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Everyone has seen the car-obsessed person meticulously wiping down their car in the parking lot at the car wash week after week. But car care doesn’t have to take hours of washing and waxing every week to achieve a look you can be proud of if you apply ceramic coating.
So what is ceramic coating, exactly, and is it worth it? Here’s what you need to know.
What is ceramic coating for cars?
Ceramic coating is an invisible, microscopic-level coating that creates a long-lasting barrier between the environmental factors—think UV rays, acid rain and yes, dreaded bird droppings—and your pristine paint job. Even dust is abrasive on your car’s painted finish, leaving your car looking trashed after a few years with less shine and infinite swirls in the clear coat.
While different brands have varying blends, ceramic coatings all tend to have three components: a resin, an additive and a solvent. The resin is the most important part because that’s where the compound SiO2 resides. That’s silica, a derivative of quartz that’s used to manufacture glass, sandpaper, bricks and ceramics.
When applied to car paint, ceramic coating bonds to the finish to form a protective barrier, filling in the tiny invisible pores in the clear coat and paint. The application process is painstakingly detailed, working the compound in very much like a paint sealant or wax. It has to be applied to a perfectly clean paint job or it will lock the debris in place.
Ceramic coating advantages
Ceramic coating cars is a booming business. As people are keeping their cars longer, they are, naturally, trying to maintain them better. Ceramic coating provides a top-notch way of protecting the paint from the elements with less required care and not that much cost.
You’ve seen cars with peeling clear coat and faded paint, and they may be only a few years old. That’s due to the sun’s powerful UV rays that oxidize the paint. At the chemistry level, heat and oxygen together cause oxidation, essentially taking the oil content out of the paint and leaving a dull appearance that doesn’t protect as well.
“Ceramic coating acts as a sacrificial barrier between the surface and the elements,” said John Tewogbade, an Ultimaxx Ceramics distributor in Canada. The ceramic coating shields the factory finish from UV rays like sunscreen does for your skin, taking the brunt of the sun’s effects to prevent oxidation for up to five years.
Ceramic coating is hydrophobic. That means it repels water from its surface, which is why you’ll see water bead and run off the paint better than it does with any other wax or polish. But it does more than just repel rainwater. The effect makes it so much easier to keep your car clean because waterborne particles that typically leave water spots just run right off the paint.
It isn’t maintenance-free, though. You’ll still need to wash your car from time to time, but you won’t need to be at the car wash several times a week.
The amount of things that could damage your car’s finish is staggering. Bird droppings, cleaning solutions, car fluids like gasoline and brake fluid, and even household items like shaving cream and shoe polish can etch into your clear coat and make dull spots. Although it can often be buffed out to get the shine back, ceramic coating adds a barrier to prevent damage. You’ll still want to get chemicals off the finish as soon as you can, of course.
The benefits of ceramic coating are protective, but it’s also visually appealing. The polymer bonds to the paint like the highest grade of wax possible, filling in the gaps in the paint job and making your car gleam brightly. You’ll need to start with a completely detailed car and remove the swirl marks to get the perfect finish or you’ll see all the flaws through the mirror-like shine.
Have you ever priced out a professional-quality paint job? It’s not cheap. Ceramic coating is a fraction of the price and, although it’s quite a bit more expensive and time-consuming than applying polish or wax, it lasts for years, not weeks, and protects at a higher level.
Disadvantages of ceramic coating
Sure, it seems like a miracle cure for your car’s appearance, but ceramic coating isn’t without its shortcomings. Like anything you can spend your money on, it can have its downsides.
Doesn’t prevent all scratches
Although ceramic coating is often billed as scratch-proof, that’s not true. It does help prevent minor scratches from such abrasives as dust, dirt and car wash brushes that leave swirl marks, it should be regarded as scratch-resistant at best. Your car can still get marked up by stones, door dings and your kid scratching “I love you dad” on the side with a screwdriver.
Won’t eliminate washing completely
It’s true that ceramic coating car finishes will keep them cleaner for longer, but you’ll still need to make visits to the car wash from time to time. When there’s dirt, sap, road tar or anything else you can see that’s stuck onto the paint, you’ll need to wash it off.
Doesn’t fully prevent water stains
Water beads on a coated car, but not all of the beads will run off. When they dry, water stains can be left behind on the paint. It’s easily remedied with a coating-safe cleaner or with distilled white vinegar, but it can be a little annoying.
Must be applied to a clean car
If you ceramic coat a dirty car, all the grime will either be trapped or it will prevent the ceramic coating from adhering properly. The same rings true if there are scratches or swirl marks. All those blemishes will be enshrined for the world to see. It takes hours of prep to clean the car and polish any scratches, even if the car is new. On a used car getting treated, you can expect many more hours to polish out swirls so the end product is perfect.
Needs to be reapplied
While ceramic coating is longer lasting than wax or polish, it doesn’t last forever. You’ll commonly get three to five years from a treatment on a car, according to Tewogbade. Then you’ll need to thoroughly clean and polish the car so it can be reapplied if you so desire.
How much does ceramic coating cost?
When you’re after a showroom-shine finish for your car, it’s going to come with a substantial price tag. Some entry-level applications start at $600 but it can go over $10,000 in some special cases. But don’t worry too much about that top number. Most professional ceramic coatings cost on average between $1,200 to $2,000.
If you find value in a finish that lasts for years, it’s an investment you might be willing to take. How much you’ll pay for your vehicle depends primarily on its condition. Is it a brand new compact car? You’ll be on the lower end of the price range. Is it a used pickup truck or SUV that’s seen its share of sun and weather? You’ll be on the upper end of the price scale.
Of course, different brands of ceramic coating will be priced uniquely, and there are two grades of product that can affect the price substantially: premium-priced professional grade and entry-priced consumer grade. As with many services, you get what you pay for.
And finally, the price also depends on the risk associated with the job. Although a truck has more surface area, it’s going to be less expensive than applying ceramic coating to an exotic car like a Ferrari.
Do I need ceramic coating?
To sum it up, ceramic coating is one of the top products to keep your car looking its best at the microscopic level. Not only does it repel water and other contaminants from sticking to your car, but it’s also a barrier against the harmful effects of UV rays and chemicals your car will encounter.
But is ceramic coating an investment you should make for your car? That depends on your situation.
Ceramic coating might be right for you if…
- You take pride in keeping your car showroom clean all the time.
- You don’t have a ton of time to worry about car washes.
- You plan on keeping your car forever (or at least the foreseeable future).
- The vehicle gets parked outside a lot.
- Your paint is in near perfect condition already.
Ceramic coating probably isn’t worth it if…
- How your car looks isn’t as much a priority as how it runs and drives.
- The paint is already peeling or the car’s rusty.
- The vehicle spends most of its life in a garage.
- It’s a work vehicle that’s likely to get scratched and dinged.
- You aren’t planning to keep the car very long.