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What is Car Paint Oxidation? Signs, Prevention, More

Car paint oxidation is the breakdown of chemicals within your car paint. This is caused by the harmful UV rays produced by the sun. They cause heat buildup underneath your clear coat which mixes with oxygen and leads to the molecular breakdown of the paint structure. Unfortunately, this is inevitable and will most likely affect any vehicle given that it lasts.

Paint oxidation is caused by the general wear and tear of the environment. The sun’s UV rays are the direct cause of car paint oxidation, but things like weather, dirt, road grime, and anything else that might cause scratches could expedite the oxidation process.

What are the Signs of Car Paint Oxidation?

car paint patching

There are several signs of paint oxidation you may have witnessed yourself, possibly without knowing it.

A telltale sign of oxidation is the white blotches that appear on the roof or the hood of older vehicles. Even though a vehicle does not have to be old to have paint oxidation occur, it is more common on older vehicles mainly because they have had more time outside in the elements, and because newer vehicles often have better paint technology.

Here are some more of the signs of paint oxidation:

Dullness

It may not be a brilliant or bright color but vehicle paint is designed to have a shine to it when it is clean. This is mainly because the clear coat protects it from directly contacting the outside elements to maintain its shine.

As the sun’s rays penetrate the clear coat to start the oxidation process, the first signs of paint oxidation are that the paint will become dull. This can be difficult to spot for those who aren’t looking, but it will be noticeable against other areas of the car that are better protected.

Fading

paint fade

Paint fading is the next step in the oxidation process. This is when your paint starts to lose its color. Paint fade is more recognizable than dullness as there will start to be a color difference from panel to panel or section to section.

Patching or Chalkiness

The most severe level of oxidation is how most people view oxidation. It looks like white patches or sections of chalk across a vehicle’s roof or hood. It may also look like someone has dripped acid all over the surface of your vehicle.

Oxidation that progresses any farther past this point will result in total clear coat destruction and the need to repaint the oxidized surfaces is the only viable fix.

How Can You Prevent Car Paint Oxidation?

As you use your car, paint oxidation will become a larger probability. No vehicle is completely immune to it, but depending on how well you take care of your vehicle, you will be able to prevent it from happening for a long time.

Here are some ways you can hold off the oxidation process:

Protect Your Vehicle From the Elements

The largest and most general prevention technique in preventing paint oxidation is to expose your vehicle to as few environmental elements as possible.

The more you use your vehicle the better its chances of developing paint oxidation, but when you are not using your vehicle, you can take steps to keep it sheltered. A garage is an ideal way to do this, but a car cover can be a worthwhile alternative if you use it correctly and do not have access to a garage. 

A carport can be a good alternative as well, but this does not completely shelter a vehicle like a garage or tight car cover. If you do get a car cover, you should look for one that is weather and UV resistant.

Also, make sure to use a car cover correctly as an incorrect application of the cover can actually contribute to vehicle scratching and subsequent expedited oxidation.

Wash and Wax Your Vehicle

A simple way you can protect your vehicle from oxidation is to wash and wax it. Washing it will remove any contaminants that might accelerate any environmental factors from eating away at the clear coat, and applying wax or protectant will temporarily “seal” it from the environment. 

Waxes and protectants do not make your vehicle immune to scratches, dirt, and road grime, but using them the right way can provide a good shield against oxidation. Make sure to use quality products for the best results.

Use Proper Washing Techniques and Materials

two bucket wash

Using the proper washing techniques and materials goes hand-in-hand with washing and waxing your vehicle at appropriate intervals. Washing your vehicle too often can actually eat away at the clear coat, cause swirl marks, and expedite the oxidation process.

Things like using a two-bucket car wash, avoiding the automated car wash, using appropriate towels, and using car-specific, quality car wash soaps will all help keep your vehicle’s paint as healthy as it can be, ultimately preventing oxidation.

Look into a Ceramic Coating or Paint Protection Film

A much more expensive and extreme way to protect your vehicle is to apply a ceramic coating or paint protection film. Ceramic coatings have come a long way in the past several years and have become readily available to the average consumer.

Paint protection film can be the same way. Both can have a wide range of initial cost depending on the quality and ease of application. 

Using professionals to apply both a ceramic coating and paint protection film can cost many thousands of dollars, but they can also have much greater benefits than the least expensive DIY products available.

Quality ceramic coatings can last up to three years and the best paint protection films can last anywhere from five to ten years.

Make sure that you are serious about protecting your paint if you start looking into one of these solutions as both tend to be some of the least user-friendly DIY methods of vehicle protection and some of the most costly in general.

Understand What Causes Car Paint Oxidation

Understanding what ultimately causes paint oxidation is the first step in prevention. Knowing what factors lead to oxidation, recognizing oxidation, and taking the steps necessary to combat it will result in a longer, healthier life for your paint.

Can You Repair Car Paint Oxidation?

You can repair car paint oxidation as long as the clear coat has not been completely destroyed. Repairing car paint oxidation in the dulling and fading stages will be easier than repairing oxidation that has reached the patching stage.

It is still possible to repair severe oxidation, but it is much more difficult and time-consuming. This can be done as long as the clear coat is still intact. Once the clear coat has been eaten away, you will need to repaint your vehicle. 

How Do You Repair Car Paint Oxidation?

There are three basic ways to repair oxidation. Depending on the extent of the damage will determine how difficult a job it will be and how much you will have to spend on the repair itself.

Polishing

polishing vehicle

A thorough wash, polish, and wax can eradicate the least severe oxidation and add protection going forward.

Many companies that make car wash soaps and other automotive cleaning products also offer anti-oxidation or oxidation repair products. These can vary in strength and using one on your vehicle is an option.

You can also polish your vehicle using a quality buffer and polishing product. It is possible to do this without a buffer, but polishing by hand can take a lot of effort.

Automotive Paint Correction

Automotive paint correction is like polishing your vehicle but taking it one step farther. Usually, you can remove a moderate amount of oxidation with automotive paint correction.

The difference between paint correction and simply polishing your vehicle is that you will have to use a cutting compound. Polishing is more like “filling in the cracks” whereas automotive paint correction microscopically grinds down a portion of the clear coat to rid the surface of imperfections.

This is a more extensive and expensive job than a simple polish, and it may be worth consulting an expert as a thorough automotive paint correction job can be tedious, time-consuming, and delicate work. 

Repaint Your Vehicle

The most extreme repair you can complete is a total repaint of your vehicle or a repaint of the affected sections of the vehicle. Repainting your vehicle is not so much repairing oxidation as it is starting new.

This only usually happens when oxidation is so bad that nothing else can be done. Usually, this is also not a viable solution to repairing paint oxidation as a new paint job will often exceed the value of the vehicle affected by extreme levels of oxidation.

This will most commonly be seen only in vehicles that are being restored or modified.

Conclusion

Car paint oxidation is inevitable as your vehicle is exposed to the elements almost every day. Though paint oxidation is not completely preventable, there are several simple measures you can take to slow the process.

It is also repairable if you start to notice it on your own vehicle. Make sure you know the early signs of oxidation before it completely destroys the clear coat and a vehicle repaint is the only remaining option.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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