Clear Coat vs. No Clear Coat: What Does Clear Coat Do?

If you’re considering getting your car clear coated, it’s definitely in your best interests to look into the potential pros and cons. It’s an extremely common procedure applied to many, many cars out there. For those unaware, the question still remains: What does a clear coat do, and is it worth it?

Clear coat creates a protective layer between your car’s surface and the open air, sun, and environment. This is advantageous because it helps prevent rust from exposure and cosmetic damage to the paint. It can save you lots of money over time. Without it, your car is at a higher risk for damage.

In this article, I’ll be going over what a clear coat is, the benefits it provides, as well as other relevant information you may find interesting.

Using clear coat to protect car’s brilliantly colored paint job.

What Is a Clear Coat and What Does It Do?

Clear coat is a form of resinous paint, nearly identical to your car’s actual paint – the only difference is that it contains no pigment to give it color. When applied to paint on a vehicle, this creates a shiny, glossy, and even mirror-like shine to the surface.

This enhances the paint color, but more crucially, it protects the paint.

Exposure to the environment, including dirt, rain, and other debris and hazards, will degrade your car’s paint if it’s not protected by a clear coat.

The idea is that you’d rather reapply the clear coat than have to repaint the car, but this isn’t the only reason – the metal underneath the paint can rust and weaken if left without a protective layer such as a clear coat. This is a slow process that can eventually lead to structural and even engine damage.

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What Happens if I Don’t Get My Car Clear Coated?

The vast majority of cars sold have ‘factory’ clear coats to protect the integrity of the paint job.

If a car isn’t clear coated, debris and water will cause the paint to rust. Rust spots on older cars are a good example. Since paint is porous by default, it lets particles and water directly touch the metal. As a result, old cars with faded clear coats will rust if the clear coat isn’t reapplied.

Heavy rain will ruin a vehicle without a clear coat, as will frequently driving it without regular cleaning and maintenance. Clear coat is a fairly integral part of owning a car these days.

Cons of Clear Coat

Despite a clear coat being important, there are cons to having it. Clear coat picks up scratches quickly, which can lead to it becoming cloudy over time.

Cloudiness and scratching can be mitigated by regularly polishing the clear coat with a wax product such as Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax (available on Amazon). This one step cleaner wax safely removes minor scratches, haze, and light oxidation.

Without regular waxing and washing with good quality car soap, a clear coat can fade rather quickly and give the entire car a dull, unpolished look.

Clear coat is damaged by lots of external factors. Bugs, bird droppings, ambient pollution, and heavy sunlight exposure are a few of the things that cause clear coats to degrade over time.

How Long Does a Clear Coat Last?

A typical clear coat application, such as a factory clear coat, can last as long as 10-15 years if the car owner properly cares for the car. Dirt, metal, sand, and other particles in the environment lodge into the clear coat and cause it to degrade over time.

If you don’t clean the car regularly, this can cause the clearcoat to fade as quickly as five years after application.

How to Take Care of Clear Coat

Clear coat is a great way to protect your car’s brilliantly colored paint job and keep it looking new for years to come. As with any good thing, the owner must take some care to preserve it. Well taken care of cars can look nearly new after ten or more years. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to keep a clear coat looking great and shiny for a long time to come.

Avoid Abrasive Materials

When washing your car, it’s essential to use a material that isn’t too coarse or abrasive. Stiff brushes and rough pads can scratch the clear coat protecting the paint, sabotaging rather than helping.

Microfiber cleaning cloths and dry microfiber cloths are the best materials to use when washing your car.

Does Clear Coat Require Wax?

While wax isn’t required for a clear coat, waxing your car is one of the best ways to enhance and preserve the clear coat’s protective qualities and strengthen its shiny gloss. Wax provides a thin protective layer on top of the clear coat, effectively deflecting debris that damages it.

Plus, waxing your car helps lower the UV radiation that reaches the clear coat from exposure to sunlight.

For the best results, apply wax after you wash your car. This will help ensure that it’s free of any dirt or other particles. This is important because using wax without washing the car grinds these coarse particles into the clearcoat, damaging it.

How Often Should I Wax My Car?

Two years is a good rule of thumb concerning how often you should wax your car. However, there’s no cut-and-dry answer as to how frequently you should do it. Once every season is a more frequent interval that minimizes environmental damage.

The primary factor that affects waxing frequency is how exposed the car is to the elements on a regular basis. For example, a car that’s parked on the street daily will need to be waxed more often than a car that spends most of its time in a climate-controlled garage.

Weather hazards like heavy snow and rain wear on the surface of your car and deposit small particles that remain after the water is gone. Heavy winds aren’t so bad themselves, but they also blow harmful materials onto your car.

Spotting whether the wax is wearing off on your car is as simple as pouring a little water on it. If the water beads up and rolls off, the wax is still in good condition and doesn’t need to be reapplied just yet. If the water doesn’t bead up and roll off, your car is probably due for some wax.

Another way to check is just to touch it – if your finger glides across the surface with no resistance, you’re still waxed up. If your finger drags and feels lots of friction, chances are you need to get waxing.

Does Clear Coat Require Maintenance?

So we know waxing can help maintain the quality of a clear coat, but what other types of regular maintenance does it need?

A clear coat does require maintenance, and regularly washing your car is essential to preserve it. Also opt for a premium soap rather than a cheap one, as a quality car soap enhances the mirror-like sleek gloss of a clear coat while working to remove damaging elements like dirt, sand, or salt.

Coupled with wax, your car will never look dull or dusty ever again.

Storage and Parking

Other than cleaning, you should regularly park or store your vehicle in a garage to keep it away from the damaging UV rays of the sun. This will also limit how many damaging particles like sand, dirt, and salt can reach your car and harm the clear coat.

If a garage isn’t available for any reason, you can also use a large tarp in a pinch to cover a car from the elements.

Can You Wash a Car Too Much?

While keeping a high standard in cleanliness is suitable for your car’s paint, you can take it too far.

You can wash a car too much, believe it or not. Overwashing a car can, ironically, damage the surface of your clear coat and accelerate its deterioration. Unless you drive a lot for work or pleasure, a car wash once a week should suffice to keep your car sparkling and shiny.


Oxidation occurs when the metal of your car is exposed to the sun and elements for a long period of time, such as if your car gets rained on a lot or if you leave it parked in the yard during the hot summers.

This first fades the clear coat, then eats into the paint of the car. After the paint is gone, you’ll see rust as the metal underneath oxidizes. This can manifest as rust spots or blotches.

In very extreme cases, entire sections of cars can rust, such as the doors. This is especially bad when the hood rusts, as water can get into the engine and begin to destroy it.

You may also like: How to Restore Faded, Oxidized, or Sun Damaged Car Paint


Sometimes a car just looks grimy, you know? A little dull, not filthy or covered in mud, but nothing special. This can be because of a combination of lots of debris mixing with water and oil to form a layer of sludge across your car’s surface.

This dulls the shine and can trick owners into thinking that the clear coat has worn off when in fact, it’s just dirty.

Grime is easily washed with most soaps. There’s no need to get the most expensive car soap possible; any decent quality soap will do. Using wax afterward will condition the paint to better resist grime buildup in the future.

Final Thoughts

Clear coat has a few cons and requirements but is well worth it for the high level of protection it provides to a car’s paint job. With proper care, a good application of a clear coat can give a car’s surface a mirror shine for many years.




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