Ceramic Coatings: What is it Good For?
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Hello and thanks for checking out this episode of the Clean Cars Inc blog! Today we're going to try to capture everything we can related to Ceramic Coatings in this blog. We'll talk about the differences between a ceramic product and a typical wax product, and why it matters. What kind of performance you can expect, how much prep-work is required, and of course (what everyone wants to know) how much it costs.
The first thing I'd like to talk about are the lies that are told over and over again about coatings. I'm sure if you're reading this, by now, you've seen somebody on youtube claiming you can't scratch their coating, or one of my favorites, hitting the paint with a spray-can flamethrower. I'd venture to say most of the stuff you see online about Ceramic Coatings is fluffy marketing that can't be lived up to, or worse yet a flat out lie. We're only 2 paragraphs into this blog, and I've already told you one that won't hold up by the end: that we were going to capture everything related to Ceramic Coatings in this blog. The truth is that this stuff is complicated work that has a steep, steep learning curve and being able to contain the entirety of what Ceramic Coatings are in a single blog would be impossible. So knowing the ins-and-outs of what's true and what's fluff might be the most important part about executing this type of work. With all that said, let's dive in.
Now that we've got the extra "fluff" addressed, let's chat about "What is a Ceramic Coating?" To put it simply, it's a clear liquid carrier that's (usually) applied by hand and leaves a ultra thin layer of Silica Dioxide (SiO2) bonded to the vehicle's paint. There are many factors that make this different than wax and we'll get more into the chemical properties a little later down the page, but the basics of it are that it makes a chemical bond with the paint's surface vs. a wax that just sits on top. Ceramic also has to go through a curing process, meaning it hardens after applying it. These two factors make it an excellent choice for increased protection and longevity of performance. Both protect the paint to varying degrees, both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both are available in several different forms with different application techniques.
For this blog, I'll mainly be talking about what we refer to as a "full" Ceramic Coating. The detailing industry has long been using polymers to manipulate the properties and performance of wax, and SiO2 in this new-ish form is adding to that conversation by increasing the longevity and performance of wax. So now it's possible to get spray-on types of waxes that last months instead days or weeks, and machine waxes that last years instead of weeks or months. In its "full strength" form though, Ceramic Coatings don't use or need wax and in fact, the performance of the coating is degradated by using wax. This is because of the curing process that was mentioned above.
Here's where I'm going to start sounding a lot like your high school Chemistry teacher and I know some of you are going to feel compelled to lay your head on your desk, but hang with me. Silica Dioxide is a fancy chemistry word, but we all know and use this stuff daily in our lives. It's the main property found in sand, you can also find it in a more solid form called Quartz. That's right, the same quartz that was hanging from that crystal necklace your wore back in middle school that you're still embarrassed to talk about can now be used to protect the paint on your vehicle for years and years. Some people call these "Glass Coatings" because SiO2 is also the main ingredient in making glass, it's used in microchips, and all kinds of everyday products.
It may sound boring, but it's these chemical properties are what make Ceramic Coatings so effective at achieving such high level results, bringing us all the way back around to the difference between standard waxes and coatings: the bonding process. Waxes sit on top of paint, smoothing the look and feel, and providing a barrier between the paint and all the things trying to take your paint off. Ceramics take this to the next level by sharing an electron with the paint, it makes a covalent bond and as it cures, it hardens, super hard (like glass) yet remains flexible because it's so thin. Now we're talking about protection that lasts for 5+ years, is more hydrophobic and more oleophobic than the best waxes on the market, it's harder than your paint's clearcoat so it becomes more scratch and corrosion resistant, and you just can't beat how much gloss and depth is added.
So let's get practical. What's the application process and costs for getting something like this done? As we talked about before, this stuff now comes in many forms and is even used to increase the performance of traditionally non-ceramic products so we'll focus on just what the industry calls a "9H" or "10H" (marketing hype for how hard the product cures) coating. Occasionally, you'll see some very simplified pricing on coatings such as smalls for $400/medium for $500/large for $600. These are typically the price of just the product installation sans prep-work. When you add the prep-work in, everything changes and the details matter--how old the vehicle is, how many miles are on it, how it's been cared for, etc.--so a normal all inclusive price might look like "starting at $999" or something similar.
Talking about the prep-work could be a blog on it's own. There are certain things that are true regardless of the condition of the paint before you start like decontamination, decontamination, and decontamination. When you've finally made it to the point where you're getting ready to apply your product, your paint should be raw, nothing else on top. There are normal contaminates like bugs, road tar, and dirt, but something simple that you may not have thought about is waxes and even the oils from just touching the paint with your hands can cause your bond to be weakened or fail prematurely and we haven't even addressed the surface condition of the paint yet. The vast majority of vehicles we've gotten straight from the lot--we're talking less than 100 miles--already have some significant swirl marks that have to be polished out. Multiply this by years and miles, then add in a few dozen washes and you could be looking at multiple days of paint correction. It can get quite expensive, quickly.
If you're still with me, I really appreciate it, I know it's been a dense blog, but I'm getting ready to wrap it up by stating that you can do this stuff on your own vehicle though I wouldn't recommend it. We've been certified to install several brands of coatings and have the experience necessary to get it right. If you're interested in getting the best results and performance out of a Ceramic Coating, give us a call or email us. Thanks again for taking your time to read our blog. I hope we hear from you soon!