If you want to make your ride look shiny and protect the car’s paint surface from exposure to the elements, there are a lot of options. But ceramic coatings tend to be the best option. Whether this is your first time looking into these products, or have done a lot of research, you’ll find this article quite helpful.
There are a lot of ceramic coating products on the market today. Some reduce trips to the car wash, while others help reduce water spots, make removing bird droppings easier, or protect the paint job against UV rays better than others.
So how do you pick the best ceramic coating for your new car or daily driver? Let’s get started by giving you tips on how to choose your first ceramic coating.
What to Look Out for When Choosing a Ceramic Coating
Just like any other products, there are several different types of ceramic coatings, with differences in quality, difficult of prep work and installation, and how long it lasts. Each type of coating product is designed for different users. Some are easy to use, others need to be installed by professionals.
In this article, we’ll outline a few items you should be aware of, and look for in choosing the right ceramic coating. We’ll discuss how easy they are to install, and how long they last. We will also explain the different ceramic coating types and the lingo used to describe their features.
The Two Options for Ceramic Coatings
When it comes to options – car owners can choose between two types of ceramic coatings:
Professionally Installed Ceramic Coatings
The professional ceramic coating is installed by a certified dealer. The product itself is commercial grade, that results in a more complex application process, need more prep work, and can take longer to cure. Professional coatings or sealants range from $600 to $4,000 for prep work and installation.
DIY Ceramic Coatings
The do-it-yourself nano coating is a specially made product for easier installation. It’s not as concentrated as the pro-grade products but produces similar results. It provides a semi-permanent layer of protection on the vehicle’s paint. Users install it by using an applicator, microfiber towel or cloth, and then buffing it off. When done right, it can produce a showroom shine.
There are several ‘cheap’ or mid-grade DIY ceramic coatings that consumers should be aware of before buying.
So, let’s break down the two options for ceramic coatings with how convenient they are to use.
The Convenience of a Ceramic Coating Product
If you were to ask 100 people about ceramic coatings and the leading concern, it’s likely how difficult it is to prep and to install. This is the convenience factor of any car care product. The truth is that many people looking into ceramic coatings fall into one of the three categories:
- They have the skill, experience, and resources to complete all prep work and application without trouble.
- They have some experience and resources but are on the fence about choosing a DIY nano-ceramic coating or having a professional complete this task.
- They don’t have the experience or resources and are weighing the cost of having a professional ceramic coating.
Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with being in any of these groups. It’s just a reality in today’s busy world.
Professional Ceramic Coating Installation
Having a pro prep and install a ceramic coating to protect your vehicle’s paint, it’s easy. The only issue you need to factor is time away from the vehicle. They’ll complete everything, from the washing of the vehicle to completing paint correction (to remove swirl marks), polishing, and installation. Many of them will even provide aftercare services (for a price). The main problem with professional-grade ceramic coatings is the cost.
DIY Ceramic Coatings
When you opt for the DIY solution, you’re taking on the entire project yourself. Noted below are the recommended steps for completing the installation of a high-quality DIY ceramic coating like AvalonKing’s Armor Shield IX:
- Washing the vehicle (using the two-bucket method) to remove grime and debris.
- Complete paint correction (it will improve the overall impact of ceramic coatings).
- Polishing the clear coat
- Completing a final IPA (isopropyl alcohol wipe down)
- Needs to be completed indoors or out of direct sunlight
- Will take between 4 to 8 hours to complete (depending on the size of your vehicle)
- Requires 48 hours of storage either inside a garage but definitely without exposure to rain to initially curing.
- While ceramic coatings have self-cleaning attributes, the vehicle should be washed every two weeks (using the two-bucket method) for proper care.
The main problem here is that there are several levels of quality for DIY and professional ceramic coated vehicles. It is best to contact the manufacturer of any ceramic coating product you’re considering and factor their recommended steps for prep work, application, and aftercare, so you have a fair comparison between the different brands.
So – when you look at it this way, the most ‘convenient option’ is the professional grade coating. The question is whether you’re willing to pay for convenience.
Durability & Maintenance of Coating Options
The next item on the punch list is weighing the durability and maintenance required for using a DIY nano coating vs a professional grade. Again, it’s important to realize that there are several, subtle levels of product quality within each category.
Professional Grade Ceramic Coatings
A certified dealer or authorized retail company always install pro ceramic coatings. The general consensus is that pro-grade coatings fall into three levels with regard to durability – and it’s typically classified as warranty-levels based on ‘package options’:
- Lifetime Warranty Package: This is the top shelf offering from professional coating companies and dealers. Each manufacturer has different methods to accomplish this level of durability, but mainly it’s marketed as using multiple layers of ceramic coating and a top coat.
- 3 to 5 Year Warranty Packages: The medium level would be a 3 to a 5-year warranty. This is usually achieved by applying (1) or (2) layers of a premium ceramic coating – or possibly a ‘top coating’ layer.
- 2 Year Warranty Package: This is the basic protection package or expected longevity of a professional-grade product. To achieve this level of durability, the installer will usually just apply a single coat.
Maintenance for Professional Grade Ceramic Coating
While the warranties above look great – they come at a cost; both financially and responsibility to complete routine maintenance as recommended. Most of the professional-grade product will require an annual visit to the dealer who installed the product for a detailing session.
The detailing typically involves applying a special spray (like a polish for the coated surface), that is designed by the manufacturer. Other companies require monthly or bi-monthly contracts for washing the vehicle. It’s important to clarify with each manufacturer and installer about the specifics for maintaining the product – to comply with warranties. And always – always, get the warranty in writing.
DIY Ceramic Coating Durability and Maintenance
There are no warranties with DIY coatings. This is because they don’t control the prep work or installation. However, you can expect some products to last up to 5 years. But, only if the prep work and installation is completed as recommended, and the paint / clear coat quality is good.
- Professional Grade DIY Ceramic Coatings: A product like Armor Shield IX will last anywhere from 2 to 5 years. The main factor that impacts longevity is the prep work, and condition of the paint prior to application. The installation and allowing it to cure as recommended will also impact the durability of the product.
- Medium Grade DIY Ceramic Coatings: There are some mid-level ceramic coatings sold. These products typically will never advertise longevity for more than 3 years. The main reason for this is the quality of the product or the hardness level is slightly less than the good stuff.
- Low-Grade DIY Ceramic Coatings: There are some cheap products in this industry. They are usually marketed with bad claims, such as ‘lasting forever’ or having 10H hardness (which doesn’t exist). The longevity of these products usually does not last more than a year.
DIY Ceramic Coating Maintenance
The recommended maintenance for a DIY ceramic coating is minimal. Just wash your car every two weeks (using the two-bucket method as we talk about in this article) to keep your car looking clean and shiny. By removing the dirt and debris, you’ll also extend the life expectancy of the ceramic coating.
How to Understand Ceramic Coating Product Features and Terminology
So – we’ve explained differences between professional and DIY ceramic coatings, their longevity, warranties, and convenience, let’s get to the nitty-gritty details.
Listed below are some of the ‘terms’ or attributes that ceramic coating products will advertise.
Ceramic coatings work by infusing onto the paint’s clear coat. When it cures, it provides a microscopic layer of protection that is incredibly smooth. The reason for this is that the coating actually seeps into the microscopic imperfections on the clear coat of all vehicles. This leaves the coating flat, which also helps to provide other ancillary benefits we’ll address later.
The main product feature of all ceramic coatings is hardness – as this usually equates to the level of protection and the longevity of the product. Most of the ceramic coating manufacturers will use some ‘lingo’ to describe the ‘hardness of their product’:
- 9H Hardness: The hardness of ceramic coatings plays a vital role in determining scratch resistance and longevity. The 9H is based on the grading pencil hardness scale (ranging from 0 to 9 – with 0 being the softest an 9 being the hardest). AvalonKing’s Armor Shield IX ceramic coating formula measures at 9H on this hardness scale; which is the highest possible rating.
- Long Lasting: The term long lasting is definitely ‘relative’. As we mentioned above, the longevity of a ceramic coating generally breaks down to the prep work, installation, quality of the product, and the condition of the paint. Those using the term long lasting generally mean it will remain on the clear coat for more than 2 years.
One of the best attributes of a ceramic coating is that it really enhances the gloss of the paint. This is because the layer of protection is hardened glass. This reflects the sun or lights and helps the paint and clear coat to produce a shiny, crystal, and 3D deep appearance. So, what do those terms mean – here ya go:
- 3D Deep: Many people refer to the depth perception in terms of ‘dimension’ or “D”. If you’ve seen a 3D movie, you know that the picture looks like you can jump into it – or items appear to jump at you. This is the effect that some ceramic coatings have on your paint – making it appear deep and rich.
- Shiny: Some people use the term ‘wet’ with a relationship to the shine produced by a ceramic coating. The paint will look like it’s freshly sprayed and glistens in sunlight or at night under lights.
- Crystal: A ceramic coating can also create a prism effect. This is how crystal works.
When you ask most car owners why they use a ceramic coating – it’s all about protecting the paint from exposure to the elements, debris, chemicals, and more. Here are a few of the common terms used to promote the protection attributes of ceramic coatings:
- UV: The biggest enemy of paint is UV light. Ultra Violet light is emitted by the sun. It’s basically radiation (at a very small percentage) which heats up a surface, can eat away at clear coats, and cause damage to the paint surface underneath.
- Corrosion Resistant: Acid rain, chemicals, and even animal waste (like bird droppings and bug splatters) can eat away at clear coats and eventually your paint. A ceramic coating provides a protective layer for the paintwork against corrosion produced by these products.
- Scratch Resistant: Ceramic coatings are scratch resistant – not scratch proof. The resistance to scratching is typically attributed to the hardness and quality of the ceramic coating. Small scratches can be ‘buffed’ out with good ceramic products.
- Road Salt: Salt is corrosive and will eat away at clear coats quickly if it remains on the vehicle’s surface. This is usually important to those living in cold weather climates.
- Hydrophobic: The final term commonly used with ceramic coatings is hydrophobic. This relates the ability to repel water. Since the ceramic coating is so flat and slippery, it’ very difficult for the ceramic coating to stick to the coating. This is regarded as having hydrophobic properties or water repellency. It’s also what helps to reduce dirt and debris sticking, and also makes it easy to remove bird droppings and bug splatters.
Wrapping it Up
As you can see, there is a lot of information to review above. Ceramic coatings are exceptional for protecting your paint from exposure to the element, improve the shine, and simplify the process of keeping your vehicle clean.
We hope that we’ve provided an easy to follow the roadmap of the different types of ceramic coatings and some of the determining factors of each. We have compiled a rather impressive batch of educational articles in our AvalonKing blog, so please take time to review some of our previous entries to learn more about paint protection products.