Truth about Ceramic Coatings
The Truth About Automotive Ceramic Coatings:
Credit: -Jay Bines @ Eco Wash Hawaii
This blog is dedicated to explaining what automotive ceramic coatings are, what they aren’t, and how to decide if they’re the right option for you. This may get rant-ish at times, because I’m a little fed up with the sale pitches and outlandish claims i see out there on the web – some are misleading while others are straight lies and if they continue will eventually tarnish the image of this great new form of automotive surface protections. I also want to point out that this article is speaking in general terms about ceramic coating. There are many different kinds of ceramic coatings, majority of them being SiO2 (Silicon Dioxide) based with different formulations to tweak their performance characteristics such as water repellancy, hardness, self healing, etc. There is another form of ceramic coating which is SiC (Silicon Carbide) which has different properties than SiO2 based ones.
So What is Ceramic Nano coating? Also known as Glass coating or ceramic clear coating.
First let’s back up a bit, let’s quickly discuss what 90+% of automotive factory paint finishes are – a Base coat/Clear Coat system. This means that there 2 stages of paint applied, the first being a Base coat, or color coat, which provides the color of your paintjob. And second, is the clear coat, which provides depth, gloss, and protection of your color coat. Factory clear coat finishes are basically paint without pigment, and are meant to protect your color coat from damage and UV fading. They are less likely to oxidize, which makes cars look newer, longer compared to the older paint systems. But factory clear coat systems have weak water repellency, chemical and dirt resistance, and are easy to scratch and swirl. Until the invention of Ceramic coatings, Waxes and Sealants were the undisputed way to protect your clear coat. But waxing or sealing the paint still doesn’t completely protect from elemental damage. Waxes and sealants do not prevent scratches or swirls, are not too chemically resistant or heat resistant. Their durability ranges from weeks to months, and need re-application frequently – which is a tiresome task for most people.
Every single manufacturer, detailer and car cleaning enthusiast has been chasing the Holy Grail of paint protection since the invention of the clear coat. Battles rage over what protects longer, looks better, or is easier to apply. And the game has just gotten more complicated with the explosion of popularity from Ceramic Nano Coatings.
SO WHAT IS IT ALREADY?!?!
OK OK. – So i’m NOT a chemist, I don’t pretend to be one, and i didn’t pay attention to chemistry in school.. So I’m not going to go all periodic table of elements on you. But, Essentially it is a liquid product, made up of ceramic nano particles suspended in a clear resin that when applied, hardens and cross links into a virtually impermeable surface that is chemically bonded to your vehicle. If applied correctly, ceramic coatings will not delaminate or chip off the surface it is applied to. And is considered “semi-permanent” in that it will always be there until it is abraded off the surface. Once cured, most ceramic coatings will display insane water repellency, increased gloss, greater resistance to abrasion and chemicals, and additional UV blockers to prevent color fading and oxidation. Ceramic coatings are NOT paints, but they will bond to and protect paints. Think of it as a second layer of skin, or a sacrificial layer or protection.
The main ingredient “SiO2” has been added to many other products as well such as car wash soaps, waterless car washes, and paint sealants. These are NOT considered “coatings”, the protection from these products can range from days to months depending on what they were designed to do. To label it a “coating”, it should be resin based, so be careful when opening up your wallet for there are sleazy detailers out there selling you a ceramic coating when actually only applying a sealant.
Wow, this sounds like some magical stuff.. Looks like they’ve found that Fountain of Youth rightt??
WRONG! Although ceramic coatings are one of the best things since sliced bread, they also are not bullet proof and require special care. And this is where my rant wants to kick in. As a young boy, I was taught to under promise and over deliver just like many of you. Unfortunately, not everyone was taught that lesson. The rampant over marketing, and over promising of what ceramic coatings can and will do, just twist me up inside. All these outlandish claims, things that even a little common sense would prove wrong, are floating around in social media ads, on product websites, and are even regurgitated by installers – all to get their piece of the money pie. I really hope these people are reading this: You’re going to ruin it for everyone!!!
Differences in ceramic coating quality:
There are MANY brands of ceramic coatings floating around the market. The main determination of the quality of the product is whether it can be bought by anyone, or only by professionals. Over the counter ceramic coatings are typically more user friendly for the non professional, but will usually lack in hardness, durability, slickness, or any other combination of features associated with ceramic coatings. Highly skilled professionals will opt to use a professional only product when they want the best quality for their clients, others will install over the counter ceramic coatings to keep product costs down and profits high. Best practice as a consumer is to ask what brand the installer is using, and research it on google. Most reputable brands will have reviews, and more information online about the claims of their product. If your detailer is making claims that don’t match the product description by the manufacturer, it’d be in your best interest to find a more honest installer. And many times the quality and durability of the product are determined by how skillful the detailer is on correcting and prepping the surfaces, and applying.. so also read online reviews on the installer! A great product will fail if installed improperly. The more information you have, the less likely you will be ripped off so research research and research!
So what are these people claiming that makes you want to go online and blog a rant?
Well, my first issue is the insinuation that ceramic coatings are going to replace your need to wash and maintain your vehicle. It just doesn’t work that way. If you read their claims closely, you’ll see the word “RESISTANCE” a lot. Just like that watch on your wrist says “Water Resistant”, it will resist water, but to what degree? It is clearly different from “Water Proof”. You can take a water resistant watch into the shower, but go scuba diving and you’re sure to lose track of time!
So let me go point by point, and translate what their marketing departments really mean.
1) “Improved Scratch Resistance” Or “9H Hardness” – There’s an abrasion test in which pencils of different hardness (1 being the softest and 9 being the hardest) are used to grade how susceptible a surface is to scratching. They use these pencils to scratch the surface to measure how resistant it is to damage. Most automotive clear coats have a hardness of 4-6 on the scale. Ceramic coatings claim improved hardness up to 9, or 9H. This doesn’t mean the coating is impervious to scratches, all this means is that that certain pencil will not scratch it. It is a marketing gimmick as most hard objects will exceed the comparable 9H pencil. If you put your soda bottle on your car and it slides off – it WILL scratch your ceramic coating. Or if you use a dish scrubber to wash your car, it WILL scratch. Or if someone keys your car it WILL go through. All this should mean to you is that only the lightest of abrasions will be prevented by installing a ceramic coating. Ceramic coating isn’t going to bounce bullets, period. 2) “Rock Chip Resistance” – A straight up lie! IF there is ANY measurable resistance to rock chips from a ceramic coating, I have yet to see any manufacturer post any proof by way of independent testing. If a rock flung at your car at 20mph can chip your glass, chip your paint, dent your bumper, it’s going to do all of that whether you have ceramic coatings or not. So if you see any installer or manufacturer claiming chip resistance RUN, RUN FAST! The ONLY real protection against rock chipping and road rash is Paint Protection Films, or Clear Brah’s. Which are thick layers of a vinyl applied over your paint like a Window Tint installation. 3) “Improved Chemical Resistance”– Once again, an improvement on the almost non existent chemical resistance of clear coats. But this claim is highly true! Most ceramic coatings will not allow chemicals to penetrate through and damage your clear coat. But once again, not bullet proof. If you’re going to allow bird droppings to sit on your car for weeks because you have a ceramic coating – you are in for a surprise!
4) “Self healing”, there is some truth to this. In general, Ceramic coatings have shown to self repair themselves on a very minor scale under extreme heat. Then there are ceramic coatings with enhanced the self healing capabilities. But for the general ceramic coatings.. Don’t think that scratch will just disappear in a few days under the sun.
5) The Lighter Test / Lighter fluid test – If you see your installer or manufacturer touting these tests – RUN! The test is usually shown where a lighter is being used to strike the paint, and that the scuffs just wipe away. Or lighter fluid is sprayed on the car and then lit and the paint magically doesn’t melt. These are just gimmicks. Any store bought wax can help deflect the lighter strike, and the hottest part of a fire is at the tip of the flame, not at the surface where the fire actually sits above and barely warms the surface. This is hype marketing and total B.S.
6) Warranties – Many coatings boast warranties from 2-5 years.. Some even claim lifetime if you apply an obscene amount of layers. First off, if an installer is using the word guarantee, or warranty.. Get it in writing! And if they DO have a written warranty, make sure you thoroughly read the requirements of maintaining that warranty. If you have nothing in writing, then you have nothing, sorry. Many warranties will require periodic check ups, or applications of booster products, which will be at your expense. Miss a quarterly check up? WARRANTY VOIDED! And then there’s those pesky denial of claims due to improper maintenance. They can always turn around and claim you did not maintain it properly and the warranty is now voided. My best advice is to choose an installer that can also maintain the coating for you himself, that way they HAVE to stand by their product and for the most part cannot blame you for improper care. And also to choose an installer who applies a coating that does not require the application of booster products, if you really think about it.. How permanent can it be if you need to re-apply product periodically? Food for thought.
7) “No Need to Wax your vehicle again”– This is true, the ceramic coatings are like waxes and sealants on steroids. There is usually no need to wax or seal over unless you just want to. The ceramic coatings will do just about everything better than a wax or a sealant can, and for longer. There are some ceramic coatings that require a re-application of a booster product on a periodic basis, these are usually part of the requirements for maintaining the warranty.
8) Price – Ceramic coatings are fairly expensive compared to waxes and sealants mostly because they require surgical prep work in order to bond and cure properly.This is a time consuming and tedious process that is best left to a trained professional. You can generally judge the quality of the installer by the prices they charge for their service. The less expensive the service is, the higher the chance that there will be cut corners in prepping your vehicle for coating. This is not universal, there are many high quality installers who offer lower prices. It is just a guideline, and something for you to think about. Always do your research, not only on the installer but on the product they are using. Online reviews can help you better understand the quality of the installer. Yelp, Facebook, and Google all have business review sections. And for Yelp, don’t forget to look at the “Not Recommended Reviews” section because in some cases if the installer is or isn’t paying for ad services through them, their reviews get selectively removed and hidden on the bottom of the page.
So is ceramic coating the right choice for me?
Generally, anyone and everyone who owns a vehicle that they care about and want to maintain should have a professional installer apply this product. It may not be affordable to everyone, but we all could use this type of protection.. especially in Hawaii. BUT, if you’re looking for a product to apply so you can feel better neglecting your car and never washing it, you’re wasting your money. Or if you’re going to fail to learn the proper techniques to wash and maintain your car on your own, you’re also going to waste your money. Having a ceramic coating applied should be a commitment on your end to break the bad habits of improper care, and to educate yourself on how best to keep the coating in tip top shape. Your installer should be able to give you all the advice you need on proper maintenance, and which products and techniques are best to use to clean it.
As a detailer, I only offer ceramic coatings to clients that show that they are obsessed and committed to maintaining their car. Us detailers have a lot of pride in what we do, nothing hurts us more than to spend 20+ hours on someone’s car only to see it a few months down the road completely trashed. As an installer, I refuse to apply a ceramic coating when I know the owner isn’t going to take care of it. I don’t want my name on that job, I don’t want my products name on that job, I don’t want to be even a thought on that job. I want to apply it for a person who will have as much pride in their car as I do after installing. That is why we offer low cost maintenance options so we can take the burden off your hands. But that’s just me. If you still want a ceramic coating after reading this, and make no plans on maintaining your car properly, there are ceramic coating installation mills that pump out hundreds a month that could care less if you void your warranty. Me, I don’t want any piece of that pie.
So, In recap, for those who didn’t read this because it is too long, here is the quick and skinny of it all:
What are ceramic coatings? The newest and greatest for of surface protection to date. They are clear layers of protection that act as a second skin, protecting your paint job.
What do they do? They protect surfaces by repelling water and dirt, they increase gloss, they increase chemical resistance, they increase resistance to abrasion.
What don’t they do? They do not stop rock chips, they do not prevent water spotting, they do not replace proper care or maintenance, they do not prevent dings or dents, they are not bullet proof and they do not last forever.
What to look for when choosing an installer? Check online reviews from Yelp, facebook or google. Ask for photos of prior installations, and photos of the installers paint correction jobs they’ve done. ALso look up reviews on the product the installer is applying. Look for an installer who can maintain the coating for you. Do not buy into hype marketing. Are they all they claim to be? Mostly yes, but there are many claims that are exaggerated or overstated. If the sales pitch sounds like an infomercial, i’d be skeptical. The skill set of the installer is more important than the product they use, as many coating products are similar in chemical make-up.
Are they guaranteed or warranted? Only if you get it in writing, and then only if you maintain them according to the fine print.
Are they for everyone? Yes everyone can benefit from this, but NO they are NOT for everyone. They are NOT recommended for those who are not committed to proper maintenance. For those people, regular periodic details should be all you need, and will save you money and heartache.
Eco Wash Hawaii