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Why Does Car Paint Peel? (Can It Be Fixed?)

Having a car with a new paint job is fantastic. Who doesn’t want to drive around in a shiny new vehicle? Usually, car paint is meant to last a good number of years, so in most cases, you’ll hardly have to worry about repainting your car.

But what happens when you notice that your beautiful paint job is peeling? It can be pretty frustrating, especially if your car is relatively new. 

The fact is, regardless of how you religiously wash, wax, keep your vehicle in a shaded spot and take care of it, you’re bound to notice some paint peeling over time. Moreso if your car is second-hand or if your car is exposed to extreme weather elements.

So why does car paint peel?

Generally, the leading cause of car paint peeling is exposure to external elements such as the sun or salt from the ocean. Paint can also peel due to a poor paint job either by the manufacturer or because of shoddy work done after the car was made. 

What causes car paint to peel?

Certain factors will contribute to your car paint peeling quickly. Typical culprits include prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. Additionally, if you live in a coastal area, you might start to notice the car paint peeling off quite quickly. 


Salt in the air is your car’s worst enemy. The salt deposits in the air settle on the exterior of your car every day. These deposits will eat away at the paint. 

The damage only becomes noticeable when the salt has built up significantly. But by then, the damage has already been done.

Another culprit that is usually overlooked is a bad paint job. For example, if you take your car to get repainted right after you’ve bought it and the paint didn’t have enough time to cure, it could lead to your car’s paint peeling off.

Moreover, you need to watch out for any scratches and dings that may contribute to the car paint peeling. All it takes is a small chip of the clear coat for the process of delamination to begin. Once this protective layer is compromised, environmental contaminants and moisture seep under the coating resulting in car paint peeling off.

Other surprising things that cause car paint to peel include:

● Older types of brake fluid. The old formula can act like paint thinner and cause the outer layer to peel.

● Coffee and soda, which have high acidity levels and eat away at the paint.

● Bird droppings, sap, and honeydew are acidic as well.

● Melted or loose tar has a tendency to stick and harden to the car’s surface.

How Does Car Paint Peel?  

Generally, most modern cars have three layers of protection; primer, paint, and a clear coat. The primer is the base layer that is applied to protect the underlying metal. The next layer is the paint, and then the clear coat is the top layer.

This top layer protects the paint from scratches and oxidation and helps keep the color looking shiny and increases its luster. So when you start to notice the car paint peeling, it means that one of the layers is delaminating.

In other words, one of the underlying layers stops sticking to the car’s surface and starts to come undone. 

When this happens, flakes of different sizes begin to peel off the car, and that’s how car paint peels.  

How To Stop Car Paint From Peeling 

Now that you understand how car paint peels off, let’s discuss how to stop the peeling before it happens.

Typically there are six different ways to prevent the first clear coat layer from peeling. These are:

● Avoiding automatic car washes

● Apply paint protection film

● Stay away from abrasive or generic car wash products

● Inspect your car regularly

● Protect it from the elements

● Apply wax to your car regularly

Let’s discuss the above methods in detail.

Avoiding automatic car washes

Car washes are convenient to use, especially if you live a busy life. Unfortunately, most modern car washes do not maintain their brushes very well, which eventually chip off the car paint. Essentially, automated car wash brushes cause hundreds of deep micro scratches that are called swirl marks. 

Over time, these scratches build up and eventually lift the clear outer coating leading to your car paint becoming dull and the scratches become easily noticeable.

Apply paint protection film

Applying a ceramic coating is one of the best ways to ensure that your car stays clean and the paint stays on. This paint protection film has hydrophobic properties that make it harder for dirt and grime to stick to the car’s surface. 

This also makes it easier for dirt to slide off the paintwork when it rains.

Inspect your car regularly

There are so many surprising things that contribute to your car paint peeling. Did you know that bird droppings, even honeydew or sap from trees, can cause significant damage the longer they sit on the surface of your car? 

Inspecting your car and washing it regularly will protect the top layer for much longer.

Protect your car from the elements

The sun is great for many things but not for your car. Exposure to UV rays for very long will start to weaken the clear coating of the paint. 

But it’s not only the sun that poses a danger; salt in the air from the ocean and high and violent winds (which can throw debris against the car’s surface) can cause car paint to peel.

Apply wax to your car regularly

On top of the paint protection film, regularly waxing your car (at least twice a year) will help prevent your vehicle paint from peeling. The wax seals the top coat of the car paint and protects it against external elements.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix Peeling Paint On A Car? 

If you’ve noticed that your car paint is peeling, the next question on your mind is likely how much it would cost to fix it.

Generally, for a professional car paint job, you can expect to pay anything between $500 and $10,000. The price is determined by the size of the area and whether the peeling is on the top layer only or it has progressed to the paint or the primer.  

How Do I Fix A Wrong Touch Up Paint Job On My Car? 

You’ve been taking great care of your car, and then a tiny nick or scratch happens. So you decide to have a touch-up paint job to fix the damage. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned, and you notice that the touch-up paint isn’t as smooth as you’d like. 

I get it, it’s very frustrating, but instead of handing out more money to have professionals fix it, you can DIY it.

Method 1: Remove any excess or loose paint using a paint scraper

Depending on how big the area is, you can use a few tools that you’ll probably have lying around. Simply grab a paint scraper and gently scrape it off.

Method 2: Use your fingernail or a toothpick

Sometimes the excess paint might be a minor bump or bubble. In that case, you can scrape off the paint using your fingernail or toothpick. To help loosen the color a little, you can spray the problem area with a prep solvent.

The first step in smoothing out touch-up paint is to scrape it off with a small tool like your nail. If it peels away, it means the job wasn’t done well. The good news however is that it’ll be easy to scrape off.

Method 4: Use a paint thinner

I don’t usually recommend this method, but if you’re desperate enough, you can use paint thinner to remove the excess paint. Just ensure that you are extra careful because you might cause more damage.

Simply wash the problem area with soap and water, rinse it thoroughly, and dry the spot with a clean cloth. Ensure that there are no fibers left from the site. 

Next, you need to carefully apply the paint thinner to the excess clump of paint, avoiding all other surrounding areas of smooth paint.

Rub the area with a swab until you get the desired consistency, and let the area dry before applying a thin layer of touch-up paint. Remember to wear proper safety gear when working with paint thinner because the fumes are harmful.

How Long Should My Car Paint Last?

Car paint is designed to last between 10 and 15 years with proper maintenance. However, if the outer coating is damaged, expect to need a touch-up paint job much sooner than that. 

Remember that exposure to external elements such as sunlight, salt, and acidic substances can damage your car paint or make it age much sooner.

Additionally, the type of paint on your car will also be a factor in how long it lasts. For example, most modern cars are coated with paint that has urethane. This type of paint has excellent UV rays reflecting properties which extends the lifespan of the color. 

However, urethane is highly toxic, so I strongly recommend that you hire a professional to do a touch-up or a new paint job if your car paint has urethane.

If you own a classic vehicle, i.e., made before 1960, your car paint probably has acrylic lacquer or acrylic enamel paint. This paint was popular due to its bright colors, shine, easy application, and low toxicity.

Unfortunately, it has low durability because it will begin to fade and crack after about 5 – 10 years of exposure to sunlight. Nevertheless, this paint is still very popular among show car owners and collectors keen on restoring classic vehicles.  

Final Thoughts

Car paint peels easily if the car is not being maintained properly. So you need to ensure that you inspect your car to minimize the impact of environmental elements on your vehicle. 

You need to keep an eye out, especially for things that can sneak up on you, like bird dropping or tree sap. Clean it off as soon as you notice it on your car, and you should be good to go.