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How to: Prevent and Fix Lifting on a New Car Paint Finish

How can I eliminate shriveling, wrinkling, and swelling in my car paint?

This condition is known as lifting. It happens when the existing paint shrivels, wrinkles, or swells when new paint is applied or dries. Lifting can be repaired by sanding the impacted area and refinishing.

In this article, I’ll answer common questions about how to prevent lifting in an auto paint surface and eliminate it when it happens.

  • What is lifting?
  • What causes lifting?
  • How can I repair a surface showing signs of lifting?
  • How do I prevent lifting?

What is lifting?

Lifting (also called raising or alligatoring) refers to the wrinkling or shriveling of an existing paint layer that happens when a new finish is applied or dries.

What causes lifting?

Lifting occurs when solvents in a newly applied topcoat attack the previous finish. The resulting wrinkling, raising, or puckering of the paint can be caused by:

  • Applying paint to enamels or urethanes that are not fully cured.
  • Exceeding the maximum flash or recoat times when applying paint.
  • Recoating a basecoat or clear coat finish where the existing clearcoat has an insufficient film build.

How can I repair a surface showing signs of lifting?

Remove the paint from lifted areas, then refinish.

How do I prevent lifting?

Check questionable finishes by rubbing a small, inconspicuous area with a shop towel that is saturated with lacquer thinner. Finishes susceptible to lifting will soften, swell, or shrivel as the lacquer thinner is applied. If any of these reactions occur you should:

  • Not exceed a product’s maximum recoat time during or after applying it.
  • Allow enamels or urethanes to thoroughly cure before recoating or attempting to repair them.
  • Avoid applying undercoats or topcoats at an excessively wet level.
  • Avoid using lacquer products over air-dried enamel finishes.
  • When insoluble material (enamel or urethane) has been applied over a soluble material (lacquer) avoid sanding through and exposing the soluble material.
  • Apply a two-component primer surfacer and sealer as a barrier between the new and the old finish.
  • When applying two-component undercoats over soluble finishes, you must coat the complete vehicle panel.
  • Use waterborne undercoats to repair extremely sensitive finishes.

Doing these things will help prevent lifting from occurring on your car’s new finish.