Piston Slap: Clarity on Clearcoat FAIL?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap clarity on clearcoat fail

TTAC Commentator Pietalian writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Longtime fan of the column, first time inquirer. You roll a “well-aged” fleet of cars yourself, so I’m sure you have dealt with this issue.

Here’s the deal: My wife and I recently purchased a burgundy 2003 Mazda Miata as a third car. Save the manuals, rah rah rah. It has 85k and has been well-maintained mechanically. We live in southern Indiana, but the car is intended to be a 3-season vehicle and will live in the garage.

Unfortunately,the driver-side fender has a patch of clearcoat about 2 inches by 4 inches that has delaminated and is chipping away. Every body shop I have gotten estimates from insists on removing and fully repainting the hood, fenders and driver door to ensure matching hues for about $1,000+. The passenger fender has some dull white patches that appear to be following the same trajectory. The car shows no evidence of a collision, and several forums indicate that this was an issue from the factory.

A picture is attached. The yellow object is a Post-It note included for scale.

Spending $1,000 on bodywork for a small patch is a tough pill to swallow. For about $50, I could buy some supplies and try to patch the clearcoat myself. This seems like a short-term fix, but maybe that is a smart move to avoid rust now while I wait for the other fender to similarly deteriorate before going to the pros. My shop experience is wrenches-only though, so my results are likely to vary…

My wife and I want to keep this car for several years. What do you and the B&B think:

  1. Spend $1,000 or more to get multiple panels repainted and avoid any chance of rust?
  2. Spend $50 and a weekend with rattle-can clearcoat as a stopgap measure
  3. Try to find a shop that will just resurface the driver fender?
  4. Leave everything alone and grunt that “It’s a 10 y/o car”?

Sajeev answers:

Excellent question, and yes I’ve been here before…along with everyone with a North American made whip in the early 1990s. That was supposedly when EPA regulations changed (citation needed) the way clear coat was applied to cars, much to everyone’s dismay 5-10 years down the line. Chryslers, GM products, Fords, Hondas…they all had northern hemisphere clear coat “dandruff” because of it.

More to the point, let’s make this a cosmetic discussion, nothing to do with rusting: clear coat fail implies there’s still paint protection, it just ain’t pretty or especially durable. There’s still a layer of colored paint and primer underneath, and that photo proves it.

There is no wrong answer, so let’s discuss the (valid) options you presented:

  1. Multiple panels repainted: at that price, perhaps you should re-spray the entire car? This is a slippery slope, but perhaps this gets you the result you truly want.
  2. If you try the DIY route odds are (months later) you’ll hate the outcome and curse yourself for thinking you’re smarter than the average body shop. (Sadly, there’s a good chance you are not.) Re-clearing a bad paint job rarely works well, lasts very long, and generally is a waste of everyone’s time and money. Consider the opportunity cost, as you have other things you’d prefer to do in your spare time.
  3. A decent idea. Perhaps color matching is possible, but that 10-year-old burgundy/purple-y color must be a colossal PITA to match. Not as horrifying as silver, and surely not as easy as fleet-sweet white. If you had a white Miata, this option is the obvious choice.
  4. Sure, why not? Rust isn’t a problem here. A Miata isn’t desirable like a Porsche or Ferrari: whatever you spend here won’t make a big difference in resale value.

I’d stick with option 4 until the clear coat fail gets worse, leading to the ultimate need to get a complete body re-spray. Why? Because that’s what I’m doing with my Mark VIII; while it has multiple, minor body problems, none of them horribly offend me. At some point the house of cards will fall: one more scratch and I will actually care. I have a feeling it’s almost there: there’s clear coat fail on the C-pillar, and it’s only gonna get worse. And the Cobra R wheels I recently added have the same issue: maybe they need a re-spray in body color too. Perhaps.

So my time will come, and it will be worth it. Off to you Best and Brightest!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
3 of 40 comments
  • Loner Loner on Aug 05, 2013

    Is it just me, or is this far more common on the maroon/burgundy colored cars?

    • April April on Aug 05, 2013

      I heard paint with blue pigments are the most affected but I have seen almost every color out there with this problem. The most notorious makes seem to be mid to late 90's Chrysler and GM products. Not just the clear coat but the paint will peel off in big patches. I've seen too many Neons and Caravans with completely primer hoods and roof panels.

  • Mark5280 Mark5280 on Apr 18, 2014

    I recently had the same issue with my older burgundy Eagle Summit. The clear coat had failed pretty badly on the roof and hood. It looked horrible with the clear coat layer raised up and white splotches all over the top of my car. I suspect that taking the car thru an automatic car wash contributed to this problem. I only started the auto car washes last year, and the paint was great before that. I'm not sure if that contributed to the failure since the sun is pretty hot here in Denver, but the car is always garaged. A few months ago I applied a product that I came across that did an amazing job to hide the ugly white splotches where the clear coat failed. It's called L'Oxide made by Oxideoff. It worked great on my older burgundy car and I've also applied it to several black cars as a test. It's been 2 months on my car and the damaged area still looks good. It's certainly not a new paint job, but I can't afford that right now so this process was very acceptable to me, inexpensive and quick. I'm amazed at the posts that say "just get a new paint job" to solve this problem, but I can barely pay my health insurance now after the newest hefty increases. Even if I have to apply this product a few times a year, I'm happy to do it to hide those horrible splotches. After applying this product to the hood and roof, the area was not as glossy as the rest of the car, so I applied two coats of Carnauba wax and that really brought out the shine. It looks pretty good now for a car from 1995. There are a few YouTube videos of this product being applied. Go to Youtube and search for oxideoff or loxide to find them. Hope this helps someone.

  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉
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  • ToolGuy Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, and drywall dents sheet metal.