can be buffed into a glossy finish
- Additional coats can be applied at any time
- Can be loaded into a spray gun
- Protects against rust
- Somewhat unpleasant odor
- Tends to run when applied on vertical surfaces
This is a spray paint formulation that provides smooth and even coats on vehicles, motorcycles, and automotive accessories.
- Maximum coverage for a reasonable price
- Goes on smoothly and forms an even finish
- Quick-drying formula
- Comes with an adjustable spray nozzle
- May need several coats for a glossier finish
- Nozzle may clog or let out an uneven spray at times
Designed to last through the toughest environment, such as high-temperature automotive applications, this is a high-gloss, moisture-cured urethane coat.
- Remains permanently flexible to resist cracking or peeling
- Resists yellowing
- Can withstand high temperatures of up to 300 degrees
- Graffiti doesn’t stick on the coat
- Leans on the expensive side
- Getting the lid open may be a hassle
- Leftover paint might harden in the can
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Automotive Clear Coats
- Better appearance. A clear coat finish gives a car a glossy appearance and deepens the pigment of a vehicle's base coat. It’s a smart way to make your paintwork look new and shiny. It even looks better when applied on a newly washed car.
- Protection. Your vehicle's bodywork is prone to damage by dirt, stones, and other debris flung at your vehicle when you are on the road. Most car clear coats resist peeling and add an extra layer of protection against UV rays and corrosion on the paintwork.
- Hide minor scratches. It’s almost impossible to avoid minor scratches on your paintwork. You shouldn’t have to worry about that as most clear coats are known to buff out minor scratches and dents on a vehicle. They also hide minor spots caused by acid rain, bird droppings, and hard water spots.
- Increase its value. If you are thinking of selling your car, it’s a good idea to spice it up with a clear coat so you can get more from its look. Most people buy with their eyes, and it's a cheap way to give an old car a new look.
Types of Automotive Clear Coats
Topcoat Clear Coat
Topcoat clear coats are typically applied as a final coat over a colored base paint on your vehicle. These coats are easy to polish, have great depth, and provide a glossy appearance. Topcoats also dry quickly.
Glamour Clear Coat
Glamour clear coats take longer to dry and, therefore, allow you to do more leveling on the vehicle’s body. You can heat up the coat to speed up the drying process. Glamour coats are also more resistant to moisture.
Turbo Clear Coat
Turbo clear coats are ideal for collision repairs. They help cover up dents, chips, and scratches and require more polishing to get a glossy finish. They dry fast, and buffing can be done to the coat shortly after.
Higher Solid Clear Coat
Higher solid coats provide a thicker film over the paintwork. For that reason, they take longer to dry as the solvent takes time to fully evaporate. Higher solid coats are also the most expensive.
Rust-Oleum is an Illinois-based protective paints and coatings manufacturing company started by Robert Fergusson in 1921. Rust-Oleum products help prevent rust and corrosion from forming in the first place, and that’s why they are a favorite for most automotive enthusiasts. Besides being a clear coat, the Acrylic Clear Coatis a great rust protector.
Duplicolor has been around since 1938, and over the years, has gained recognition for making some of the best protective paints for automotive applications. This brand is under Sherwin-Williams, whose history in making paints dates back to 1866. Check out the Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat if you are looking for an affordable spray-on clear coat.
US Chemicals (USC) was founded in 1960 and is currently under Maroon Group, LLC. It’s an industry-leading company in chemical manufacturing and distribution. The company specializes in making high-gloss clear coats, clear coat activators, undercoating agents, durable primers, paint thinners, and sealers. One of its best aerosol clear coats is the USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol.
Speedokote is an Ohio-based company that specializes in the research and development of refinishing products. Some of the few items in its repertoire are masking tapes, clear coats, activators, automotive paints, accelerators, hot rod paints, and other auto-detailing products. The Speedokote SMR-130/75-K-M-Automotive Clear Coat and the Speedokote Clear Coat 2K Acrylic Urethane are some of the best clear coats from Speedokote.
Best Automotive Clear Coat Pricing
- Under $50: At this price point, you will find coats of varying quality that mostly come in 12- to 15-ounce spray cans. They aren’t intended for full bodywork, but to seal up dents, scratches, and other minor flaws on the basecoat.
- $50 to $100: Expect to find 4- to 6-pack aerosol cans and 1-gallon cans at this price point. What you go for depends on if you need a full paint job or just a minor repair. Many will give your car a nice glossy shine, but the drying time will vary depending on the brand and type of coat.
- $100 and up: At this price range, you will find some of the best clear coat finish products that offer the best clear coat protection for cars. Most are sold in 1-gallon cans or pints, and the coats are UV-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and environmentally-friendly.
Almost all clear coats result in a glossy finish, but the level is measured in units of 0 to 100; 0 being the lowest gloss level, and 100 being the highest. You are better off with a clear coat with a gloss level of 90 units; it will give your car a shiny new look.
Clear coats have varied drying times depending on the type. Go for fast-drying types like turbo and topcoat clear coats if you would like to buff the coat an hour after applying it. If you don’t mind waiting a few days for a tough coat to settle in, you could go for glamour or high solid coats.
Ease of Application
It’s expensive to pay for a professional paint job, so the application process should be simple for an average user. The easiest coats to apply come in spray cans. If you want to do a full-body paint, you could go for a 1-gallon paint can and purchase a spray gun for the application.
- Transparency. Clear coats are non-pigmented paints, but some change the color of the base paint by darkening it. Select a clear coat that creates a transparent, glass-like layer on the base coat if you don’t want your vehicle’s original color altered.
- Scratch Resistance. Scratches are hard to avoid, and your top coat should at least offer scratch-resistant properties for such moments. You should also be on the lookout for a clear coat that offers abrasion or chip resistance.
- UV Protection. Some clear coats are formulated with UV-resistant compounds to prevent UV rays from discoloring your car. It may not be maximum UV protection, but just enough to preserve your car’s original color for a longer period.
Best Automotive Clear Coat Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Always spray the coat on a clean surface. You will get unfavorable results when the wet coat is contaminated with dust and debris. Vacuum the workspace a day before applying the coat, and wet the floor with a garden hose to reduce airborne debris.
- Wear lint-free clothes when spraying the paint and latex gloves to avoid contaminating the wet coat. Also, don’t forget to degrease the surface to remove oil contaminants. Cover any areas you don’t want to coat with masking tape.
- If you wash your vehicle with a pressure washer, you should stand at least 12 inches away from it, so you don’t direct too much pressure on the paintwork and force the clear coat to peel away.
- Besides wearing work overalls, consider wearing a gas mask, especially if you are working with a spray-on formulation.
Q: How long should you wait between clear coats?
On average, it can take about 15 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on the type of formulation used. Spray on formulas are usually quicker to dry. Most clear coats will come with instructions on the label on how long you should wait between coats.
Q: How many clear coats can you put on a car?
It’s recommended that you apply multiple coats for a glossier finish. A single coat may look a bit frosty, and it may start to flake or crack after only a few months. So consider adding up to four coats for the best results.
Q: Should you sand between coats?
No, it’s not necessary. Sanding between layers may make the coat a bit thinner than it needs to be, and you run the risk of sanding it down to the base coat. Also, sanding between coats will only extend the time you need to get the job done. You should only sand the final coat and do it so gently that you don’t have to redo the coat. However, you can sand out any dirt or debris before applying another layer to achieve a cleaner coat.
Q: What causes clear coat flaking?
If you haven’t pinned it down to a manufacturing defect or a product from a low-quality brand, then you may have taken too long between applying the base coat and top coat. In that case, your base coat may be too dry and may not stick correctly to the top coat. Also, tiny stones, pebbles, and debris flung at your vehicle when driving could cause the top coat to start peeling.
Q: Can I wax the clear coat paint?
Most waxes can be used on cars with clear coats, but it's prudent to check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the two. The chief reason being that some clear coats form a thin layer, and it’s easy to rub them off if you rub in the wax too hard, or use a tough fabric to apply the wax.
Q: Can you apply a clear coat to headlights?
Yes, you can. But before you do, ensure that you dust the headlights, scuff the plastic, and polish out any scratches. You should also remember to use urethane-based clear coats as they are more adhesive to plastic.
The Rust-Oleum Acrylic Clear Coat earns our top spot because it not only makes your paintwork look wetter and more glamorous, but it also protects from rust. If you want to spend less money, you can opt for the Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat for a quick fix of your clear coat right in your home garage.