Gelcoat versus Painted Finish - Fiberglass RV

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Old 05-22-2010, 10:52 AM   #1
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While washing my truck I noticed the finish on my Leer camper shell is holding up much better than the finish on our Bigfoot trailer. Both are constructed using gelcoated fiberglass and are about the same age and color. The only difference being the camper shell is finished with paint. The truck is actually exposed more to the elements and receives more abuse. The trailer is under cover most of the time. Constant sunshine is the biggest factor here in San Diego in trying to maintain the finish. So, I was wondering if a painted exterior on our molded fiberglass trailers is a better finish? Coach House apparently paints the exterior of their molded fiberglass motorhomes. Strange that the ones I've seen leave the top unpainted with exposed gelcoat. Seems to me that the top would be the more logical place to apply paint.

Speaking of Coach House, this link shows their one piece shell. It includes exterior and unfinished pictures of the interior. Note the roof structural members.

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Old 05-22-2010, 11:01 AM   #2
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I personally prefer paint. It seems easier to care for and most always looks good. That just MHO.

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Old 05-22-2010, 02:47 PM   #3
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There's probably a clear coat over the paint on the Leer too. That's pretty standard. I know it's on my A.R.E. canopy shell. I personally like paint too, especially on the older trailers where the gelcoat finish is nearly gone. Sometimes the choice of colors that folks paint is a turn off for me, but it's THEIR trailer not mine. With a lot of work, gelcoat can be brought back to life once the finish is gone, that's nearly impossible with paint. Anyway, whether it's gelcoat or paint (with or without clear coat), it still needs a protective barrier like a good wax.
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Old 05-22-2010, 09:43 PM   #4
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We just survived our first 'exposed' winter with our painted Glass Egg, and other than the usual spring wash down, I think we survived extreamly well. This fall will find our egg nesteled under a fabric cover....

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Old 05-25-2010, 08:58 AM   #5
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Trailer: 1974 Boler 13 ft (Neonex/Winnipeg)
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While gelcoat is typically gelcoat (profound, I know ), paint can mean a wide variety of coatings. So it's hard to compare in general terms.

Getting a bit more specific, there are a number of two-part paints (really they are more "coatings" than paints) that are very durable and will keep their shine for a decade or more (my boat had been painted with Awlgrip and was still shiny 25 years later, however it was not in a sun-baked climate; but, neither was it stored indoors).

A number of high-end boat manufacturers are now painting their boats straight from the builder with two-part LPUs (polyester-based polyurethane), such as Awlgrip and Alexseal, and skipping the gelcoat altogether.

One potential downside to this type of coating is that it is a bit trickier to repair than gelcoat; however, the overall look is usually so good that I find a few nicks are fairly "invisible" if you are not looking for them. And it can be repaired, just not quite as simply. It forms a thin "shell" on the surface of the coating, and this is part of why it is so hard and shiny, but also why it is more difficult to repair and somewhat more vulnerable to chafe. This also means you cannot buff it out (until it is very old and you have really thrown in the towel and are just prolonging it a bit).

There are also coatings such as Imron and Awlcraft 2000, (acrylic-based polyurethane). These are somewhat "softer" than the LPUs and can be buffed and repaired more easily. On the other hand, you could say that the Awlgrip type coatings don't need the buffing or repairing (as often). I'm not sure there's a "for sure better" choice there, but more a case of matching the coating to your bent and your situation.

The one-part paints are easier and less toxic to apply, and also less expensive, but they are not as durable and the shine, especially, will not last as long. But again, these have their place in the grand scheme of things. An example of this type of paint would be Interlux Brightsides. They make reference to "polyurethane" in the name, but it is basically a modified alkyd paint, and not the same as a two-part LPU (polyurethane).

And then there are the other types of paints and coatings that I'm not as familiar with, so you can see how it's hard to easily cover "gelcoat vs. paint."

If I were to paint my egg, it would be with a two-part coating. Since the prep is the main bulk of the work, I would want the long-lasting qualities of the two-part coating.


PS: As a side note, do check the care recommendations for your specific coating, if you do paint. Awlgrip, for example, does not recommend waxing over their product. (They do, however, sell a special polymer that one can use in place of wax, if one wants to.)
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Old 05-25-2010, 03:09 PM   #6
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Gelcoat is shot into a very polished mold prior to the glassing. If you apply it over what you have, it won't have that factory shine unless you spend hours wet sanding and polishing. Gelcoat is very hard. A high quality paint, properly applied and buffed out is gonna be an easier choice.
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Old 05-25-2010, 03:51 PM   #7
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Ah... I was thinking the OP was comparing existing gelcoat to future paint. Perhaps the question was whether to re-gelcoat or paint. I would not change anything I said about paint, but I would then add that I agree with Dave: Gelcoat is a good surface when it is sprayed into the mold at the original build, but I would not consider re-gelcoating. I would either recondition the existing gelcoat or, if I were putting on something new it would be a two-part paint/coating.


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