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Most of us value the appearance of our cars. A sleek, shiny car says that you care about details, are organized, and take your image seriously.
One great way to preserve that look is to put a clear coat on your car’s paint job. It’ll not only protect your car’s exterior from nicks and scratches from everyday driving, but from breakdown from the weather and the sun’s UV rays. There’s value beyond just making it look good. It’ll extend the life of your car’s exterior and save you money in the long run.
Finding the right one can confuse people who are unfamiliar with this product. To help out, we took a look at some of the different brands of clear coat available. We narrowed our reviews to what’s available in spray cans because those are the easiest to use. In case you need a little more, we also included a buyers’ guide to explain our thought process and to help you do a better job comparison shopping.
|Best Overall||Spraymax 2K Clear Coat||
|Best Value||VHT Clear Exact-Match Top Coat||
|POR-15 Top Coat Gloss||
|PlastiKote 1000 Universal Clear Coat||
|KBS Coatings High Diamond Finish||
Spraymax 2K Clear Coat from a spray can is just about as good as it gets. It’s easy to apply, sprays on evenly, and dries to a super-hard, high-gloss coat. Novices can use it, and in the hands of someone with experience, it’ll make sure painted surfaces look as new as the day your car rolled off the assembly line.
Most of the time, superb performance is tied to cost. If you want the best, you have to pay for the best. It’s the case here, too, but the cost difference between this and the lower-tier products is very slight, and the cost of a can is less than a family meal from a fast food place. So, price is no object.
A note of caution, however. Lots of these spray-can clear coats involve hazardous chemicals. Spraymax is one of them. If you use it, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated place and wearing proper protective equipment.
We don’t recommend painting your car on a budget, because too frequently going cheap means getting a sub-standard product. On the other hand, if you’ve got some touch-up work to do or even intend to use a clear coat on something else exposed to the elements, it’s worth looking at options that’ll save a few bucks.
The Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat from VHT is worth a look. It’s affordable on any budget and is perfect if you’re not looking to redo your entire car. It’s also pretty simple to apply.
That said, the results could be more consistent. We think a lot of that has to do with the nozzle, which isn’t all that user-friendly. But again, this is best used for small touch-ups and spot jobs. For those, it works well.
One of the best looks you’ll get from a clear coat spray is from POR, which has a great reputation when it comes to car applications. The POR-15 45718 Top Coat Gloss does the brand right, with a great glossy look upon drying and a finish that’s hard as nails. It’ll look good while protecting your car from nicks and scratches.
It performs great at the basics of looking good and drying hard. When it comes to extended use, however, it starts to show some shortcomings. Try as you might, it doesn’t prevent rust from returning, sometimes quickly. It also seems to have questionable UV protection, as it can start to fade rather quickly. One other thing that should give you pause is the price. It does well enough to fetch a mid-range price, but it’s priced like top shelf. You can probably do better.
The PlastiKote 1000 Universal Clear Coat Automotive Touch-Up Paint Can’s name says it all. This is designed for touching up your car or doing small jobs, like a cooler you want to put a coating on or a replacement panel you need to get shining like the rest of your car. It’s great for spot jobs, but not intended for a whole car.
One thing to like is the per-can price. Again, we don’t recommend that you apply a layer of coating on the cheap, but if you need to consider budget while doing small work, this is a good option.
On the paltry side, the application tip is subpar, which leads to an inconsistent application. One thing that will chagrin you, though, is that it can change the color of the paint you’re using it on. For something that’s supposed to be clear coat, that’s a bad look.
The KBS Coatings High Diamond Finish is at its best when in between the can and whatever you’re applying it to. It goes on evenly and works quickly to dry and bond to whatever you’re spraying it on. This is a big plus because the point of using a spray can is that it’s supposed to be better for both these reasons.
It’s also a pretty solid coating. It’ll protect what you apply it to, although it won’t quite stick to everything.
The problem is that the finished product isn’t going to look like new. It’s not quite glossy, and rather than clear, can tend to look cloudier. Those are important things if you’re looking to bring your car back to looking like new. It also has difficulty adhering to brass.
The biggest drawback to Maxima’s 78920 SC1 High Gloss Coatingis that it’s not really designed for cars. It’s designed for power sports. If you’ve got a high-performance bike used for racing, this is on your list of clear coats to consider. We’re assuming you’re looking for a product intended for cars.
What you might like is the price. It’s pretty affordable. Again, we don’t recommend that money be a primary issue, but we do recognize that it’s a thing. It also shines metal right up.
The problem is that it can get wiped off pretty quickly. Use it on your car, and you’ll be reapplying it pretty regularly. Most people are just not into that. It will also draw mud and dust and let it cling rather than shed grit.
There’s not much good to say about the U-Pol Products CLEAR#1 High Gloss Coat. There are much better products that deliver better value. It does dry nice and shiny, which is a priority if you’re trying to make your old car look new again.
But at what cost? If you get it wrong, it will leave air bubbles on your car’s exterior. Some products can compensate for that by making application easier with a consistent spray pattern that applies a consistent amount of coating. U-Pol comes out thin and in an inconsistent pattern. By doing that, it actually enables more bubbling.
It also costs more than it ought to. It’s not the most expensive spray we looked at, but it’s the most expensive spray in terms of performance. It’s just a bad deal, all around.
Getting the best out of an automotive clear coat starts with getting the right one. It’s not just about buying the most expensive one and assuming it’s the best. There are a few things you’ll want to factor in that might push you in a different direction. Remember, a clear coat is a pretty permanent thing. It’s also something that people will associate with you, because people tend to draw conclusions based on the kind of car you drive and what it looks like.
This buyers’ guide can help you figure out what to look for in an automotive clear coat. We confined our reviews to spray can clear coats. There are clear coats that you apply with brushes like house paint, but for first-time users, spray cans tend to be easier to use and deliver more consistent results. Here are some things to consider when looking to buy automotive clear coats.
The first, most important factor in picking what clear coat to get for your car is compatibility with the paint job. We can’t emphasize this enough. If your car is painted with a kind of paint that won’t react well with the clear coat you’re considering, go a different route. It can be the best and most affordable clear coat on the market, but if it isn’t compatible with your car’s paint, don’t use it.
An underappreciated factor in purchasing the right clear coat is knowing how it will interact with the environment while being applied. You’ll want a setting as controlled as possible, at least inside a garage and out of the rain, dust, and sunlight.
Many of these coatings also come with health hazard warnings because of the chemicals used. While it’s preferable to do it inside, that option might not be available to you.
Match the clear coat to the climate you live in. Make sure that it’s not likely to bubble up because of ambient humidity. If you live in a place that’s pretty dusty, get something fast-drying.
The point of using a spray can to apply clear coat is convenience and pattern of spray. The idea is that using a spray can apply coating more evenly than a paintbrush. You can break that down further by finding one that is best at applying a smooth, even coat. Consider whether the coating is just a traditional spray can, or if it comes with hosed attachments to allow you to spray it on with precision.
We’ve mostly talked about choosing a clear coat based on how it’ll interact with your car. This is important because it will affect how your car looks. Next, you’ll want to start looking at what the different products protect your car against.
A priority is finding a clear coat that protects against UV rays. There are a couple of reasons for this. With a lot of people looking to protect their cars from nicks, scratches, and rust, you can underappreciate just how damaging the sun can be to your paint job. The sun’s ability to dull your paint is also ever-present, even in places that are cloudy a lot of the time. Make sun protection a priority.
Be advised that not all brands protect against scratches. Make sure that when you buy clear-coat, you know exactly what it’ll protect your car from.
One thing you definitely want to do is get enough to do the job. Make sure that the can you’re getting ready to buy can cover the entire area you want coated. It’s not a make-or-break factor, but if you’ve settled on a brand that in reality is good enough for three-quarters of the job, get two cans. You can always use the extra on headlights, coolers, fishing lures, and other things.
We don’t recommend using price as a primary means of choosing a clear coat. Because we’re talking about the appearance of your car, you want to spend money to make sure you get the right stuff. If you’ve narrowed your choice down to a couple of different products, however, and one costs a little less than the other, save yourself a few bucks.
Spraymax’s 3680061 2K Clear Coat gets our top rank because it’s the all-around best. Just make sure that if you use it, you wear proper protective equipment. VHT’s BCL0125 Clear Exact-Match Automotive Top Coat is a great bargain spray, although we recommend that you go with the best quality and not try to get by on the cheap. The POR-15 45718 Top Coat Gloss Clear Spray Paint Can produces a hard, shiny finish, which is exactly what you want. Rust will come back annoyingly fast, however, and we question whether it’s really UV-resistant.
The PlastiKote 1000 Universal Clear Coat Automotive Touch-Up Paint Can is a budget spray best used on small jobs. Its shortcomings become glaring on larger surfaces. KBS Coatings’ 8114 High Diamond Finish Clear Aerosol Gloss applies quickly and leaves a hard finish, but it’s not clear. In fact, it can be downright cloudy. Maxima’s 78920 SC1 High Gloss Coating is great for dirt bikes, but not so much for cars. It also holds on to mud and dust. Finally, while the U-Pol Products 0796 Clear CLEAR#1 High Gloss Coat leaves a glossy finish, it’s also really prone to leaving bubbles.
We hope you found value in our reviews and our buyers’ guide. A good automotive clear coat can make your car sparkle, but a bad one will make you want to scream, so make sure you get the right one.
Another popular article worth reading is our breakdown of the top car sealants on the market.
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