Reader Question: Flaky Paint?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Derrick asks: I have a Ford Taurus that runs great but looks terrible because the paint is blotchy and in some places actually flaking off. I can’t afford a repaint but I also can’t afford a new car. Is there anything I can do to make my car look better so I’ll feel better about it without spending a fortune?

My reply: Cars made since the late ’80s-ish have what are called two-stage paint jobs. What this means is there’s a color coat – very thin and very dull – and a clear coat (also thin) but very shiny sprayed on top. These two-stage finishes are pretty tough and retain their shine for longer than the old single-stage finishes, which tended to fade faster. But, you could bring the shine back by polishing these finishes – and you can’t do that with a two-stage finish because you’d be polishing off the shine – and leaving the dull color coat exposed.

When the topcoat (clear) begins to flake or yellow, you’re basically out of luck. The only way to get the shine back is to refinish the finish. And that gets into money, as you’ve found out.

I personally consider the two-stage finish part and parcel of the disposability ethos of modern car design. Works great – looks great – for “x” amount of time. And then it stops working – and looking good- and the cost to fix it is too much to make it worth fixing.

Meanwhile, the old single-stage finishes like the one my ’76 Trans-Am got back in 1976 can last much longer if cared for properly. Mine has spider-web cracks here and there but the car still looks great, especially given the paint is almost 45 years old!

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  1. Find an earl Scheib (spelling?) paint job place, or look around online for your area, whether paint shops, auto body repair, or get the max for your $


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