How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system
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    Registered Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    How To Test for a Clearcoat or Single Stage Paint Finish

    Before working on a Special Interest or Custom car, it's a good idea to first establish what kind of paint is on the car unless the owner can definitely tell you what type of paint is on the car. Older cars and sometimes special interest, and often times original older cars will have a single stage paint job. At the same time, if these cars have been repainted recently the painter may have sprayed a modern Basecoat/Clearcoat paint system onto the car. If the owner doesn't know or isn't sure what type of finish/paint system the car has then before you work on it you want to find out exactly what kind of finish is on the car. You can do this by testing the panels on the car using a paint cleaner like ScratchX or Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner cleaner and either a clean soft wax applicator pad or a piece of terry cloth toweling.



    Note: 99.9% of all new cars have a basecoat clearcoat paint system. Clear coat paints were introduced in the early 1980's and as each year went by more and more manufactures switched their entire line of cars to clearcoat paint systems. So if you're working on a newer car and it has the factory finish, chances are pretty good it's a clear coat paint system, if you want to, it never hurts to check anyways as there are a small percentage of new cars that have single stage paint systems and there are some cars that have what are called "Tinted Clears". So when in doubt, simply check to find out what type of paint system you're working on before starting the paint polishing process.


    To test a car to find out if it has a clear coat finish or a single stage finish you want to use a paint cleaner and a white cloth of some type, if you're working on a white car then you'll want to use a dark colored cloth because if the car is in fact a single stage paint then you won't be able to see the white pigment you're removing on white cloth, so use a dark colored cloth when testing white cars.

    It' also important to check for paint type on a number of different panels, and if you want to be 100% sure then check all the panels. It's possible to have one type of paint on one panel and another type of paint on a different panel. You can see we checked multiple panels when we did the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado's Show Car Makeover.


    Since we had to test this car's paint before working on it we took the liberty to capture how to do this using pictures...


    For this example we're going to use Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner with one of our Even Coat Microfiber Applicator Pads. You could also use ScratchX as both ScratchX and Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner are both white in color and work very well for checking for a clear coat paint or a pigmented or single stage paint.







    Apply some of the Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner to the face of the pad.




    Next you'll want to rub the paint cleaner to a number of places on the car to check and make sure the entire car is using the same type of paint system. It is possible to have a car in which some panels are clear coated and some panels have a single stage paint depending upon whether or not it's been repaired and how it was repaired. Yes, it is possible in this day and age for some body shops to spray a repaired panel using a different paint system than the rest of the car, for this reason you need to inspect or test a few different panels to get a good idea of what you're working on, in some cases you may want to check each panel on the car.




    After rubbing the paint cleaner against the paint turn the pad over and inspect it. If you find color on the pad this is an indicator that the paint you're working on is a single stage finish and the color you're seeing is the pigment transferring from the paint to your applicator pad.















    As you can see from the test, this 1956 Cadillac does in fact have a red, single stage paint finish.






    Over the summer we buffed out a 1956 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and upon checking the panels we discovered all of the car to be clear-coated EXCEPT the Trunk Lid which was painted with a single stage white paint.

    1956 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud - Clearcoat finish except the Trunk Lid which has single stage paint.
    (Photo taken in front of Bob Hopes first house in Palm Springs, California)












    Here's what my buffing pad looked like after buffing the trunk lid. If you see the color of the paint
    on your car building up on the face of your buffing pad.



    So whenever you're working on something important, to either you or your customer, and you're unsure of the paint type, take a few minutes to do the above simple test.
    Mike Phillips
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    Mike.Phillips@Autogeek.net
    "Find something you like and use it often"

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    Registered Member brickyardz's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Thanks for the info Mike. What is done after the paint finish is determined? Is a different process used to polish the paint depending on the type of finish? I have never worked on a single stage paint finish, yet, and would like to better understand the whole picture before working on one.

    Thanks.

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    Registered Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Quote Originally Posted by brickyardz View Post
    Thanks for the info Mike. What is done after the paint finish is determined? Is a different process used to polish the paint depending on the type of finish? I have never worked on a single stage paint finish, yet, and would like to better understand the whole picture before working on one.

    Thanks.
    In the case of the 1956 Rolls Royce, if you're ever working on a customer car and you discover two different paint systems on the car the first thing you want to do is notify the owner, in this particular case the owner didn't know the trunk lid was single stage as he had never worked on the paint in a way to show him this difference, so notify the owner.

    As for how to treat a single stage paint compared to a clear coat finish, in most cases, not all cases but in most cases, a single stage finish will be softer than a basecoat/clearcoat finish so you want to take this into consideration when doing any cleaning work so you don't treat it too aggressively and remove too much paint.

    Meguiar's always teaches people,

    "Use the least aggressive product to get the job done"

    So it could be you can restore the single stage paint with a less aggressive product than you're using on the clear coated panels. This is where you'll want to test a few products to see which products will remove the defects best for what you're trying to accomplish.

    This is very important if there are any edges, high point or body lines where the single stage paint is as these areas will likely have thinner paint.

    Besides using the least aggressive product to get the job done, single stage paint tend to absorb and react better to pure polishes as Meguiar's pure polishes really do a good job of bringing out the full richness of color in a single stage paint where with a clear coat paint they increase the clarity of the clear coat to it's maximum potential. Older single stage paint tend to be more open or more porous and thus will absorb the rich polishing oils in our pure polishes better than a clear coat finish which tend to be harder, denser and less able to absorb any kind of chemical so products tend to be more topical on clear coat paints when they are new and in excellent condition. As clear coat paint age and are exposed to wear & tear they do tend to open up more than when they were new but they're still pretty solid or dense, this is why Meguiar's always states that the polishing step is an optional step, you don't have to do it.

    So when working on single stage paints, just keep in mind they tend to be softer or more workable or another way to describe them is more polishable. This makes removing defects out of them easier but also means you want to be more careful when working on a single stage paint as it can be very easy to remove too much paint very quickly.

    And while polishing is an optional step, single stage paints tend to react very favorably to being polished with any of our pure polishes as well as M80, M82, M09 and even M81 as these polishes all contain our rich polishing oils which will bring out the full richness of color, depth and reflectivity of a pigmented paint.

    Mike Phillips
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    Mike.Phillips@Autogeek.net
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Thank you so much Mike for explaining the difference between single stage and clear coat. Do you have any suggestion about product range that i should use to detail classic cars? Is it possible to use a rotary machine?

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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Mike, how do you tell on a lighter colored car? I was thinking about using a black or dark colored applicator, but the color of the product always throws me off? How would I go about testing a color like white or any light color that the color of the product might throw you off?

    Ryan
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    Registered Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Quote Originally Posted by gioprivatemove View Post
    Do you have any suggestion about product range that i should use to detail classic cars? Is it possible to use a rotary machine?
    You can use all the same products on a single stage that you would use on a clear coat finish, you just want to remain ever aware that in most cases single stage paints are softer than modern clear coats and if you're not careful you can quickly and easily burn through any high points where paint tends to be the thinnest.

    You can use a rotary buffer on single stage paints and you can use a rotary buffer on classic cars with single stage paints, just follow the basic rules...

    "Use the least aggressive product to get the job done"

    1. Evaluate the condition of the finish
    2. Choose the right product
    3. Use good technique


    If you follow the above you should be good to go no matter what kind of paint you're working on.

    Mike Phillips
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    Registered Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Quote Originally Posted by lilblkblt04 View Post
    Mike, how do you tell on a lighter colored car? I was thinking about using a black or dark colored applicator, but the color of the product always throws me off? How would I go about testing a color like white or any light color that the color of the product might throw you off?

    Ryan
    It's a little more difficult but here's how...

    If you have a white, or very light colored car you should use a dark piece of cotton cloth and look for the color of your car's finish on it after rubbing some paint cleaner or Cleaner/Wax into the finish for a few moments.
    Mike Phillips
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    "Find something you like and use it often"

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    Registered Member gators241987's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Phillips View Post
    It's a little more difficult but here's how...

    If you have a white, or very light colored car you should use a dark piece of cotton cloth and look for the color of your car's finish on it after rubbing some paint cleaner or Cleaner/Wax into the finish for a few moments.
    Dont a majority of older white colored cars, just have SS paint on them? Another reason why i hate white cars, mostly because they tend to be "boring" to work on.

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    Registered Member superbogel's Avatar
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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    halo there mike, i am new here, yesterday i tried using bug and tar into my new car, to remove some dirt, and i notice my cloth became black, does it mean that i have a single stage painted car? just want to make sure again, coz my frens said its a single stage car painted..

    is there a problem in using color x to remove swirls? or is it dangerous? many thx

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    Re: How to test for a clear coat or single stage paint system

    How much dirt and tar were you removing? That could be black as well ( I believe your car is black). But if you got a real deep black like your paint, and got it everyhere evenly, then it is likely singe stage.

    ColorX is safe on single stage and clear coated paints.
    2017 Subaru WRX Premium - WR Blue

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