How Does the Sun Damage Car Paint?

Red vintage car. Close-up fragment of the red vintage car. Headlight of vintage red car. Retro car. Selective focus.

We’ve all seen a car lose its once-vibrant color after years exposed to the sun, but why does this happen? As it turns out, most car paint fade or damage is due to the same component of sunshine that ages and damages our skin: ultraviolet (UV) rays.

If you’re living in Phoenix or Tucson, then you’re definitely familiar with the hot climate and excessive UV rays in Nothern Arizona. As a matter of fact, Arizona (on average) gets almost 4,000 hours of sunlight every year — imagine the UV rays and potential sun damage on your car’s paint job!

UV light is invisible but very powerful. When it makes contact with a surface, that object’s molecules receive a jolt of energy. This extra energy is usually given off as heat, but some of these jolts result in molecular bond breaking.

Over time, when this happens to enough molecules of paint, it no longer interacts with light in the same way. It becomes less reflective and duller, transmitting less light outward that we see as color. As a result, you’ll begin to notice the car paint fade.

Do Some Colors Fade Faster?

Regardless of UV intensity and if you’re located in a warm climate like Arizona, some color paints are more susceptible to fading, with red paint usually losing its color the fastest. To understand why we first have to understand that light comes in a spectrum of wavelengths, and how a material absorbs and reflects these wavelengths determines what color we perceive.

Every color has a specific wavelength, and a color paint is engineered to absorb all wavelengths except for the particular one or ones associated with its color blend. So red paint absorbs all wavelengths except those in the red band, which are reflected. We take in this reflected light, and if we aren’t color blind our eyes and brain combine to understand that light as red.

So why does red fade more than other paints? It’s because wavelengths associated with red are the lowest energy of visible light, so to appear red it’s absorbing much more energetic wavelengths, which causes more aggressive degradation of the paint’s molecular bonds. This is in addition to what UV rays are doing.

How can you prevent car paint from fading or sun damage?

Because fading is caused by molecular breakdown there’s no way to reverse it, so preventative care is the best approach. Here are some tips on how to protect your car’s paint from fade or sun damage.

Keep It Clean

By regularly washing your car, you can reduce the accumulation of other substances like pollution, as well as salt that can damage the paint molecules and accelerate fading.

Keep It in the Shade

The most obvious and effective way to prevent UV fading is to keep your car out of the sun whenever possible. Park it in the garage, under a carport, or at least under a shady tree.

Film It

For the next level of protection, there now exist a number of coatings that cover and shield the car’s paint while letting the color shine through. These products come in film layers or liquid sprays that can be applied by professionals or do-it-yourself owners.

Wax It

Most modern car waxes contain ingredients that provide some measure of protection from car paint damage due to the sun, and also keep other caustic substances from touching the paint surface directly.

Retractable Awning Solutions for Car Shade

The condition of your car will depend on its environment, including the parking space. The most obvious answer to care for your car, and its paint job, is a garage or a carport. However, we know that’s not always an option. Alternatively, retractable awnings can provide the same shade.

Superior Sun Solutions of Northern Arizona offers both manual and motorized retractable awnings in styles that can complement all types of homes. Made with 100% American-made products and designed for durability, our retractable awnings are the perfect choice to create shade outside your home to protect your car paint from fade or damage. We offer HOA-friendly styles too!

To learn more about our motorized and manual awning options, contact us today.


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