UV Damage & Oxidation

“Modern clearcoat paint doesn’t fade!” is an urban myth. Modern Acrylic-Urethane Clearcoats do suffer fading, oxidation, and UV damage from the harsh sun in the Southern Pacific. We see a lot of newer cars, trucks, and motorcycles that are experiencing UV damage to their paint, trim, and interiors at Car Clean Hawaii. In this article we’ll talk about why new vehicles are UV damaged, how we go about fixing it, and how we help to mitigate it in the future. 

Why Does My Paint & Trim Look Faded? 

Well, it’s pretty simple. The Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) radiation from the sun is breaking down the polymer structure of the paint and trim on your vehicle in the presence of an oxygen atmosphere, and gradually converting the surface layer of glossy polymer into a dull and chalky looking oxide byproduct. It’s physically destroying the molecular bonds of the polymers in the matrix of your paints, plastics, vinyl, coated leather, rubber, etc, and turning what’s left into something else. Something else, that looks really bad.

In parts of the world with a really high UV index, and high surface temperatures from IR (Like Hawaii.) this damage is going to occur at an accelerated rate versus places in the world with lower UV and IR values (Places that are cold, grey, and rainy all the time. Like Scotland.). 

In the past, with the single stage Lacquer and Enamel paints, and rather primitive sorts of plastics used on classic cars, toxic pigments and chemicals were used to stabilize them. As such, some colors lasted better under the sun than others. However, in the 1980’s, many of these substances were banned from automotive paints due to the danger they represented for the people who worked with them, and we went through a really bad couple of decades where paint was falling off cars, and coated leather/vinyl cracking after just a few years. Then, modern Benzotriazole UV Inhibitors were perfected, and for the past 10-15 years we’ve been enjoying paint and trim materials that are far more durable under the sun than those we suffered during the 90’s, and very early 2000’s. 

However, those UV Inhibitors do get ‘Spent Up’, and the more they’re exposed to the less time you have before the paint, vinyl, leather, rubber, or plastic on your vehicle will start to crack, break down, and eventually fall apart. How fast that happens depends upon the climate, and the quality of the paint, plastic, or other material in question. 

Paint from a top-tier company, like BASF’s Glasurit (Sometimes found on Porsches, Bentley’s, Koenigsegg’s, and other top tier cars.) typically has a high enough volume of UV inhibitors to help protect the paint from critical failure for at least a few decades – whether it is single stage or clearcoat. They even have specialty clearcoats, made specifically for vehicles used in climates where the sun is very harsh, which contain extra UV inhibitors. However, cheaper paint brands, and cars sold by lower-end companies often scrimp on the UV inhibitors, causing their paint to start to fade and break down far faster than those from better paint producers. The same thing happens with plastics, and other vehicle trim materials. Some companies cheap-out, and as a result, the vehicle starts to degrade faster. You may only get a few years out of the cheapest paints and materials, before they start to irrevocably degrade. 

‘Fading’ (The paint on your car becoming cloudy, losing its gloss, becoming discolored, and rough to the touch.) is simply an early warning sign. The UV inhibitors on the very surface are starting to become expended and let the paint break down. One day, the polymer matrix of the paint will lose integrity, and start cracking, before losing adhesion, become brittle, and eventually fall off. The same thing happens with modern plastics, vinyl, and rubber. 

One interesting feature of Benzotriazole UV inhibitors, is that they tend to float or migrate to the surface of the material while it is curing. So, the top 7-15 microns of your paint, has more UV protection than the next 7-15 microns below that. Once that top layer of paint is polished away, the material will start to fade and break down exponentially faster than it would have before. That’s not good. 

What Does This Mean? How Do I Save My Car? 

In a harsh climate like Hawaii, UV/IR degradation of vehicle materials happens a lot faster than it does in other parts of the world. You can slow down this damage massively, by applying Ceramic Coatings, as soon as you take possession of the vehicle. These products work like ‘Sunscreen’, or a secondary sacrificial clearcoat layer for your vehicle, and can massively slow down the degradation. Such ‘Nano Coatings’ are available to protect virtually every vehicle surface, including the paint, exterior trim, interior vinyl/leather, and now even the tires and rubber seals! These products have been a big boon for climates that suffer so much under the sun like ours. This is simply a matter of applying these products before the damage gets bad, and then keeping them topped up at the correct service intervals. It’s just like having regular oil changes, in order to help your engine from exploding. Periodic application and maintenance of Ceramic Coatings for your vehicle, can help you to avoid VERY expensive paint and trim failures down the road. 
On vehicles that have already suffered UV damage, the top layer of material has to be abrasively removed to reveal the undamaged surface beneath, and protective coatings need to be applied even more frequently. 

Unfortunately, in this field where material science is a critical skill, not all detailers are created equal.
At Car Clean Hawaii, we do our best to preserve as much of the original paint while polishing cars, in order to preserve as much of the paint’s UV Inhibitors as we can. This takes true skill, and experience, as well as very expensive equipment to read paint depth, layer by layer. This helps to prevent the paint failing early, when you bring your vehicle in for a Paintwork Correction. We always do our best to leave the most UV inhibitors behind, to prolong the life of your vehicle.

We also use our knowledge of material science, and our decades of experience in Hawaii to select nano-coatings, sealants, and dressings that help to protect the vehicles under our care from the ill effects of the sun. 

Unfortunately, not all detailers are so knowledgeable, or so scrupulous. Many use products that can actually magnify the deleterious effects of the sun, and accelerate the damage done to your vehicle. Many also remove more paint than needed while correcting defects, throwing away years of life that your vehicle’s paint has, before it needs an expensive repaint. This is a disservice to customers, and gives a bad name to our industry. 

This sort of poor service is why we have worked so hard at Car Clean Hawaii to become better, over our past two decades of experience. Our customers are often our friends in the community, and we want to help make your investment last. 


Your new vehicle will oxidize, fade, and suffer from UV damage sooner than you think in Hawaii. The sun is out to get you, or at least your car, truck, or motorcycle. If you can put on the vehicular equivalent of ‘sunscreen’ before the damage starts, and apply it frequently enough, you can avoid the automotive equivalent of skin cancer. Get a Ceramic Coating.

Most detailers don’t know the difference between baby oil and SPF40, so just end up magnifying the hurt. This is why you need detailers who know the science involved, and can help keep you out of the paint shop… Detailers like Car Clean Hawaii. 

We’re Hilo’s premier detailer for a reason. We’ve spent the past twenty years learning how to protect our customer’s vehicles from the sun as well as possible. We have hands-on experience, and have worked closely with product manufacturers over the years to make the best possible protectants for our climate in Hawaii. You won’t find this level of expertise anywhere else in the Islands. 

We want to help. 

– The Team at Car Clean Hawaii