Introduction: How to Repair Peeling or Failing Clear Coat on a Budget

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Video tutorial on how to repair failing clear coat. This is more of a budget repair without any expensive tools and you can still active excellent results. The driver’s side of this truck was paint at one time and unfortunately the clear coat is failing in spots on this side. I will be repainting the fender and fender flares to clean up a majority of the issue.


-tools required for part disassembly

-wax and grease remover

-isopropyl alcohol

-lint free cloth

-latex or nitrile gloves


-320 grit sandpaper

-400 grit sandpaper

-600 grit sandpaper

-adhesion promotor

-high build automotive primer

-base coat color matched paint

-clear coat

-painter's tape

-masking paper

-bucket of water with soap

-1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper

-1500 grit wet/dry sandpaper

-2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper

-polishing compound

-soft cloth and microfiber cloth

-wax or paint sealant

-new trim clips

-weatherstripping adhesive

Step 1: Removing Parts If Possible

Starting with the fender flares on the Toyota Tacoma first. If possible, remove the affect components such as the fender flares. The parts will be easier to work with and there is no risk getting overspray on the rest of the vehicle. As a rough overview, there are fasteners on the inside each of the fender flares, then there will be clips in behind which need to be disconnected. Most of these clips did break, so they’ll need to be replaced.

Step 2: Assessing the Situation

Prepping the panel, it may be a good idea to clean the affected either to remove any wax or any other contaminants using dish soap or going over the area with a wax and grease remover. Next is removing the rubber gasket so there won’t be a tape edge. This simply pulls off and I’ll show you how to reattach this towards the end of the video.

You may be required to remove any decals, rock guards, or emblems to help achieve a hidden repair. The rear fender flare has polyurethane stone guards which will be getting removed. This can be down using a heat gun. Due to someone’s poor workmanship, they painted over top of these stone guards instead of removing them and replacing them. You can see the original paint color below the removed stone guards, these stone guards are supposed to be clear, and we also have a heavy paint edge.

While the clear looks good in some spots, when applying excessive pressure with my finger, you can see the existing clear coat delaminating very easily. Therefore the existing clear coat will need to be sanded down, otherwise, with a new paint layer, the previous layer can fail, cause the new finish to clear or peel away.

Step 3: Sanding the Part

Next using 320 grit sandpaper, sand down the surface going down to the base coat with the clear coat layer removed. A backing pad can be used to help apply even pressure across the surface without causing any waves. But with the fender flare being an odd shape, you’ll also need to use the palm of your hand over the sharper curves and contours. If you are working with a steel panel, this can be completely stripped to bare metal if you wish or sanded down in the same manner as I’m showing here. You’ll need to feather in those transitions of the peeling clear coat, meaning the edges are tapered and will be hidden under the new layers of paint.

The whole flare will be getting painted. It wasn’t required to go over the whole flare with 320 grit, however on those unaffected areas, this will be sanded down with 400 grit and the primer can lightly fade over these areas, ensuring those 320 areas are sufficiently covered.

Step 4: Cleaning and Applying Primer

Clean the flare using a wax and grease remover to clean away any contaminants.

Primer won’t be applied over the whole flare, it will only be on the peeling areas that we sanded with 320 grit. Considering these are a plastic panel, any areas where the plastic is exposed, shown by the black spots while requiring an adhesion promoter for a strong bond.

Wait for about 5 minutes and then apply a high build primer to those peeling areas. You’ll be looking at 2 to 3 coats depending on the thickness and coverage. Wait for 5 to 10 minutes in between coats, first starting with a light coat, and then medium to fully wet coats for the final 2. Depending on the color of your vehicle, the color of the primer can affect the final color of the paint’s finish.

Allow the primer to dry for an hour. And then sand the whole fender flare down with 400 grit sandpaper. Considering this is a metallic paint, finish up over the whole fender flare using 600 grit sandpaper.

Step 5: Applying Base and Clear Coat

Using the paint code from the vehicle, you can have a custom paint mixed to match your paint color. Clean the flare using isopropyl alcohol to remove any contaminants on the surface. This is being redone using a two-stage paint, consisting of a base coat and a clear coat. However, for an even cheaper route, a single-stage paint can be used as well and this method can be found in some of my other auto body repair videos.

Apply the paint to the surface, the first coat will be light and I have focused on the primed area.

You’ll need to wait 5 to 10 minutes in between coats, this can vary depending on the thickness of paint and your weather conditions. Apply the second coat to the whole flare, this will help cover any slight differences between the existing and new paint.

The final 2 coats will be medium to fully wet coats. Applying the third coat to the whole flare. Now if you are touching up a larger area, you can fade the area between the old and new paint and I’ll show you this in a moment.

Next, you’ll need to wait 30 minutes to 1 hour before applying a clear coat. Waiting too soon may not allow the paint to sure enough where the chemicals get trapped and cause the clear coat to peel. But if you wait too long, then the clear coat may not bond properly to the base coat and this too can cause peeling. For specific wait times, you can also refer to the product’s data sheets too.

First, apply a light coat of clear coat, I am using a 1k clear coat which is the cheaper version. A 2k clear coat can also be used, this is much better quality but it is, however, more expensive. Wait about 10 minutes in between coats.

Apply the next coat, this being a heavy to fully wet coat. Considering I will be wet sanding the clear coat to achieve a high-quality shine, a third coat will be applied so I have enough material to work with.

And finally, apply a 3rd full wet coat of clear. If you are planning on wet sanding and then polishing, you’ll need to wait until the paint is hard enough to work with. This can take at least a week or more depending on the thickness of paint and your climate. I will touch on the wet sanding process towards the end of the video, but I also have a full in-depth video covering this topic.

Step 6: Next Is the Fender

Moving onto the fender, this will be the same process but instead of working with a plastic component, we have a metal base. Remove any components which can cause tape edges or may get damaged during the sanding process. Here I have already removed the fender flare and marker light, both of which I have tutorial videos for specifically for this truck. Tape off any surrounding areas where you don’t won't be damaged by sanding.

Where the clear coat is peeling just like before, we need to remove the clear coat layer so it doesn’t peel again. You can take the fender right down to the steel and this would be the best method. Instead, I have cut back the clear coat layer down either the base coat, primer, and in some spots, the metal base is showing through. For this, I am using 320 grit sandpaper. As you’re sanding, you’ll notice the different layers. A backing pad can be used to help evenly sand the surface or use the palm of your hand.

Now here is a perfect example of why it’s important to ensure that failing clear coat layer is stripped back on a panel. Once I removed that tape where the paint still appeared to be in good condition, the clear coat came with it. Now the lower portion of the fender will also need to be sanded.

Step 7: Masking, Cleaning, and Primer

Once done, give the fender a clean using a wax and grease remover. Unfortunately, it was getting dark when I was finishing this up, I wanted to have the surface somewhat sealed to have a light layer of protection on the bare metal.

Mask the area off using tape and paper. Just like my other repair videos, I like to use packaging paper from any car parts I order online, it’s cheap and the paint will soak in reducing the chance of any paint flaking off which can end up on the finished surface. All the areas which were sanding with 320 grit sandpaper will be covered with primer. Fold the paper back so we don’t have hard tape edges which can cause blending issues after.

Wipe the surface again using a wax and grease remover to clean away any contaminants.

Using a high build primer, this will provide a thicker layer as opposed to a regular primer. High build primers tend to seal the surface better, whereas a regular primer doesn’t provide any surface protection. The high build also helps fill in any surface imperfections such as the course sanding marks left from the 320 grit. The first coat will be a light layer, wait for 5 to 10 minutes in between coats, and then two additional coats will be medium to fully wet coats.

The primer should be dry in a couple of hours to work with. Remove the masking after your final coat so there is minimal chance of hard edges.

Step 8: Prepping for Paint

To remove any orange peel or level out the surface, sand the primer down with 400 grit sandpaper. I left this for a couple of days before I was able to get back at it and we did get hit with some snow. I am still working above freezing temperature, you can apply paint in the cold but you must be extremely careful. Paint can get runs much easier in the cold, takes longer to cure, and you’ll need to watch for frost if your painted components are left outside.

Ideally, you don’t want to paint in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise, the paint won’t cure. This can vary between products, some paints can be applied at even colder temperatures and still cure properly.

Next move up to 600 grit sandpaper. Backer pads can be used or the palm of your hand. Don’t use your finger as you can cause waves in the surface. Go over the transition lines between the primer and existing paint, feathering in any edges remove those hard lines. Careful around body lines as these areas can be easier to sand through, if metal becomes visible, clean the area with a solvent and then touch it up with a primer.

Considering I am using 2 stage paint, the base coat will be applied a few inches past the primer, it’ll be somewhat of a fade as there may be some difference in the existing new and old color.

Just past those 600 grit marks where the base coat fade will be, this will be the clear coat transition. You’ll need to sand this area with 1000 grit sandpaper for the clear coat. If the 1000 grit sanding marks aren’t fully covered with a clear coat, then they can still be polished out.

Clean the area using isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth to remove any contaminants.

Again tape the panel off, overspray can travel quite a way, so makes sure your vehicle is well protected. This truck will eventually get a full exterior detail so I’m not overly worried about overspray.

I also removed the light clip so it wouldn’t need to be taped off and it’s one less tape edge. The body shop who painted this truck before, they took the lazy route and painted right over this clip.

Just before painting, clean the area again with isopropyl alcohol to ensure all contaminants are removed.

Step 9: Applying Base Coat and Clear Coat

Mix the can accordingly, then apply a light coat to the fender covering up the primer. Considering it is colder outside, I’ll have to wait at least 10 minutes for each of those paint coats to setup. As the paint gets thicker, it’ll be closer to 15 minutes.

It’s best to go for the hard edges first and then finish up with the larger more exposed areas, that way you can reduce the amount of overspray on those exposed areas.

Apply the next coat, this time going a little further with the fade, try not to go over the clear coat transition area. This should be a medium to fully wet coat. You can angle the can so overspray is directed away from the clear coat transition area and instead to where the primer was.

And finally, apply the third coat, this should be a wet coat while being careful not to get any runs or drips. If a run or drip occurs, you’ll need the base coat to dry first, then repair the mistake by sanding and touching up that area.

Wait 30 minutes to 1 hour before applying a clear coat, this can vary between products. For this, I am using a 2k clear coat instead of the 1k that was used on the fender flares to show a slightly different method. 2k clear coat is much easier to work with, it has an activator and once pushed has less than a 24hr work period, it’s more durable, however, it is more expensive.

The first coat will be a light layer, wait about 10 to 15 minutes in between coats, closer to the 15 minute period if you are working with cooler temperatures. The second layer will be a medium to fully wet coat. And finally the third will be a full wet coat. If you do get a run in the final layer, it’s not the end of the world as it can be wet sanded out and I will save that procedure for another video.

Remove any masked off areas within a couple of minutes of that last coat to ensure there is minimal risk hard tape edges. Then allow the clear coat to cure, 2k clear does harden much quicker than compared to 1k, however, I would wait at least a week to be safe.

Step 10: Wet Sanding and Polishing

Once the clear coat is hard enough to work with, this isn’t necessarily needed but if you want to achieve a high-quality shine that blends with the rest of the vehicle, you can wet sand and then polish. I do have a more in-depth video for this, but I’ll give a basic overview here.

First ensure the surface is clean, free of any contaminants which may damage the paint’s surface. Using only a wet-dry compatible sandpaper, pre-soak it in a bucket of water with some carwash soap mixed in to help with lubrication. Wet the surface and evenly sand the surface either using backing pads or the palm of your hand with 1000 grit sandpaper.

Wet sanding will remove any orange peel or other surface imperfections providing crisp clarity in the paint.

Once most of the orange peel has been removed, move up to 1500 grit sandpaper. Keep the area wet and rinse the sandpaper and component to remove any sanding residue. Careful around any edges or body lines as you can sand through the clear coat easer in these areas.

And finally, finish up with 2000 grit sandpaper, this is final grit before moving onto the polishing process.

In order to bring that shine, this can be done by hand or using a machine polisher. Use a soft cloth or polish pad, apply a polishing compound and then work it onto the surface. Work times will vary between polishes and when done, use a microfiber cloth to remove any compound residue.

A wax or sealant should be applied at least one month after the paint was applied, this will allow the paint to fully cure.

Step 11: Finishing Up

Reinstall any components which were removed. I did remove the rubber gaskets on the flares, this stops some debris from getting in behind the flare and also reduces the flare rubbing on the fender. I used automotive grade weather stripping adhesive to reattach the gaskets in place.

New clips were also purchased for the flares as most did break.

Finally, the flares were reinstalled and this is the final finish. No more peeling on the fender flares or fender. When done correctly this can be a permeant fix.

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