By on August 15, 2012


George writes:


I’m the owner of the dark green 1999 Honda Accord Coupe that appeared in prior editions of Piston Slap. Its paint is failing (clearcoat starting to peel and gray patches showing) after many years of sun exposure here in the Dallas area and it’s time to get a new car. I have a garage to protect the car at night, but my engineering career requires that my car spend the day out in the sun on a concrete parking lot. The good news is my cars never get exposed to road salt and snow, ice, frost, and morning dew are pretty much a non-issue for cars that spend the night in a garage.

1) What color paint resists damage from sunlight best?

2) Do any waxes or other products work significantly better than others?

3) Would covered parking during the day add years to paint or are pollutants like ozone attacking the finish in the shade?

Sajeev answers:

Clear coat only lasts so long, even on vehicles that spend the majority of their lives in a garage.  And if you own one of those vehicles from the early 1990s that were on the losing end of paint booth/environmental regulations, the clear coat failed far too early. You could easily repaint your Accord and be happy, but maybe it’s time to find a new “paint job” to call your own.

To answer your questions:

1. I’m no experienced body shop dude, but I know a couple. Ordinary white (like you see on fleet vehicles) is probably the most durable color against the elements. And the most forgiving to hide/repair scratches, which is worth considering.

2. That’s hot button issue.  I will stick with one big generality: the caranuba-based waxes don’t hold a candle to the newer polymer based waxes.  I’ve even heard manufacturers mention that the polymer waxes last many months longer than the traditional stuff.

3. I think covered parking improves the lifespan of any paint job, not to mention the well-being of your rubber bits and interior fabrics.  This is a no brainer….right, B&B???

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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26 Comments on “Piston Slap: Paint Protection Possibilities?...”

  • avatar

    May I ask what your career has to do with clear coat?

    I’ve never had an issue with clear coat and I should because I command a nuclear submarine.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the clear coat failure a problem with older cars in the US related to using water based paints (I think thats it??) in an effort to eliminate or curb VOCs?

    I remeber this happening alot on 90’s vintage domestic cars.

    • 0 avatar

      The transition to water-based, low-VOC coatings really has happened in the last 10 yrs. I know that the original paint for my car (11 yr ago) cannot be used anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      And as this PS article makes clear, it happened to plenty of foreign cars, too. My coworker friend has a Mitsubishi Galant that has peeled from end to end, as did his 93 Cavalier. Yet my 92 Sable, which has spent 20 years outside, has zero peel to the clear coat. The paint has dulled a bit but for the age it has lasted amazingly well.

  • avatar

    If you want a paint to last in harsh conditions (excessive UV exposure, Slushy salty roads) the only way to go is some form of paint protection. Waxes is nice for classics and weekend cars but for daily use it feels pretty outdated. So my tip is three fold, 1 wash, clay and polish the car (or better yet let someone that does it for a living do it), 2 buy some diamond bright of ebay and apply according to the instructions, 3 Every time you wash the car you coat it with ultima paint protection (it takes like 5minutes if the car is dry), if you have time you can ad more layers, (3) if you’re one of those people that doesn’t like to dry your car when you’re done washing you might consider rinsing the car with a wet wax (autoglym has a pretty stellar one).
    This should keep your car in showroom conditions for years.

  • avatar

    Is it a trick question?

    Does clear coat peeling and an engineering career, mean something else than clear coat peeling and having a career at Best Buy or Taco Bell?

    Buy white. If you ever move to snow/rust country, you can touch up the rust spots with Rustoleum White.

    Bring it somewhere or do it yourself and compound the clear off and cover it with something like Duplicolor clear. The car is 13 years old.

  • avatar

    With annual coats of wax my 1988 Beretta(dark red) survived industrial fallout from Cleveland area in the 1990’s where most cars lost clear and paint. Not a era known for durable paint jobs. If you think snow and salt can kill clear coat you should see the shine on my 2000 Saab that spent it’s life in Buffalo pushing snow in feet where others see inches of the white stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      Yours must’ve been shot mid-morning on a Wednesday– after a couple of years my ’99 Saab only looked Moonlight Blue when viewed from certain angles, or in actual moonlight.

      • 0 avatar

        Did some research into this when the dark blue paint failed on my 1990 Dodge Spirit.

        From what I remember, it had to do with the paint curing process in the oven. Dark blue paint in particular absorbed radiation and hence dried faster than other colors, causing the clearcoat not to adhere property. That is where the problem occured, while weather and pollutants can speed the process up; that is why the car next to yours looks fine; even though it is older.

        I had a dark blue Suzuki Esteem that did the same thing. Dark blue was the worst; silver was next because they needed less pigment for coverage, so it was thinner. The other darker colors (green, red, black) may also failed; but in fewer numbers.

        White and lighter colors are not subject to this because the problem is in the curing process in the oven at the factory. What you put on top of it may help slightly, but will not stop it. The only way to fix it is to strip the car down to the bare primer and repaint it again; the local Dodge dealer did that to the Spirit hoping to keep me for a customer (they didn’t); the Suzuki was also repainted; but I doubt the painter stripped it down first; so it is also failing.

  • avatar

    Too much direct sunlight is what kills paint. In the old days, my body and paint educated friend told me that paints with a high percentage of clear in the formula were the worst. This is why older finishes like silver, silver-blue and the like never seemed to last as long as the dark greens or dark browns that were also popular at the time.

    Modern clearcoats have the same problem. The UV rays go through the clear and into the basecoat. Then they reflect back out. The basecoat heats and cools a bazillion cycles and eventually the clear delaminates. I suspect that darker colors are the worst on clearcoats because the dark base color absorbs more heat.

    Until some enterprising soul comes out with an SPF 50 for your car, your best bet is to find a place to park your car out of direct daytime sunlight. A parking garage at work and a garage/carport at home will make your paint last indefinitely.

  • avatar
    Petrol Blue

    The peeling in the photo, which resembles the OP’s description, is common on Hondas from the 90s. In Atlanta, with our searing sun, I’ve noticed they are more likely to develop this problem than other makes. In that time frame, weren’t most Accords built in Marysville that were sold in America? My Legend was made in Saitama, and despite keeping it waxed, the clearcoat was peeling badly after 10-12 years. I had it repainted in a one-step process, which has held up better.

  • avatar

    Consumers Union’s car finish tests revealed pastes did outlast liquids.

  • avatar

    I’ve got 17 years on a mid 90’s Civic that says that regular (twice yearly) waxing helps preserve the paint. I think it was the Accords later in the decade that started first with the water-based problems.

    And yes, the Carnuba waxes are glorious the day you apply them, but the synthetics last longer. That old stand-by , NuFinish, is as durable as their cheesy commercials made it out to be, but it didn’t apply and come off easily, I remember it being streaky if you weren’t careful. I have a preference for a synthetic/natural blend that Turtle Wax apparently doesn’t make any more. Shame.

  • avatar

    Having lived in states with intense solar radiation (Colorado and Arizona) it has been my experience that aside from washing a few times a month and waxing a few times a year there are no special routines or elixirs that can prolong the life of your paint .

    The lifespan of a car’s paint is 85% determined by the quality of the paint and clear-coat and 15% by care and maintenance.

    Prior to buying a new car search the enthusiast forums for paint problems; that’s really about all that you can do to predict future life.

    • 0 avatar

      Search the enthusiast’s forums???

      Like I want to know the car of my dreams, the Infiniti G37 Journey, has had severe paint issues for several years and Nissan could give a rip?

      The same Nissan that pushes, pulls, or tows Pathfinders out the door with transmissions guaranteed to cost you $4,500 prior to hitting 100K miles with narry a dime of warranty coverage (KA CHING at the parts counter)?

      Isn’t ignorance bliss???

      • 0 avatar

        I hear ya, I wish I would have followed my own advice prior to purchasing a 2007 Xterra. That thing ate timing chain guides for breakfast, suspension bushings for lunch, and rear shocks for dinner. I sold it with full disclosure a few months before the warranty was up.

  • avatar
    George B

    Sajeev, thank you for posting this question and thanks for all the replies. The only thing relevant about my career choice is engineers tend to work a lot of overtime so the cars get extra hours in the sun. All my jobs have been in suburban light industrial areas with low rise buildings and big open concrete parking lots. No parking garages for us Office Space* workers. On the other hand, not much trouble from door dings and vandalism. I would guess that a bartender’s car would have a completely different set of paint issues.

    Mike Judge, creator of Office Space, used to work as an engineer in or near Richardson, TX. He lived nearby in Garland which inspired the look and feel of the fictional Arlen in King of the Hill.

    • 0 avatar

      I grew up right by those office parks in Richardson – where part of Office Space was filmed (studio part filmed in Austin).

      Texas sun and concrete lots can be brutal on paint.

  • avatar

    After years of use…I continue to recommend Meguire’s Cleaner / Wax (it’s a combined formula in one bottle) applied every three months. It seems to pull away surface contaminants and leaves a great, protective shine. It removes VERY easily IF the paint is cool and the weather is not sticky-humid. My current car is Toffee Brown. I’m fortunate in that this car is garaged both at home and work. But if I had to park outdoors all day, I’d go back to basic silver, as it always hid various scuffs and “dark specs” and tar droplets very well.

  • avatar

    Being an intermediate detailer, I could shine some light on the subject.

    Cars should be waxed at least 4 times a year with paste or liquid wax and 2 times a year with a Sealant.

    There are 3 types of waxes. Paste, liquid and Sealants (which isn’t a wax but we’ll classify it as one just to make it simple)

    A Sealant is a liquid that contains polymers that bond together when you apply it to the car and these polymer bonds help protect your car for a long time. I’ve heard you could go up to 6 months before having to re-apply but it produces a sort of duller shine than a paste wax. Also, sealants streak if not applied evenly.

    Paste and Liquid waxes usually contain Carnauba Wax in them to protect the paint. Paste usually contains more Carnauba than a Liquid wax does but it’s harder to apply and take off. I have noticed recently that even the Paste and Liquid waxes have polymers in them to lock in the protection for a longer time. Paste and Liquid waxes do shine better than a sealant though.

    If you don’t wax your car at all, it’s like going outside on a sunny day without using Sunblock.

    Also, not waxing your car is the same as not changing your oil. Damage will occur.

  • avatar

    This is something I’ve wondered about. What is the laziest way to keep a new car looking fairly good? Is hand washing a necessity or can I just put it through a car wash once a month? Keeping in mind that I’m cheap and don’t have a ton of free time to put into the car’s looks.

    That said, my gameplan (the laziest idea I can think of) is a car wash once every month or two and detailing annually.

  • avatar

    Buy a good quality car cover, use it religiously. It preserves the paint, the interior, and the plastic exterior bits from the sun.

  • avatar

    If you want to take the lazy way out, then use a paste wax on your car every 3 months. That way, even with just a rinse most of the dirt just rinses away with the water.

    Also, a nicely waxed car (4 times a year is considered nicely waxed) will be so much easier to wash since the dirt just effortlessly wipes away. The drying time is cut down a little too since the water just beads off the car leaving a mostly dry surface.

    As for car wash, do you mean the kind where they roll your car thru a big conveyer belt and these dudes wipe it down at the end? I really don’t like these since the water they use is their own recycled rinse water but you can’t tell since it’s so super sudsy. Also, those huge towel looking things that scrub over your car are heavy and leave tiny scratches on the clear coat. Also, when you dry your car, you should use straight strokes that are longitudinal with the car. Never in a circular pattern like ALL those dudes that dry your car at the car wash do. The circular motion creates the swirl marks that are on 99% of cars out there. A good 2 stage polish will get your car looking like new.

    I could totally make that cars surface that’s in the pic above look like new. The clear coat is just oxidized and needs to be smoothed over with a nice 3 stage polish and a nice coat of paste wax.

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