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BMW Peeling or Cracking Clear Coat Paint

April 13, 2011

This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.

car year: 1996
car model: 318i
Dear Otto: I don’t know if you guys have a body work expert, but I bet you do…here’s the problem: my ’96 318i is great in every way, except that for the past 10 years the clear coat has been blistering and peeling off. It started a little here and there, but by now about 25% of it is gone, making my car look like it has eczema! The underlying white paint is fine. 1. Why is this happening [the car is stored inside and generally well-cared for]? 2. Does the car need to be media-blasted to remove the rest of the clear-coat before it can be repainted? Or, is there another way to remove the rest of the clear coat? 3. Did BMW ever have a recall on this issue…was it a significant concern?

The clear-coat peeling has been a minor to moderate problem on many BMW models up through the ’90s (and to a lesser degree, into the 2000s). BMW has never recognized this as a warranty or other responsibility issue. Really, once the clear-coat is cracking and/or peeling, the only recourse is to fully remove it and “start over”. The clear-coat must be sanded off, at least in the peeling or cracking areas and then feathered into the solid areas. When all of the peeling or cracking has been removed, a fresh coat of paint (clear or clear plus color) can be applied.

  1. Harold Hatcher permalink

    Thanks for the question about the peeling of the cars clear coat I also have a 318is and I keep it covered and I thought well waxed,but after letting it sit for five months and then going out to see what has happened to the hood of my car,nut now I know….

  2. Michael Freeman permalink

    I to have pealing clear-coat, in addition to this my son parked my beautiful black 95 540i under a tree full of berry eating birds. Their toxic poop burned the paint so my only solution is to re-paint the car.
    I’m not a big fan of clear coat, to many problems on to many cars! I am planning to re-paint with a single stage paint. I re-painted the hood and front clip of my son’s Hellrot Red 318ti this way and the guys at the paint store couldn’t beleave I had not clear-coated it, the shine was indistinguishabl from the factory paint on the fenders.

    • The real difference between a single stage and a clear-coat paint finish is that the single stage will be a bit more susceptible to fading and will require that you be more diligent with waxing, to protect the paint.

  3. Lester Tibbetts permalink

    As a half-way measure one can get rid of the loose scabs with an air hose then polish and wax the exposed paint. When most of the clear coating on a given panel is gone the remainder can be removed with a razor blade on a handle. Very tedious but must be done carefully to avoid scratching the paint. Then polish and wax, or touch up flaws and coat with a spray can of high quality acrylic clear coat. Krylon makes one. All wax must be removed first with several applications of wax and grease remover. Waxing is safer because you can’t screw it up and it is easily removed when it comes time for a repaint.

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