Fix exterior faded plastic oxidation

Exterior Vehicle Plastic

Today’s exterior vehicle parts and trim are largely made of plastic that if exposed can lead to faded plastic oxidation. These plastics are used to add efficiency in production, to reduce overall weight and to create decorative pieces for a vehicle’s exterior. Many different types of plastics are used in manufacturing exterior plastic. Nylons, polystyrene, poly carbonates, weather-able ASA-AES, PVC, polypropylene, polyesters, and urethanes are the most commonly used plastics in these applications. All non-painted exterior plastics on every vehicle are susceptible to plastic fading or oxidation.

Some of the most notorious vehicles for exposed exterior plastic are the Chevy Avalanche and the Jeep Wrangler. These both have above average amounts of plastic and so they are among the hardest to maintain and most noticeable when the plastic fades and oxidizes. If the plastic is not cared for it makes these vehicles look pretty bad. When you see one of these that has properly cleaned and protected plastic, it looks great.

The fading of the plastics is a constant battle that most vehicle owners end up losing because they can’t find a solution that keeps for more than a week or two and they deem it not worth it or don’t have the time to keep up with the required maintenance.

What causes exterior car plastic to fade?

Most vehicles have at least a small amount of exterior black or grey plastic. They both fade, but it is much more noticeable on black plastic.

The sun, heat and other elements are almost constantly beating down on the plastic. This causes the already somewhat porous plastics to degrade or oxidize. The result is a faded or lightened color from the original plastic which does not look good but is actually not good for the plastic either. Most vehicles have various plastic parts that are not necessarily made by the same manufacturer. This means that some plastics are not as well made and can potentially degrade faster than other parts. It takes time but it can get the point of plastics actually completely breaking down, becoming brittle and falling apart. Depending on where that plastic is on the vehicle, it can actually become a safety hazard if the plastic deteriorates to that point of falling apart.

Many have claimed to have the perfect solution to fixing plastic fading and oxidation but few live up to the claims.

DIY dont’s

I have seen many mistakes because of bad ideas or bad advice (usually found online under “life hack” articles) that claim to have miracle fixes to this problem that most of us face with our exterior plastics on our vehicles.

Please DO NOT attempt the following;    

  • Rubbing peanut butter into the plastic
  • Spray it with WD-40
  • Spray painting the plastic
  • Applying used engine oil to the plastic
  • Sanding the plastic
  • Buffing or compounding the plastic
  • Applying cooking oils
  • Applying heat to burn/melt the plastic
  • Coloring the plastic with permanent marker
  • Applying some type of solvent

These are some of the things I’ve seen people try and at first might produce a satisfactory result but over time the mistake of trying one of these will show. Many of the articles claiming these things will help neglect to state why they help or how long they will last. Most don’t understand how plastic is actually made and that these things will actually damage the integrity of the plastic to only progress the deterioration of the plastic quicker.

Hiding plastic oxidation

There are so many products out the that claim to fix or restore the faded plastics on vehicle exteriors. Most of them actually look great when first applied. But many of them fall short and begin to lose their darkening effect rather quickly, some within minutes of application. Some do last a week or two but then seem to dry out the plastic and make the oxidation worse than is was before, prompting most people to re-apply the same product again.

Many products produce a high shine, greasy and wet look. While some people like this, it is not the natural or original look of new plastic. New plastic has more of a matte look and does not feel greasy to the touch. A lot of these products can actually cause damage over time and dry out plastics to cause faded plastic oxidation.

Make sure before using any product that you read the labels and instructions completely to understand the proper application process and what kind of results to expect.

True plastic restoration

In my years as a detailer and detailing business owner I have always jumped from product to product trying to find the best plastic restorer but have almost always been disappointed. In our plastic restoration service we use an actual plastic restoration product. It is the only one I’ve used that actually lives up to what it claims to do. The product is called Solution Finish. The exterior plastics, once faded and ugly, will look better than new. Once wiped off properly they are clean to the touch and do not feel greasy or look shiny. The real test is the longevity. In my own experience on my personal vehicle, after a month went by, it looked freshly applied. It took a full 6 or 7 months of Utah weather to show any signs of fading again.

The beauty of this product is that it actually restores the plastic and is not just a greasy filler that covers up the fading. It actually restores and reverses the oxidation that has occurred. This is a professional grade product and service that is truly worth paying for.

Fixing faded vehicle plastic

Whatever product or service you end up going with to restore your faded exterior vehicle plastic make sure you know how to and/or understand what the results will be.


by Chris Blaisdell, CD, Onsite Detail

What is paint oxidation and clear coat failure?

What is paint oxidation?paint oxidation red car paint 50/50

We’ve all seen instances where a vehicle’s paint has been neglected to the point the paint is no longer shining like when it rolled off the showroom floor. In fact that is the case for most vehicles we see on the road today. I would dare to say that most daily driver vehicles have a bit of paint oxidation going on. Unless you’ve had a ceramic coating installed or you have religiously waxed and/or sealed the paint on your car you’ve probably got some oxidation going on as well.

Oxidation, on vehicle paint, is when the sun, heat and the other elements wear down the surface of the clear coat (on a 2 stage paint job) and make it look faded or cloudy. In extreme cases it can become chalky and rough to the touch. In many instances this can be referred to as “clear coat failure”, which we’ll explain a bit later.

Gel Coat Oxidationoxidation boat gel coat

Oxidation is especially prevalent on gel coat surfaces like boats and RVs. This is due the fact that gel coat is more porous than vehicle clear coat paint. It is very important to keep a gel coat protected to avoid the back breaking (not to mention shoulders and arms) labor required to bring a very oxidized gel coat back to life.

How to fix paint oxidation

In most cases paint oxidation can be corrected. The process varies on a case by case basis but basically involves first, cleansing the paint of any contaminants and then possibly wet sanding the paint and finally compounding and/or polishing the paint with a rotary buffer or dual-action polisher or a combination of the two machines with varying compounds and pads.

The process of paint correction uses a machine and a variety of gritty to not so gritty compounds and polishes to smooth out the damaged clear coat to remove damaged clear and bring back the shine and gloss.

There are many different levels of correction as well. Everything from using a glaze that has fillers and oils to hide the damage but not actually fully removing it to a full paint correction that will leave a deep shine and gloss that will take away almost all imperfections in the paint.

What is clear coat failure?clear coat failure car paint

A vehicle that has never been waxed will most likely get to the point of oxidation and then clear coat failure. Clear coat failure is when the clear coat has been completely worn away or it has oxidized so bad that it starts to fall off, bubble and peel. Depending on the conditions a vehicle sees on a day to day basis, the quality of the paint job and how the vehicle is cared for clear coat failure can happen rather quickly or take many many years to appear.

Can clear coat failure be fixed?

Clear coat failure is not something can can be remedied with a detailing paint correction service. In some cases it can be made to look better and will temporarily hide it but it will reappear. The only true way to repair clear coat failure is to have the panel repainted at a professional auto body shop.

How to avoid oxidation and clear coat failure

One of best ways to avoid clear coat failure is to protect your vehicle’s paint with regular wax or sealant applications. The best way to avoid it is to get a ceramic coating professionally installed and maintain it properly. These will protect the paint and keep it from taking all the abuse that it would without it.

by Chris Blaisdell, CD, Onsite Detail