If you are looking for durable and high quality protection for your car then you’ll have probably heard of the term “ceramic coating”. But what actually is a ceramic coating? What are the benefits? And are there any downsides? In this article I’ll be taking you through everything you need to know about coatings and how to decide if it’s the right option for your vehicle.
What is a Ceramic Coating?
Ceramic coatings are chemical polymers which are in liquid form, but when applied to a vehicle, harden to form an extremely durable layer of protection.
The benefits include:
- Excellent durability (typically several years)
- Extreme water and dirt-repellency
- Chemical resistance
- Enhanced gloss
- UV protection
- Wash marring resistance
What Can Ceramic Coatings be Used On?
Ceramic coatings are typically applied to the paintwork on a vehicle but can also be applied to other exterior and interior surfaces including:
- Painted callipers
- Metal trim
- Black plastic trim
- Interior plastics
Different ceramic coatings are used for various surfaces to ensure the best performance. For example, the properties of a glass coating are slightly different to the properties of an interior trim coating. This is generally why most manufacturers offer different ceramic coatings for different applications.
What are the Benefits of a Coating?
The main benefits of ceramic coating a car include:
- Keeping the car cleaner for longer
- Making the car easier to clean
- Providing wash marring resistance
- Providing chemical resistance
- Leaving a long-lasting high-gloss finish
- Excellent durability
- Providing UV protection
These benefits are a result of the properties of a ceramic coating which include extreme hydrophobicity, slickness and hardness. These properties help to protect the surfaces against the environment.
Hydrophobicity and Slickness
Ceramic coatings help to keep a car cleaner for longer between washes, and make the vehicle easier to actually clean. This is because they are very hydrophobic and slick, which means dirt and traffic film doesn’t stick as stubbornly to the surfaces.
This doesn’t mean that you can get away with washing the car infrequently though, or using improper techniques. Ceramic coatings do require maintenance in order to keep them performing at their best (more on this later).
Ceramic coatings (when fully cured) are harder than conventional clear coat paint. This means that they last a long time (often several years), shield against environmental contaminants (bird poo, tar, water spots etc), and offer protection against wash marring and chemicals which would typically damage the clear coat layer of paint.
It’s important to recognise that ceramic coatings are not scratch-proof though, and can still get stone chips. However, they do provide some resistance against marring that can occur during the wash process, although it is still important to use proper wash techniques as I’ll talk through later.
It’s also important to note that not all coatings are made equally. Ceramic coatings come in varying degrees of hardness and are rated on a scale. This hardness scale refers to the hardness of pencil which is capable of scratching it when held at a 45 degree angle. The scale goes from H (softest) to 10H. For example, a 10H coating is harder than a 3H coating.
Are there any Downsides?
Despite the excellent protection they offer, there are some downsides to ceramic coating a vehicle:
- They are not scratch-proof
- The application process is labour intensive, time-consuming and complex
- They are more expensive than waxes and sealants
- They require frequent maintenance to maintain maximum performance
- They have a tendency for water spotting
As I mentioned previously, one of the ceramic coating myths is regarding their hardness and scratch-proofness. Although ceramic coatings are harder than clear coat paint, they do not shield against stone chips, door dings and other forms of heavy abrasion.
Ceramic coatings are also usually 3-4 times more expensive than waxes and sealants, however they are also more durable so when you factor in that then they are still considered the better option in terms of value for money in a lot of cases.
Since ceramic coatings are hydrophobic, small water beads will form on the surface after it rains. These droplets when left to dry can hard leave water spots behind. These water spots look unsightly and can hinder the performance of the coating. However, with proper maintenance this is not a big concern.
For more info, check out this guide to the pros and cons of ceramic coatings.
How to Apply a Ceramic Coating
Ceramic coatings are time-consuming and labour-intensive to apply, but this is primarily due to the steps that are involved in preparing the surface for a coating. The coating itself doesn’t actually take too long to apply to the surface.
It is vital that the paintwork is properly prepared before using a coating. Otherwise, it won’t last very long at all and can be a real mess visually.
Here are the main steps that go into the ceramic coating application process. This process typically takes 1-2 days to perform.
- Thorough pre-wash and hand-wash using a dedicated car shampoo
- Chemical decontamination to remove tar and iron fallout deposits
- Physical decontamination using a clay bar to remove any remaining contaminants
- Machine polishing to remove clear coat scratches and swirls and prep the surface
- Panel wipe solution to remove oils and residues from the previous step
- Apply the coating to the applicator pad
- Spread the coating on a small section of the panel in a cross-hatch pattern
- Wait the recommended time (usually from 30 seconds to 2 minutes)
- Level the coating using light pressure with one microfiber towel
- Use a second microfiber towel to remove the remaining residue
- Use a final microfiber towel to lightly buff the area and adjacent panels/ sections to prevent any high spots
- Wait the recommended cure time before exposing the car to the elements (usually between 4-24 hours but does depend on the coating itself)
Ceramic coatings also usually need to be applied in more specific conditions compared to waxes and sealants. It does vary between manufacturers, but generally it is between 10°C-25°C (50°F-77°F) and in less than 70% humidity.
It is possible to apply a ceramic coating outdoors but you will need to make sure you can keep the vehicle dry for the recommended cure time, and the wind speed is low to avoid dust and debris settling on the vehicle during the application process.
How Long Do Ceramic Coatings Last?
Ceramic coatings typically last between 2-3 years, but can last up to 7 years. The most durable coatings usually have a higher concentration of silicon dioxide. Low-grade ceramic coatings marketed at entry-level consumers may only last between 1-2 years.
The durability of a ceramic coating depends on four things:
- The coating itself
- How the coating was applied
- How the coating is maintained
- The harshness of the conditions the coating is subjected to
Providing the coating is applied and maintained properly, you should get close to the manufacturer’s guideline lifespan for the specific coating that has been applied. However, there is some variability depending on the conditions the car is subjected to.
For example, the same coating will last longer on a car which is stored in a garage and driven weekly, compared to one which is stored outdoors in inclement weather and driven a hundred miles a day.
How to Maintain a Ceramic Coated Car
It is essential that a ceramic coating is cared for properly to ensure it continues to perform to its maximum capability for the full lifespan.
Although ceramic coatings do help to keep the car cleaner between washes, it does not mean that the vehicle should not be washed regularly. Otherwise, you really won’t see the benefits of applying the coating in the first place.
So how do you actually maintain a ceramic coating? Here’s some key points to keep in mind:
- A ceramic coated car should ideally be washed every 2-3 weeks.
- Never take a ceramic coated car to an automatic car wash or cheap roadside hand-washing station. This will cause the coating to become scratches and aggressive chemicals will degrade the coating.
- Always pre-wash the vehicle before making contact with a wash mitt. This can be with a citrus pre-wash spray or snow foam.
- Use a pH neutral, pure shampoo to wash the coating. Do not used wax-infused or gloss-enhancing shampoos, or any household products which will damage or clog the coating.
- Use microfiber mitts to wash the car, and never use sponges or brushes.
- Don’t scrub at the paintwork with your wash mitt. Use plenty of lubrication and wipe gently to avoid scratches.
- Don’t wash the car in direct sunlight because the water and chemicals will dry on the surface very quickly.
- Use a microfiber towel to gently dry the car. Never water blades (squeegees), chamois leather or bath towels.
It is also recommended to perform a “decontamination wash” roughly every 6 months on a ceramic coated car which involves using tar remover, iron fallout remover and an acidic shampoo to tackle mineral deposits which can clog the coating. It’s also a good idea to “top-up” the ceramic coating using a ceramic sealant or similar to maintain the performance.
Check out this complete guide to maintaining a ceramic coating for more information.
How Much Does a Ceramic Coating Cost?
If you are applying a ceramic coating yourself, then the coating itself will typically cost £80 in the UK and $100 in the USA. However, you will also need to purchase other equipment if you do not already have it including: decontamination chemicals, machine polishing equipment, microfiber towels and applicator pads.
If you do not already have all this equipment then it’s usually actually cheaper to hire a professional to install your ceramic coating. The average cost to get a car ceramic coated applied £450-£600 in the UK and $1000-$1500 in the USA. This includes preparation and application service, and the cost of the coating itself.
Check out this article on the cost of ceramic coatings to learn more.
What are Some Popular Ceramic Coatings?
There are many excellent ceramic coatings from reputable manufacturers in the detailing industry. Some popular ceramic coating brands include:
- Pyramid Car Care
- Carbon Collective
- Diamond ProTech
- Infinity Wax
Frequently Asked Questions
In this next section I’ll be answering some common questions that you may still have about ceramic coatings.
Can ceramic coatings get scratches?
Ceramic coatings can get swirl marks and scratches if the car is washed improperly, for example by using sponges and brushes. Ceramic coatings are harder than waxes, sealants and bare clear coat paint so less likely to get scratched and swirled, but they are not scratch-proof.
Please visit this article for more information.
Do ceramic coatings cover or remove scratches?
Ceramic coatings do not prevent scratches in a car’s paintwork and they do not protect the car against rock chips. However, they do provide a small level of protection against swirl marks and marring which can be inflicted when washing the car.
Please visit this article for more information.
Can you apply a ceramic coating outdoors?
Applying a ceramic coating outdoors if you don’t have access to a garage can be challenging, but it is perfectly possible as long as you work in the correct environmental conditions and choose a coating which is suitable for outdoor application.
Here are some guidelines:
- Select a ceramic coating which is suitable for outdoor application (e.g. Gyeon Evo or Pyramid Car Care)
- Choose a day where it is extremely unlikely to rain and the humidity is forecast to be low-moderate for 12 hours after application
- Ensure you are working in the correct temperature range for the specific coating and that the temperature is unlikely to dramatically change within 12 hours after application
- Make sure there is little to no wind
- Do not apply the coating in direct sunlight
Please visit this guide for more information.
What is the shelf-life of a ceramic coating?
Most ceramic coatings have a shelf-life of 3-6 months after they have been opened before they expire. However, the shelf life of the coating will vary between manufacturers and will depend on how the bottle has been stored.
Please visit this article for more information.
What is the difference between a ceramic coating and PPF?
PPF provides much more resistance to stone chips and scratches compared to a ceramic coating. PPF typically lasts between 7-10 years whereas ceramic coatings last between 3-5 years on average. Ceramic coatings are cheaper and easier to install and are more chemically resistant than PPF.
Please visit this comparison article for more information.