On Ceramic Coatings

Over the last several years, a few technological developments have surfaced such as wheel cleaners bleeding red when exposed to iron particles to semi-permanent glass coatings. Right now, ceramic coatings seem to be the topic of conversation in the detailing world and separate fact from hype.

These coatings are usually labeled as “Glass”, “Ceramic”, “Quartz” or “Nano” coatings. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just call them coatings.  All are basically a fancy way of saying the same thing. What are these coatings? How are they different from waxes and sealants? What are their benefits?

True coatings are very different than the traditional carnauba waxes and synthetic sealants you are familiar with. They are formulated on a molecular level and are much more expensive to manufacture. Think of them as a semi-permanent artificial clear-coat that goes on top of your factory paint and takes all the abuse and UV rays instead of the paint below. Unfortunately, as with many new products, comes the hype. Unrealistic claims include lifetime durability (can you say Ginsu knives?), preventing paint chipping, etc. Some companies are just adding the term ceramic, nano, etc. to regular sealants to make them sound more attractive to the end user. True coatings usually come in small bottles of 1-1.5 oz. because they start to cure when exposed to air and will harden in the bottle if not used in the proper time window.

The major benefits of the coatings are their durability, gloss and hardness. The claimed life durability range anywhere from 1 year to 5 years (notwithstanding the life-time claims). Ceramic coatings are also highly resistant to chemicals; meaning that if you want to remove them, you would have to polish them off. The high end coatings display a highly reflective “glass like” look similar to a candy apple. The durability and gloss is increased with layering. They are also harder than your clear-coat (or paint if your car is older and you have single-stage paint) and can reduce the micro-marring (swirls marks). The side benefit people most often notice after application is the self-cleaning characteristic of the coatings. Because they are usually highly “hydrophobic” (a fancy way of saying they shed water very well), your car stays much cleaner and spot free even after a rain storm.

Although they were originally developed for use on paintwork, coatings work incredibly well on wheels, exterior glass, chrome and other non-porous surfaces. At our shop, the recommended “New car prep.” is the application of the coatings to the paintwork, wheels and glasswork. Some manufacturers are even making coatings for leather, fabric and rubber/plastic trim. We also use the coatings extensively on paint protection film (AKA “Clear Bra”).

With all the benefits of coatings, comes the work. They are much more challenging to properly apply than waxes or sealants. The paint (or any surface to be coated) has to be perfectly cleaned of all waxes, silicones, or any residue. Once the coating is applied, each layer needs to be cured in a proper environment before being exposed to the environment (usually with infrared heat lamps to accelerate the process).

With all the added benefits and work involved, the coatings obviously cost a bit more than a wax job. The price of application will vary depending on the prep. involved, size of the vehicle as well as the number of coats applied. Usually the biggest variable is the name on the box. Some companies spend a ton of money hyping their products up, putting them in fancy boxes or getting celebrities in the detailing world to endorse their products. While the quality of the product does vary, the price disparity of some products are completely out of this world. Now the question you’re asking is your head is “Are the coatings are worth it”? Given the amount of time and maintenance it saves you, as well as the stellar looks they provide, for the majority of you the answer is an unequivocal yes. 

What’s the best way for you, the consumer, to choose the best coating for your car? Simple, find a detail shop with a stellar reputation whom you trust and get their feedback. Ask them what coatings they have experimented with as well as why they recommend one over the others. What the warranties are and the fine print associated with them. Some manufacturers offer 10 year to a lifetime warranty, but you are obligated to pay for an application of a refresher coat every 6 months. My math may be off, but that’s a 6 month warranty. Finally, compare the cost to make an educated choice that’s right for you.