You don't have to replace carbon fiber if it cracks or fades. It's possible to bring carbon fiber back to life. We answer a few questions about returning old carbon fiber to its former shine.
In this article:
- Can Carbon Fiber Be Repaired?
- Should You Replace Or Repair Carbon Fiber?
- How Do You Bring Faded Carbon Fiber Back to Life?
- Can Carbon Fiber Be Recycled?
Can Carbon Fiber Be Repaired?
It's a common misconception that you can't repair carbon fiber. Additionally, many manufacturers warn against fixing carbon fiber components. Fortunately, that's not true. You can repair carbon fiber, and, if done right, it will last a long time.
Moreover, the aviation industry doesn't throw away a carbon-fiber plane every time it picks up some damage. Organizations like Boeing have developed and tested carbon repair techniques for decades.
The carbon fiber part, type of repair, and who does it is of more importance. For instance, you could probably fix some minor cosmetic details, but it may be best to hire a professional for structural repairs.
Cosmetic carbon fiber repair doesn't contribute to the structural integrity, for example, a scratch on a surface. Thus, undamaged fibers only require surface restorations, which often involve hiding the flaw and painting the affected section.
It's relatively easy to do these types of repairs, and you won't need any special tools. And the most crucial factor is the adhesive. Urethanes are too flexible for some repairs, so epoxies are usually the better choice.
Structural repairs take more skill and involve a lot more variables. The fiber has a directional weave. Therefore, the technician needs to consider the number of fiber layers along with the fiber orientations. Each layer of cloth should match the original layup to keep the same properties as before.
Bear in mind, repairing some components with significant damage isn't always possible. For example, friction, heat, and high forces make repairing bike rims impractical.
Should You Replace Or Repair Carbon Fiber?
Before deciding whether to replace or repair a carbon fiber component, there are a few things to consider:
Will the repair be strong enough to survive the life of the part?
Repairing a hole in the middle of a door panel will be strong because the rest of the structure surrounds and supports it. On the other hand, a missing edge on a car door won't necessarily have the same support and may break again before the car's lifetime is over.
What is the extent of the damage? Are repairs worth the cost?
It may not always be affordable to repair a severely damaged part after an accident. Analyze the extent of the damage and consider the time and costs involved before making a decision. Repairing a carbon fiber hood on a Shelby Mustang may be cheaper than buying a new one. But buying a new bike fork is probably quicker and more affordable than fixing it.
How visible will the repair be, and will it affect the appearance of the part?
Painting a carbon fiber component will make a repair less visible. However, on unpainted parts, you'll see the repair, which may be a problem for some.
How Do You Bring Faded Carbon Fiber Back to Life?
Whether your part has an exterior layer of epoxy resin or clearcoat, UV exposure will eventually break it down. As a result, exposure to the elements makes the clear coat on the carbon look dull, hazy, and faded. Epoxy resin will start to yellow. Removing the outer layer and applying a new one is often the only way to remedy this.
Assuming that there's no structural damage, you could try restoring it yourself. But fixing significant cracks going down to the weave is a labor-intensive process, and you might want to consider hiring a professional for this.
Bringing faded carbon fiber back to life usually involves washing the component thoroughly and removing any wax or grease before sanding it down. Next, wipe away any residue with rubbing alcohol. Once everything is smooth and clean, it's time to apply the clear coat.
Watch this video for more on bringing faded carbon fiber back to life.
Before jumping in, there are a few things to remember:
- Make sure the part is wax-free before sanding to avoid embedding old wax in the fiber or clear coat.
- Fill deep chips or fissures with epoxy resin. Let it cure overnight, then smooth and clean before applying the clear coat.
- Sanding-off oxidation, UV damage, and clear coat will leave a brownish or white residue. If it turns grey or black, stop immediately. Dark residue means you've started sanding the fiber.
- Restoring faded carbon fiber is at your own risk. If you're inexperienced or unsure, it's always best to consult a professional.
Can Carbon Fiber Be Recycled?
Though it's possible to recycle carbon fiber, it's not easy. Carbon fiber can withstand high temperatures and powerful forces. It's possible to grind components down or break them down with chemicals to recover the carbon. But the process may damage the fibers.
Additionally, while the technology to recycle carbon fiber composites has existed for many years, the industry is still in the early stages of developing markets for recycled material.
The good news is, as the demand for carbon fiber increases, the recycling industry grows. And with big companies like Airbus and BMW on board to reduce carbon fiber waste, the recycling industry is set for rapid growth.
In many instances, it's possible to repair carbon fiber. You can also restore some faded carbon parts. Lastly, old carbon fiber can be recycled and doesn't have to end up in a landfill.
Visit our website to learn more. Carbon Fiber Gear also offers products made from recycled carbon fiber.