Reviews

Best Automotive Clear Coats: Touch Up Your Vehicle

Restore your vehicle’s sleek look and protect the paintwork with automotive clear coats.

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BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON August 2, 2021

While you like how your vehicle feels on the road, you may not be too happy if the paint job doesn’t stand out. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your car or truck’s factory-applied clear coating is starting to show signs of degradation such as yellowing, peeling, or cracking. Whatever the reason why you are looking for clear coat finishes, the important thing to keep in mind 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 similar to pigmented paints. Much like the latter, most have resins, fillers, solvents, binders, additives, etc. The addition of a clear coat to a base coat provides protection on your car’s paint. We look into the intricacies of automotive clear coats and list the best ones for your vehicle.

Best Overall
Rust-Oleum Acrylic Clear Coat
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Summary
Summary

This is an acrylic clear coat formulation that’s designed to seal and protect your vehicle's paintwork. It cures into a glossy finish.

Pros
Pros
  • 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 
Cons
Cons
  • Somewhat unpleasant odor
  • Tends to run when applied on vertical surfaces
Best Overall
Rust-Oleum Acrylic Clear Coat
Best Value
Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat
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Summary
Summary

This is a spray paint formulation that provides smooth and even coats on vehicles, motorcycles, and automotive accessories.

Pros
Pros
  • Maximum coverage for a reasonable price
  • Goes on smoothly and forms an even finish
  • Quick-drying formula 
  • Comes with an adjustable spray nozzle
Cons
Cons
  • May need several coats for a glossier finish 
  • Nozzle may clog or let out an uneven spray at times
Best Value
Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat
Honorable Mention
KBS Coatings 8504 Diamond Finish Clear Coat
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Summary
Summary

Designed to last through the toughest environment, such as high-temperature automotive applications, this is a high-gloss, moisture-cured urethane coat.

Pros
Pros
  • 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
Cons
Cons
  • Leans on the expensive side
  • Getting the lid open may be a hassle
  • Leftover paint might harden in the can
Honorable Mention
KBS Coatings 8504 Diamond Finish Clear Coat

Why Trust Us


Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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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.

Top Brands

Rust-Oleum

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 

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

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

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.

Key Features

Gloss Level

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. 

Drying Time

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.

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
Rust-Oleum Automotive Autobody Paint

Overlay your vehicle’s paint job with the Rust-Oleum Acrylic Clear Coat. It’s a ready-to-use formulation that can be used on almost any car, and one quart is enough to cover up to 50 square feet. Since it has an acrylic base, it cures into a tough coat that resists damage from road debris and environmental factors. It also protects against corrosion. 


The product flows smoothly, so it’s easy to apply with a roller or paintbrush. Alternatively, you can load it into a spray gun for easy application. It takes about 30 minutes to dry up, and you can apply another coat after that period. It provides a professional finish that can be buffed for a glossier shine. 


While it may be easy to apply, it tends to run when used on vertical surfaces, resulting in a messy application. If you don’t have a spray gun, consider covering the floor before applying it.

Best Value
Dupli-Color Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat

Our budget-friendly option is an acrylic clear coat that’s great for quick touch-ups or small repair jobs. The product comes as a two-component aerosol clear coat that can be applied on almost all base coats. Each clear coat comes in an aerosol can and doesn’t need to be mixed with an activator before application. The coat provides a durable and high-gloss finish.


The spray nozzle is uniquely designed to promote smooth flow and performs just like a spray gun. It’s also easy to use: Activate the two acrylic components by shaking the can and spraying on the base coat. In addition, USC Clear Coat is resistant to abrasions and scratches and provides top-notch all-weather and chemical resistance.


We wouldn’t recommend the product for full body work, and you should use an entire can within 48 hours after opening it. Discard any remaining contents after 48 hours as the product becomes inactive. Moreover, the coat doesn’t offer UV protection, and the coat starts to show minor flakes if not applied correctly. Ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying it.

Premium Pick
KBS Coatings Diamond Finish Clear Coat

KBS Coatings’ Diamond Finish provides a rock-hard finish suitable for performance enthusiasts. It’s a single-part formula with over 60 percent permanent high solids and forms a tougher coat than a two-part clear coat. At the same time, the coat maintains a low-VOC formulation that’s safe for the environment. In addition, the product forms a flexible coat that doesn’t crack, chip, flake, or peel.


The clear coat can be applied on bare non-ferrous metal, a base coat, standard solid color paints, and single or two-part paints, with no extra additives. It’s easy to apply even with minimal surface preparation and is formulated to provide top-notch protection against oxidation, yellowing, and even the harshest weather elements. It’s also heat-resistant and suitable for use on cylinder heads and engine blocks.


The product, however, has its cons. It is an expensive automotive clear coat and provides only a semi-gloss finish. You also have to purchase an extra spray gun or roller-brush for easy application. Nevertheless, the coat is suitable for the race track and other domestic, industrial, and marine applications.

Best for Small Jobs
USC SprayMax 2K Glamour

Another budget-friendly option on our list is an acrylic clear coat that’s great for quick touch-ups or small repair jobs. The product comes as a two-component aerosol clear coat that can be applied on almost all base coats. Each clear coat comes in an aerosol can and doesn’t need to be mixed with an activator before application. The coat provides a durable and high-gloss finish.


The spray nozzle is uniquely designed to promote smooth flow and performs just like a spray gun. It’s also easy to use: Activate the two acrylic components by shaking the can and spraying on the base coat. Also, USC Clear-Coat is resistant to abrasions and scratches and provides top-notch all-weather and chemical resistance.


We wouldn’t recommend the product for full bodywork, and you should use an entire can within 48 hours after opening it. Discard any remaining contents after 48 hours as the product becomes inactive. Moreover, the coat doesn’t offer UV protection, and the coat starts to show minor flakes if not applied correctly. Ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying it.

Honorable Mention
Speedokote Automotive Clear Coat

Speedokote is a fast dry and cure clear coat with an acrylic-urethane composition. The clear coat also comes with an activator; you get 128 ounces of clear coat and 32 ounces of an activator in one kit. The activator and clear coat should be mixed in a 4:1 ratio. When properly sprayed on, it leaves a high-gloss, fast-drying finish that can be buffed four to six hours after.


The product remains inert at room temperature and is capable of keeping most chemicals from penetrating the base coat. The coat applies smoothly, and it’s easy to sand and buff the coat once it has fully cured. The coat is also resistant to UV rays, and your car will experience less discoloration with time. 


The main drawback of this clear coat is that mixing the clear coat and activator is a complicated process for the average DIY user. You may end up mixing larger quantities that will go to waste. Also, it’s more expensive than other acrylic coats, and you have to purchase a spray gun for application. Despite that, the product has a long shelf life and is ideal for a full-body coating job.

Honorable Mention
VHT Clear Coat Wheel Paint Can

This polyurethane wheel paint is for use on steel and aluminum wheels. It is heat- and chemical-resistant and produces a nice finish. When cured properly, the clear coat can withstand 900-degree temperatures. It's just one piece of a coating system that also includes primer and paint.


This clear coat keeps wheels from oxidizing and prevents them from fading, chipping, and cracking. The paint dries to the touch in 30 minutes and completely dries overnight. As long as you properly prep the wheels, this product enhances the way they look. In addition to car wheels, it's great for ATV rims.


However, the finish may chip if you drive your vehicle on salty roads in the winter. The product is also slightly more expensive than some competitor brands. Also, it may not be as clear and glossy as you expect.

Honorable Mention
Rust Bullet Clear Protective Coating

If your clear coat is yellowing or peeling from sun damage, we recommend rectifying it with the Rust Bullet Clear Protective Coating. It's a UV-resistant coat that resists cracking, chipping, peeling, or yellowing. Plus, it provides rust protection, so besides your vehicle's paintwork, you can use it on other rust-prone surfaces, such as the undercarriage. 


This product is a bit thinner than standard paint formulations, and this is done intentionally for easy application. It can be easily loaded into an automotive paint gun, or you can apply it with a roller or brush. What's more, it's an eco-friendly formula that contains no zinc, chromates, acids, heavy metals, or harmful compounds. 


The main drawback of this clear coat is that it may take longer to dry. You may have to wait for up to four hours before you can apply the final coat and up to six hours until it dries completely.

Honorable Mention
Rust-Oleum Scratch & Chip Repair

For minor touches on your vehicle’s clear coat painting, we recommend the Rust-Oleum Scratch & Chip Repair. Featuring a two-in-one design, this is both a touch up-marker and brush so you can fill and even out minor chips or scratches on the clear coat. This marker is fitted with a non-clogging tip, so the formula goes on easily, and it cures into a glossy finish. 


As expected of most Rust-Oleum products, it goes further to stop and prevent further rust from forming—plus, it’s weather and fade-resistant. Besides that, this product dries quickly and can be hand or machine buffed to even it out with the surrounding paintwork. You can use it on any surface, including bare metal or your headlights.  


However, if you aren’t careful with how you handle the marker, you may create a mess and spread the paint to unaffected areas. Also, it may be a bit exhausting to use a touch-up marker to cover multiple scratches on your vehicle. 

Tips

  • 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. 

FAQs

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.

Final Thoughts

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.