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Is Ceramic Coating Worth It?

My original goal was to write an article about the best ceramic coating for cars. But after researching for hours and going down the countless rabbit holes the internet has to offer, my perspective changed and I now ponder: Is ceramic coating worth it?

I’m not even sure I have the answer. But I have facts. And in this article I’m going to share those facts with you so you don’t have to do all the research.  Read on and you’ll learn all you need to know in order to determine if ceramic coating is worth it.

Let’s start with the basics….

What is Ceramic Coating?

Ceramic coating is a chemical compound, generally silica, quartz, or silicone dioxide that adds an additional layer of strong protection that bonds to your car’s finish.

To put it another way, ceramic coating is a lot like car wax on steroids. It provides a hard, crystal-clear layer of protection to your car’s exterior surface. Ceramic coating gives your car’s paint color rich depth and a beautiful glossy shine. It repels water and helps protect your car’s finish from things like sun damage, small scratches, bird poop, and all the other bad things your car’s outward-facing surfaces are constantly exposed to.

Benefits of Ceramic Coating

Let’s spend some time talking about the benefits of ceramic coating you may have heard. The two biggest are:

  • Resistance to scratches
  • You’ll never have to wash your car again

I’m sorry to say, but these are false claims. And any reputable and honest source will confirm this. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Here’s my thoughts on each point…

Resistance to scratches

Ceramic coaching is often referred to as a sacrificial layer. Think of it as a clear shield that helps protect your car’s finish.

This is great and wonderful, but think about the literal purpose of a shield. A shield provides protection. 

But the shield can be scratched. 

To illustrate, if you stand behind a crystal-clear shield of plexiglass and someone on the other side throws a bucket of gravel at you, the shield will protect you. 

However, the shield  will most likely be scratched up by the gravel it protected you from.

The same holds true with your car. If someone throws a bucket of gravel on your car and your car has a ceramic coating (shield), the coating will protect your car’s paint. 

But the action will cause the ceramic coating to become scratched up.  And because the coating is bonded to your car’s surface, your car’s surface will now be scratched.  

You’ll never have to wash your car again

Nope. Not true. 

Your car’s surface will bead up and sheet off water just like it does after a fresh coat of wax. And because the surface will be so smooth and slippery, dirt will be less likely to stick to it.  But you’ll still get water marks, bird poop, sap,and all the other fun stuff. 

In fact, most reputable ceramic coating companies recommend regularly washing your car with pH neutral products.

But what about those videos that show muddy water flowing off of the ceramic coat?

Picture of an Audi showing how muddy water sheets off ceramic coating
Photo courtesy of Ceramic Pro.

Sure, it works.  But half of the hood is completely untreated. If you apply a coat of wax on the side opposite to the ceramic coated side, the waxed side will sheet off the mud too.

It’s important to note that the ceramic coated side will sheet off the mud for a longer period of time.  Do the same test a year after being treated, and the ceramic side will likely still sheet off the mud with ease. The waxed side? Not so much.

Should I Ceramic Coat My Car?

If you are starting to think ceramic coating is worth it, you need to now understand the difference between professional-grade coatings and consumer-grade coatings (DIY).

Professional Ceramic Coating

Professional ceramic coating is no joke. I’ll skip all the boring technical details and will tell you that professional-grade ceramic coating is kind of like adding another layer of clear coat to your car’s paint. This stuff will chemically bond to the surface of your car.

That said, application of professional-grade ceramic coating should be done by someone who has been trained on how to apply the product. Let’s spend some time looking at hiring a professional to do the job for you.

Cost

If you hire a professional to apply ceramic coating to your car, you’re likely looking at $1,000 or more. Costs can go as high as $5,000! It’s not the material you’re paying for… it’s the time and skill of the person doing the job for you.

Let’s take a look at the process so you can decide if it’s worth it to hire a professional to apply ceramic coating to your car.

Paint correction

It’s very important to do a full paint correction before applying ceramic coating. Paint correction a time-consuming process and is therefore a big part of the cost.  

Paint correction includes a proper wash, full paint decontamination with a clay bar, and a complete polish to make your paint surface perfect. Some shops may also do redundant steps here with multiple washings with different detergents, multiple stages of polishing, etc. 

You get the idea. 

The reason this step is so important is because remember what you learned earlier… ceramic coating is like a layer of clear coat. If you skip paint correction and you put a crystal-clear glaze over swirl marks and dirt, guess what?  Those swirl marks and dirt will be “beautifully” preserved under a hard layer of crystal clear ceramic coating.

Some people believe this step is absolutely critical. But I think differently. If you are happy with the condition of your paint, you can skip this part of the process and save yourself quite a bit of money. A detailing shop may insist you do this step, but if you’re fine with the condition of the paint, don’t get talked into something you don’t want to do.

Applying ceramic coating

Ceramic coating needs to be done just the right way, specifically per the instructions of the manufacturer who made the product being used. Different products have different application guidelines. 

Your local detail shop likely has a  product they trust and all detailers have been trained by the manufacturer on how to properly apply it.

Photo of Karate Kid doing wax on, wax off with Mr Miyagi
Photo courtesy of Colombia Pictures

A professional ceramic coating is tricky to apply!  It’s not simple wax-on-wax off, Danierlson. 

Ceramic coating will generally harden as it is applied and you need to work in small areas so you can wipe it off before it gets too hard. If it’s not applied properly, ceramic coating can leave permanent imperfections on your paint that will need to be wet sanded to be removed.

Applying ceramic coating indoors

Photo of a well-lit car detailing studio
Beautiful detailing studio at Custom Detailing, Essex, UK

A professional detailer will have indoor space needed to effectively apply the product to your car. There’s several other important advantages to coating the car indoors:

Lighting

As you learned earlier, professional-grade ceramic coating generally has to be applied in small areas. Having great lighting allows the detailer to see what she/he is doing to evenly apply the product.

Contaminant-free environment

Being indoors is a controlled environment. So bird poop, debris, direct sunlight, etc. will not disrupt the application process.

Ventilation

Ceramic coatings are generally harsh chemicals that need to be handled properly. Personal protection equipment must be worn by the detailer – gloves and a mask at the very minimum. In addition, there must be proper ventilation to help remove the vapors from the shop.

Temperature

Ceramic coatings generally perform best when applied in the right temperature at the right humidity level. In addition, some products require curing time after they are applied at the same temperature and humidity. A professional detailer will be able to keep the atmosphere in the shop just right.

Now that you know the facts about having your ceramic coating professionally applied, what about doing it yourself?  Why not save some money on this expensive process? How hard can it be? Is it worth it to apply ceramic coating yourself?

DIY Ceramic Coating

Should you apply a professional ceramic coating yourself? I think the answer to this question depends on you and your comfort level doing something that can potentially cause thousands of dollars in damage to your car’s finish if it isn’t done right.  

I’m all about doing things yourself.  But if you’re going to take on  a DIY ceramic coating project, you need to know what you are doing.

Think about it this way…. You can replace your car’s head gasket yourself. But should you?

It’s a big job! And if you don’t have the right tools, garage space, and knowledge, you might “fix” your way into a bigger problem.

You need to think about DIY ceramic coating the same way. 

Ceramic Coating Gone Wrong

Want proof?  Check out this video. This guy destroys the paint on a BMW M2 by doing a DIY ceramic coating job. 

This video is hard for me to watch. I fell in love with a BMW M2 one day at Lime Rock Park. You can read about it here. Seeing one of my dream cars  being recklessly taken care of makes my heart sad.

Ceramic Coating Gone Wrong

Kind of scary, right? Those marks left behind look like permanent wax residue. Maybe it’s not worth it to apply ceramic coating!

Consumer-Grade Ceramic Coating

photo of car care products in a store
Choose wisely….

There’s no shortage of consumer-grade ceramic coatings on the web and on the shelves of your favorite auto parts store. Ceramic coating is a hot trend, so everyone is out there trying to grab a piece of the pie. 

All I can say is be careful, do your research, and choose wisely. A lot of it isn’t even true ceramic coating, and therefore won’t last as long or even come close to offering the level of protection a professional product can.

Something else to be aware of… There’s an unfortunate trend of many no-name, pop-up companies buying a cheap ceramic coating in mass quantities on websites like alibaba.com

These companies come up with enticing advertising and make bold claims of their products making your car’s exterior bulletproof. They should be pretty easy to spot if you do your research. Buyer beware!

This isn’t to say there’s not some good quality products out there. There certainly are. And you might even know a guy who knows someone who can get their hands on the professional-grade coatings. 

Just remember, you need to apply it correctly! And you must absolutely follow the manufacturer’s application instructions.

Is Ceramic Coating Better Than Wax?

Ceramic coating and wax basically do the same thing: protect and beautify your car’s paint. The main difference between the two products is that ceramic coating lasts longer. So it’s definitely the better product to use.

When considering protection for your car’s paint, I think these are the main variables you need to consider:

  • Protection
  • Looks
  • Cost
  • Lifespan
  • DIY

Let’s look at each and determine the winner in each category. Note that when I refer to ceramic coating, I’m referring to a professional-grade product that was properly applied,

Protection

Both products deliver protection by creating a clear sacrificial layer (or shield!) on your car’s finish. Wax just sits on top of your car’s finish and will eventually wear off. Ceramic coat, on the other hand, chemically bonds to your finish creating a much harder and longer-lasting layer of protection. Advantage: Ceramic Coating

Looks

Both products will bring out a richness to the color of your paint AND bring out a glass-like shine. Some argue that ceramic coating looks better, but I beg to differ. I think this happens because a lot of waxes are “all in one” products and there’s no need to do all the paint correction work that needs to be done before applying a ceramic coat. If you did a full paint correction before applying wax, the finishes will likely look the same. Advantage: Tie

Cost

Some argue that because ceramic coating lasts so much longer, it trumps wax because you don’t have to do as many applications. But there’s a lot of hard-to-measure variables involved here. How long does the ceramic coat actually last? And how long does wax last? 

Also look at it this way… a  single bottle of my favorite all-in-one wax costs less than $20 and I can get about 5 applications out of the bottle. So if a ceramic coat job costs $2,000, that will buy me 100 bottles of wax time 5 applications per bottle… I can cover my car 500 times with wax for the same cost. 

I know some of you are thinking time is money in my example and I need to consider that data point. But I actually like waxing my car and I find it very therapeutic… so I’m not “on the clock” when waxing. Advantage: Wax

Lifespan

Ceramic coating chemically bonds to your car’s finish. Wax just sits on top of it and wears away much faster. Wax can even be removed quickly with harsh detergents. Advantage: Ceramic Coat

DIY

Applying a professional-grade ceramic coating is no easy job. Wax, on the other hand, can be done fast and almost recklessly. You don’t even need any special tools to do the job! You can wax on and wax off with a clean rag! This isn’t ideal, but it is possible. And you can’t ruin your car’s finish with wax. Advantage: Wax

Conclusion: Is Ceramic Coating Worth It?

Yes, ceramic coating is worth it. Especially if you have the money to pay a professional to do it or if you have the skills, patience, and tools to do it yourself. 

But I ponder, should you do it?

Your car most likely has a factory clear coat on it. Why bother adding another?

Think about it…. People generally don’t bring their cars into the body shop to have another coat of clear coat sprayed on.  But for some reason, ceramic coating is all the rage.

Rusty Jones logo
Remember this logo?

I’m going to date myself a bit here, but do you remember back in the day when Rusty Jones was the hot ticket in car care? It was a dealer installed rust proofing that promised to “appreciate in value” as your car aged. The company went bankrupt in the 1980s and rustproofing isn’t much of a thing anymore.

Is ceramic coating just another fad?  Could be…

Before you make a decision on ceramic coating, here are some final thoughts….

First, remember that ceramic coating isn’t a miracle coat. It won’t make your finish scratch proof or bulletproof. 

Nor will it make your car magically resistant to dirt. You’ll still need to wash your car. And ceramic coat can get scratched – just like clear coat.

If your car is a toy that only comes out on nice days and rarely (if ever) sees bad weather, then there’s absolutely no reason to add a ceramic coating. Paint that rarely sees abuse just doesn’t need the extra protection.

If your car isn’t garage-kept, or you live in an environment with harsh winters or an environment with lots of  direct sun, then a ceramic coat might be worth it for you.

Bottom line: A properly-applied ceramic coating is a great investment of your money (or time if you DIY). But if your wallet and skill set aren’t up to the challenge, keep on waxing your car to keep it looking great.

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