Best Automotive Clear Coats: Touch Up Your Vehicle
Give your car a show-worthy shine with our top picks for the best automotive clear coat
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON June 18, 2019
Would you like to give your car a brand new look? Then you should add a non-pigmented body varnish over the base coat to bring out your ride’s depth and clarity in color. The clear coat will also protect the underlying paint job from minor scratches and stains. You can use a clear coat for a minor touch-up on one part of your vehicle, or a full paint-job makeover. Our review dives into some of the best automotive clear coats available.
- Best OverallSpeedokote SMR-130/75-K-M-Automotive Clear CoatSummarySummaryAn acrylic-urethane clear coat with strong adhesion and a smooth flow rate. It puts a high-quality shine on any car.ProsProsEasy to apply. Fast-drying. High-gloss finish. UV- and chemical-resistant. The kit contains large quantities of the coat.ConsConsExpensive. External spray gun sold separately.
- Best ValueUSC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat AerosolSummarySummaryAn acrylic clear coat aerosol spray that flows smoothly and has a quick-dry formula. It also forms a chemical- and weather-resistant coat.ProsProsComes as a two-pack for the cheap price of one. Durable gloss finish. Forms a protective layer against chemicals and gasoline. Easy to apply.ConsConsNo UV protection. The product becomes inactive 48 hours after being opened.
- Honorable MentionKBS Coatings 8504 Diamond Finish Clear CoatSummarySummaryA tough clear coat with a diamond clear finish. It’s heat-resistant and safe for the environment.ProsProsDoesn’t crack or peel. Can be painted on bare metal. Can be polished 24 hours after application. Graffiti-resistant. Corrosion- and chemical-resistant.ConsConsExpensive. Requires a brush roller or spray gun for application.
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product 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.
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 body work, 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.
- Above $100: 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 2019
Best Overall: Speedokote SMR-130/75 K-M-Automotive Clear Coat
Our top product is a fast dry and cures 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.
Best Value: USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol
Our budget-friendly coat 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.
Honorable Mention: KBS Coatings 8504 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.
- 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.
- Always wear a respirator whenever you plan on spraying the clear coat. It doesn’t matter if you are spraying a small area or doing a full paint job. Clear coats can be harmful to your health when inhaled in large amounts.
- 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.
Q: When should I apply the clear coat after applying the base coat?
A: You should wait for at least 30 minutes after applying the base coat before applying the clear coat. When applying the clear coat, you should wait for at least 15 minutes between coats. Each coat should be dry to the touch before applying a fresh coat.
Q: What causes clear coat flaking?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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.
Our top pick is the Speedokote SMR-130/75-K-M-Automotive Clear Coat. It’s a UV- and corrosion-resistant clear coat with a long shelf life. It also one of the most durable automotive clear coats that provides a high-gloss finish.
If you would like a budget-friendly, high-gloss coat suitable for minor repairs, then consider going for the USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol.