People hate change, especially when the government forces it down their throats. Perhaps one of the most notorious regulation changes faced by the automotive refinishing industry in Southern California (but likely to be adopted nationwide eventually) was the lowering of the legal limits of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) contained in products used to paint cars.
VOC is a very broad term used to label certain chemicals that evaporate very easily from the liquids they were mixed in solution with. Lots of products emit VOCs-stuff like paint, paint thinner, and gasoline all emit gases we often refer to as fumes or vapors. VOCs aren't just limited to paint products, though; plastics release VOCs as they age. In fact, VOCs are even emitted in nature by certain plants and trees. Nevertheless, these chemicals are believed to react with gases in the atmosphere and contribute to pollution, smog, toxic death from above, and all that doom and gloom stuff.
To lessen the amount of VOCs released into the atmosphere every year, the California Air Resources Board set tighter regulations. Basecoat paint was one item where a reformulation, switching to waterborne from solvent-based paint, would allow refinishers to meet the new standards. The new standard became waterborne paints, and manufacturers responded with new lines of automotive paint.
We got the lowdown from Brian Ferre, custom painter and instructor at Los Angeles Trade Technical Institute. He tells us waterborne paint is not a new invention-it's been around for more than a decade and has been in wide use in Europe for many years. Most of today's new cars are sprayed with waterborne paint at the factory, too. It received an undeserved bad reputation because of infamous problems that plagued a number of GM cars in the late '80s. The paint would peel off in sheets after a couple of years in the sun. Ferre tells us that particular paint-lifting problem was due to incompatibility between the paint and the primer. The paint itself was OK. Much more development and testing have been done since then, and today's waterborne paint is at a quality level on par with traditional solvent paint.
Because this is an introduction to waterborne paint, we won't delve into the chemistry, but there are a few key points to remember that will make the process easier. The only step affected by the switch to waterborne paint is the basecoat. Though there are some waterborne primers, you'll generally still use traditional, solvent-based primer and clear. As a result, all current waterborne paint is intended for a basecoat/clearcoat system. The colors dry to a dull, satin finish, not a glossy one. You'll need to clear it if you want it to shine. Lastly, waterborne paint dries differently than solvent-based paint. It's critical to have enough airflow across the panel to allow the paint to dry fully before spraying the clearcoat.
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