We frequently get asked about the best way to protect car paint from sun damage. The good news is that modern car paint is actually very durable. However, both UV radiation and just plain old hot temperatures can damage your car’s paint and clear coat in certain circumstances. No need to worry though, because we’ve got all the details you need to know.
So how does sun hurt your car paint? The sun emits ultra-violet (UV) radiation. Some forms of UV radiation dry out resins causing paint to crack when it gets too dry (UV-A). Other forms of UV radiation cause paint to fade (UV-B). If the clear coat is damaged, oxygen will chemically react with the underlying car paint causing oxidation. Again, modern car paint is good, so with a little care (discussed below) these risks are very manageable.
The other risk is the combination of debris on your car and hot temperatures. Let’s say you have bird poop on your car. Normally, as long as it’s removed relatively quickly, there’s usually no damage. However, when parked outdoors sunny, hot climates, clear coat can soften and bond with (molds around) any debris on the paint such as bird poop, tree sap, insects, etc. This makes the bird poop or other debris VERY difficult to remove.
With over 70% of cars parked outdoors 24/7 and only 14% of drivers using car covers, knowing how to protect your car’s paint is something the overwhelming majority of frequent drivers need to know.
Best Ways to Protect Car Paint from Sun
Some of us simply cannot park our cars indoors. Here’s a few tips to protect the life of your car paint and help maintain resale value.
Use Car Covers
Car covers help address both risks noted above. They prevent debris and abrasive materials from getting on your car’s paint in the first place. While dust is the most common offender, bird poop, tree leaves, tree sap, construction dust, and concrete dust are much more likely to cause damage. Car covers are effective barriers to all of these.
Also, better covers have reflective materials in the outer layer of fabric to reflect sun. This helps keep clear coat from becoming soft and “soaking in” or “wrapping around” any dust or other debris.
Budget covers can be found for under $60, while premium versions start at $150. Relative to the value of most cars, covers basically act as a low cost form of insurance. They have other benefits as well, including:
- Preventing dashboards and steering wheels from fading (leather and vinyl aren’t as resilient as paint)
- Keeping cars cooler on the inside
- Lowering the risk of robberies (thieves can’t see valuables inside the car).
Lastly, after a little practice, car covers are easy to install and remove. Most people report taking a minute to a minute and a half to put on/take off a cover.
Wash and Wax Regularly
How does regular washing and waxing help? Washing removes contaminants and debris from your paint. The less time these are on your paint, the less damage they are likely to do.
Waxing on the other hand provides an extra barrier between contaminants / debris and your car’s paint. That means things like dust are less likely to “stick” and less likely to penetrate clear coat.
Waxes can either be natural, synthetic or a combination of both. Meguiar’s and Car Guys are highly popular and very well reviewed. I personally use Car Guys products on my daily driver.
Here’s a good video on how to properly wax a car if you are interested in DIY.
Consider Impact Resistant Film
We have talked to some drivers that have had good luck with impact resistant film. Basically impact resistant film is a urethane top coat that is applied directly on top of existing clear coat.
While these products are primarily meant to prevent scratches and dings from things like flying gravel, they do provide some level of added UV protection. Film is a more involved step than waxing or using a car cover. We suggest you talking to your local auto paint and detailing store first to see if this makes sense for your situation.
The ‘Catch 22’ of Parking in the Shade
Many if not most public parking lots and streets have trees somewhere in or around them. It is very tempting on a hot day to park in the shade. This presents a bit of a Catch 22, meaning you can park in the shade and risk tree leaves, tree sap and bird poop or park in the sun and risk UV radiation.
GENERALLY speaking, if there is a real risk of leaves-sap-poop, you are better off parking in the sun. This is certainly true if your car has been recently been washed and waxed and your dashboard has been treated with a good protectant.
As tempting as it may be, the shade is usually the greater of two evils.
As you can see there is no silver bullet. However, protecting your paint with some kind of cover (either wax and / or a literal car cover) combined with strategic parking to avoid debris getting on your paint, will keep your car looking newer for longer.
The good news is that you can protect your paint with small adjustments to your daily routine.