Ceramic coating is a protective measure used in car detailing. In some ways, it’s effectively replaced trusty old carnauba wax and polymer sealants as the go-to post-cleaning protectant. At a pro level, it could even be a less expensive alternative to a paint-protection wrap. Here’s a deeper rundown.
Ceramic coating initially gained popularity as a professional service provided by detailing shops, but it’s lately become more widely available, more affordable, and easier to use for DIY’ers. Depending on how seriously you take your car care, some ceramic treatments come in concentrate kits, others come as hybrid waxes, and others are sold as no-work wet sprays.
In some cases, ceramic coating is even used as an alternative to a paint protection film (PPF), a clear wrap that people sometimes opt for to extend the life of the paint on a new car. While a full wrap job is very labor-intensive and can cost many thousands of dollars, ceramic coating is considerably cheaper even at the pro level. It’s not as robust as PPF nor does It have its self-healing properties, but it can provide a degree of multi-year paint protection when applied and maintained properly.
What Is Ceramic Coating?
True ceramic coating is a long-term nanoscopic exterior automotive paint treatment and protectant that is applied in a liquid form and cures to form a hard layer on top of the paint. It can also be applied to wheels, brake calipers, and even glass to provide protection.
It chemically bonds to the surface it’s applied to (when done properly) and can effectively eliminate small scratches and imperfections by filling them in and flattening the surface. Ceramic coating can’t protect anything from serious damage or breakage, but it can add a layer of shielding, particularly from elements like rain and sunshine, that can keep a paint job looking better for longer.
Essentially, it’s the candy shell that protects the paint’s delicious chocolate center.
What Isn’t Ceramic Coating?
Ceramic coating is not a magical shield that protects your car from scratches, rock chips, bullets, or even minor ballistic impacts. It’s not a one-and-done treatment. For a ceramic coating to be worth your time and money, you have to maintain it by washing it regularly. And just like everything else, the main answer to “how long it lasts” depends on how well it’s applied and how rough its living conditions are.
What Is Ceramic Coating Made of?
Ceramic coating is typically composed of silicon dioxide (silica, Si02), which is sourced from natural materials such as quartz and sand. Some types and brands also use titanium dioxide (titania, Ti02) as an additional hardening agent. When applied to a car’s paint, the two create a chemical bond with hydrophobic, aka water-repellent, properties.
This classic video from our colleagues at Donut Media provides a nice and accessible primer on the science of ceramic coatings:
What Is the Purpose of Ceramic Coating?
Ceramic coating protects a car’s paint from blemishes and damage while keeping it cleaner for longer. After application, it also makes follow-up car washes easier and shields the car from harmful UV rays. Ceramic coating creates intense water beading and dirt run-off and gives a car an extremely glossy shine.
This cutaway image illustrates the anatomy of a typical paint job with scratches in it. A typical clear coat is 40 to 120 microns thick—the thicker it is, the better protected the color is from scratches.
The idea behind any paint protection measure is to provide a barrier between the clear coat and the elements. Here, you can see how wax is meant to fill in small scratches and protect pores from being exposed to weather and road grime.
A high-quality ceramic coating is designed to fill in all the gaps, divets, and scratches in the clear coat, rendering them basically invisible.
When Should I Use Ceramic Coating?
Ceramic coating should be applied once your car is in tip-top shape after a wash. Be sure not to leave any contaminants, dirt, or oily films on the car, as the ceramic coating will not be able to properly seal.
Levels of Ceramic Coating
How much money a person is willing to spend will determine the quality of the product he or she buys. Here’s a breakdown of various types of ceramic coating:
Professional: Real garages and detail companies have all the right facilities, products, tools, and resources for the job and take the proper time to make sure the vehicle is 100 percent prepared for a ceramic coating. Because of their level of attention to detail, ceramic coating jobs can take days and cost from several hundred dollars to over $1,000. A professional coating will assuredly last longer than any DIY job.
DIY Home Kit: Typically priced at about $100-300, a DIY ceramic coating kit includes a concentrate, job-specific sponges and applicators, and occasionally pre-cleaners and toppers. This method uses a somewhat similar process to professional jobs and requires reading the directions for specific directions and steps.
DIY Hybrid Spray or Wax: The challenge for companies such as Meguiar’s or Turtle Wax is adapting the highest-level, best-performing technology and putting it in the most mainstream, most accessible, easiest-to-use product possible. That’s what we have with new “hybrid ceramic” products. Hybrid ceramic wax, which costs about $15-30, is applied like a typical wax. Hybrid ceramic spray coating, which costs about $10-20, can be applied while a car is wet, wiped off, and the job is done.
Ceramic Coating Expert Advice
Mike Pennington, the Director of Global Training, Event Marketing, and Consumer Relations at the cleaning product powerhouse Meguiar’s provided some tips and insights about ceramic coating for additional context:
- “If you are applying a DIY ceramic coating or hybrid ceramic product, always make sure to follow the directions closely for the best experience, as well as protection and longevity of the product.”
- “While professional ceramic coatings & hybrid ceramic products for the DIYer are the next generation of paint protection, they still do not provide a permanent solution or 100% protection against swirls, stains, scratches, etchings, or water spots. Therefore, proper and frequent maintenance with the right products is still needed to keep the paint looking its best for a longer period of time.”
- “Ceramic coatings & hybrid ceramic products typically do not provide any true surface restoration and/or correction. They are simply an advanced layer of protection, so when needed, surface prep is a must before applying any type of ceramic coating or hybrid ceramic product. This means inspecting the surface closely with your eyes and hands after washing and drying, and if needed, removing any and all defects (swirls, scratches, stains) using a compound and bonded contaminants (fallout, overspray, tree sap mist) using a clay system.”
- “The best way to maintain and boost the look and protective qualities of a ceramic coating/hybrid ceramic wax product would be with the right automotive wash, a ceramic-based spray wax, and a mist-and-wipe spray detailer.”
- “While Si02/ceramic is the next level of technology, it is still vital to use premium microfiber accessories when washing, drying, and maintaining vehicles in order to minimize any chance of swirls or scratches.”