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Best Automotive Clear Coat: Give Your Car a Showroom Shine

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

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BYHeather Fishel/ LAST UPDATED ON June 6, 2022

When your car first hits the dealership lot, it looks its best. That’s partly thanks to its sleek, glossy clear coat. Added atop every color of body paint, automotive clear coat is a must-have to protect your car’s vibrant color, its shine, and its overall appearance. But clear coat offers more than shine. It can also protect against UV rays, corrosion, and fading color over time. However, as your car spends time outdoors and out on the road, that original clear coat can disappear, especially as you repair scratches, dents, and other flaws that come with wear and tear. Every time you gently buff out a scratch or give your exterior a polish, you’re taking some of the clear coat away. That’s why it’s a smart idea to stock your garage with a quality clear coat that you can apply as often as needed, enhancing the protection and the appearance of your car no matter its age.

Best Overall

Rust-Oleum Acrylic Clear Coat

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
  • 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
  • Somewhat unpleasant odor
  • Tends to run when applied on vertical surfaces
Best Value

Duplicolor Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat

Summary
This is a spray paint formulation that provides smooth and even coats on vehicles, motorcycles, and automotive accessories.
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
  • May need several coats for a glossier finish 
  • Nozzle may clog or let out an uneven spray at times
Honorable Mention

KBS Coatings Diamond Finish Clear Coat

Summary
Designed to last through the toughest environment, such as high-temperature automotive applications, this is a high-gloss, moisture-cured urethane coat.
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
  • Leans on the expensive side
  • Getting the lid open may be a hassle
  • Leftover paint might harden in the can
Best Automotive Clear Coat: Give Your Car a Showroom Shine

Summary List 

Most Chemical Resistant: VHT Clear Coat Wheel Paint Can

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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Our Methodology

I chose the best automotive clear coats by searching for products that were easy to apply, effective at offering lasting protection, and able to blend in for a smooth, sleek appearance. The standout products that made this list were those made by reputable brands as well as those that had highly positive user reviews, with feedback that consistently noted how well each performed in real-world settings. Appearance was a consideration to ensure that as you fix flaws, your newly applied clear coat can blend right in for a seamless look. 

Best Automotive Clear Coat Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Rust-Oleum
  • Size: 1 quart
  • Application method: Roller, paintbrush, or spray gun

Pros

  • Smooth and easy to apply
  • Can be buffed for glossy shine
  • Professional-level finish
  • Resistant to damage and corrosion

Cons

  • Tends to run on vertical surfaces
  • Can be messy to apply

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, 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.

Specs

  • Brand: Duplicolor
  • Size: 8 ounces
  • Application method: Aerosol spray

Pros

  • Strong, clear shine
  • Easy application
  • Quick drying
  • Ideal for touchups

Cons

  • Can require multiple coats
  • Can appear frosty, not glossy

This acrylic lacquer aerosol paint from Duplicolor is easy to use and dries quickly. It's compatible with all OEM paint finishes and is designed for small-scale touchup jobs and vehicle accessories. It has an EZ-touch nozzle and dries to the touch in 30 minutes. You can handle the paint in an hour. This product produces a strong, clear shine that looks professional in quality, particularly if you use the right number of coats and prep the surface properly. It sprays on easily, and the drying time between coats makes it very fast to finish a project. One drawback is that it can take several coats to get the glossy look you require. Also, the first couple of coats may look frosty instead of glossy.

Specs

  • Brand: KBS Coatings
  • Size: 1 gallon
  • Application method: Roller, paintbrush, or spray gun

Pros

  • Versatile applications
  • Tough and durable
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Requires minimal surface prep

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Achieves only a semi-gloss finish

KBS Coatings’ Diamond Finish provides a rock-hard finish suitable for performance enthusiasts. It’s a single-part formula with more than 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. Also, 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-stage 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.

Specs

  • Brand: U.S. Chemical and Plastics
  • Size: 11.8 ounces
  • Application method: Aerosol spray

Pros

  • Ideal for quick touchups
  • Suitable for all base coats
  • Lasting high-gloss finish
  • Resistant to all weather and chemicals

Cons

  • Not for full bodywork
  • Must use within 48 hours after opening
  • No UV protection

Another budget-friendly coat on our list is an acrylic clear coat that’s great for quick touchups 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. Discard any remaining contents after 48 hours as the product becomes inactive. 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.

Specs

  • Brand: Speedokote
  • Size: 1 gallon
  • Application method: Roller, paintbrush, or spray gun

Pros

  • Quick drying and fast to cure
  • Applies smoothly
  • UV resistant and prevents color fading
  • Prevents chemical penetration

Cons

  • Requires complicated mixing process
  • Expensive

Speedokote offers 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 paint 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.

Specs

  • Brand: VHT
  • Size: 11 ounces
  • Application method: Aerosol spray

Pros

  • Prevents oxidation
  • Protects against fading, chipping, and cracking
  • Heat resistant
  • Chemical resistant

Cons

  • Finish can chip with salt
  • Not super clear or glossy

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. The finish might 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.

Specs

  • Brand: Rust Bullet
  • Size: 4 ounces
  • Application method: Roller, paintbrush, or spray gun

Pros

  • UV resistant
  • Resists cracking, chipping, and peeling
  • Fixes and prevents yellowing
  • Protects against rust in rust-prone areas

Cons

  • Takes a while to dry
  • Can take a full day to apply all coats

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. It provides rust protection, so 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 intentional 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.
For minor touches on your vehicle’s clear coat painting, I recommend the Rust-Oleum Scratch and Chip Repair. Featuring a two-in-one design, this is both a touchup 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 rust from forming and it’s weather and fade resistant. This product dries quickly and can be hand or machine buffed to even it out with surrounding paintwork. You can use it on any surface, including bare metal or your headlights. If you aren’t careful with how you handle the marker, however, you may create a mess and spread the paint to unaffected areas. Also, it may be a bit exhausting to use a touchup marker to cover multiple scratches on your vehicle.

Specs

  • Brand: Rust-Oleum
  • Size: 0.5 ounces
  • Application method: Marker and brush

Pros

  • All-in-one solution for small touchups
  • Prevents and stops rust in its tracks
  • Weather and fade resistant
  • Quick drying

Cons

  • Can be messy to apply
  • Only for small touchups

Our Verdict

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 Duplicolor Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat for a quick fix of your clear coat right in your home garage.

Things to Consider Before Buying Automotive Clear Coat

No two automotive clear coat products are the same. From the kinds of protection offered to the level of gloss and shine created, each has its own pros and cons. To make sure you’re picking out a clear coat that suits both your needs and your preferences, here’s what to look for. 

Types of Automotive Clear Coats

Topcoat

Topcoat clear coats are typically applied as a final coat over 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

Glamour clear coats take longer to dry and therefore allow you to do more leveling on the vehicle’s body. You can heat the coat to speed up the drying process. Glamour coats are also more resistant to moisture.

Turbo

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

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.

Key Features

Gloss Level

Almost all clear coats result in a glossy finish, but the level is measured in units from 0 to 100, with 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 one-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 topcoat should at least offer scratch-resistant properties. 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.

Automotive Clear Coat Pricing

For less than $50, you can find clear coats of varying quality, typically sold in 12- to 15-ounce spray cans. These are ideal for sealing small dents, scratches, and other minor flaws. For $50 to $100, you’ll find aerosol cans in packs, along with one-gallon cans of clear coat that can cover both repairs and a full fresh coat. If you spend $100 or more, you’ll be able to choose from some of the most premium clear coat products with top-tier protection and shine.  

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: How long should you wait between clear coats?

On average, it can take about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the type of formula used. Spray-on formulas are usually quicker to dry. Most clear coats will come with instructions on the label on how long to 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 topcoat. In that case, your base coat may be too dry and may not stick correctly to the topcoat. Also, tiny stones, pebbles, and debris flung at your vehicle when driving could cause the topcoat to start peeling.

Q: Can I wax the clear coat?

Most waxes can be used on cars with clear coats, but it's prudent to check the manufacturer’s instructions. The chief reason is 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. Use urethane-based clear coats as they are more adhesive to plastic.

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