There are several ways to skin a cat – at least, with protecting your new car paint. Car enthusiasts from the USA to the UK spend billions of dollars or pounds per year on car care products. From wax and sealants to space-age paint protection film and nanoceramic coatings, consumers have multiple options to keep their vehicle’s paint clean, shiny, and most importantly – protected.
With so many paint protection options on the table, how or where do you start?
Well, let’s examine this commonly asked question, by breaking down the top four methods and products most car owners use to place a shield of protection on their beloved daily drivers.
What is Protection in the Field of Detailing?
The car dealing business is huge – not only with the money spent, but the products used. Contrary to the popular myth, auto detailing involves several steps from the interior, under the hood, tire, and wheels, and of course, paint protection. This is where we’ll focus our efforts in this article.
In the field of automotive detailing, a protection product is used to help reduce damage to the surface of an automotive component or section. There are protection products for wheels, interior pieces, and the vehicle paint surface.
For paint and the clear coat, these products are designed to provide a thin layer of protection to prevent chemical or mechanical damage to the vehicle surface. It creates a barrier between the surface and contaminants that want to penetrate the clear coat and damage the paint.
Let’s break down four of the most popular products used.
4 Products for Protecting Your Car
Car owners have several options for protecting their daily drivers or garage-kept collectibles. Paint protection products range from natural carnauba wax to lab-created, space-age technology infused into paint protection film or PPF. Each of them provides different levels of protection, benefits, and features.
Car Wax Explained
One of the first paint protection products used in the automotive culture was natural carnauba wax. Automotive or car wax comes in multiple application methods, from solid wax derived from palm trees to liquid formulations infused with synthetic ingredients.
However, there is a difference between car wax and polish. Wax is designed to provide protection against exposure to UV rays, contaminants, and other debris. Polish helps to improve the luster or shine of the clear coating. The two are usually used in combination.
Car Wax Pros
Car wax provides car owners with several advantages.
- It’s very simple to use: Most car wax exclusive products are sold as a solid or paste wax, that is applied to an applicator and physically applied to the car surface. There are some liquid wax products that are combined with polish, that are likewise easy to apply and buff.
- Cheap car protection: Car wax is the most affordable paint protection product, with regard to the product itself. The typical can or bottle of car wax can last for up to 10 to 20 applications.
- Simple to store: These products are also quite easy to store. Most of them have shelf lives of a few years.
- Combines with polish or paint sealants: We spoke about the ease of application, but car wax also seamlessly mixes with polishes and synthetic paint sealant products. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of paint sealants below.
- Provides good protection against heat: Carnauba wax comes from a palm tree in Brazil. The product forms a hard shell of protection and actually strengthens with exposure to the sun.
- Easy to remove and reapply: Car wax can also be removed and reapplied quite easily. In fact, reapplication is recommended every six weeks for maximum protection.
Car Wax Cons
While there are several benefits to using car wax, it’s important to point out some of its shortcomings.
- Has a very short life span: Car Wax will begin to wear thin as soon as it’s applied. In most cases, it will lose most of its impact within six weeks, requiring removal and reapplication to protect the paint.
- Traps dirt: While car wax applies a hard shell of protection, in retrospect, it’s not very hard at all. In fact, it’s soft enough to let small particles of dirt and debris to seep into the wax, which traps it and can damage the clear coat if left on the vehicle.
- Not very good with chemicals: Some basic chemical cleaners like degreasers, bug and tar remover, and other car cleaning products can be harmful to car wax.
- Minimal protection: Car wax also provides the worse protection of the four items we’ll cover here. While it was considered by many (including myself) a great way of keeping your paint protected, technology has introduced better solutions since the turn of the century.
What does Car Wax Protect Against?
Car wax does a great job of protecting the surface of a vehicle from UV sunlight rays, bug splatters, bird droppings, and even acid rain. The problem is that it doesn’t protect the clear coat for very long, as it will wear out quickly, just due to the formulation of the product.
What it Does Not Protect Against
On the flip side, applying car wax to protect your car from rock chips, road debris, chemicals, scratches, and acid rain is not recommended. As we stated above, car wax does a great job of providing a basic layer of protection, but it’s basic AF. There are better options which we’ll break down below.
Paint Sealant Explained
One step above car wax is a car paint sealant product. Basically, a sealant is a synthetically engineered liquid product that has been lab-created to adhere to the paint clear coat and provide a thin layer of protection.
It is essentially a synthetic car wax that simply lasts longer – in most instances, up to six months. However, like car wax, it will require removal and reapplication for maximum impact.
Paint Sealant Pros
Some of the top benefits of using a paint sealant to keep your clear coat protected include:
- Is very easy to use: Paint sealant is applied in a similar manner as car wax. Simply put a layer of the product, typically in a liquid form, on a microfiber application sponge or pad, and rub the compound into the paint. When the product is ‘dried’, you just buff off the residual.
- Combines well with wax and polish: This type of paint protection product is formulated similar to liquid car wax and polishes. Many manufacturers of this product will combine it with wax or polish to create a hybrid paint sealant/wax/polish.
- Provides a glassy look: When properly applied, some paint sealant products will enhance the luster of paint by producing a glassy look.
Paint Sealant Cons
Although paint sealants can last up to six months, they also come with some negative features:
- Shows paint imperfections: We addressed the glassy look above, but this comes with some drawbacks as well. When you apply a paint sealant, it really highlights imperfections, scratches, or swirl marks in the paint clear coat.
- Requires more prep work than wax: In order to stick to the paint surface, car owners who use this product to protect the paint surface must complete more prep work before applying. In most instances, they will need to clay bar their car after removing the product, to make sure a clean surface exists.
- Tricky to remove: There are several really good automotive soaps that are specifically engineered to strip wax and sealants. The problem is, most of them are designed to remove OLD wax or sealants that are already beginning to break down. Newer layers require specialty products, and often, multiple washes or other techniques to remove them.
- Offers medium protection: Paint sealants are a step above traditional car wax in the protection department. But, it’s not as optimal as paint protection film or a ceramic coating. Again, it’s a good medium protection product.
What does Paint Sealant Protect Against?
Paint sealants are basically the same as car wax with regard to paint protection – just for a bit longer. So, it does a good job keeping the paint safe from exposure to UV rays, bird stuff, bugs, and other common road grime.
What it does Not Protect Against
As stated above, it’s basically the same as wax – just last longer.
Ceramic Coating Explained
Stepping up in class in the paint protection department is ceramic coatings. The best way of explaining what a ceramic coating is to compare it to a sacrificial layer of protection that sticks to the clear coat. It uses nano-technology (like Tony Stark’s Ironman armor – but cooler).
As the coating hardens, it creates a microscopic layer of incredibly hard glass. It seeps into the clear coat to fill all of the imperfections and eventually leaves an incredibly flat surface area. This is the key to making the surface hydrophobic (water-repellent), and resistant to UV, scratches, chemicals, extreme heat and even anti-graffiti.
Ceramic Coating Pros
The pros of the ceramic coating are pretty detailed, but here we go:
- Exceptional durability: While wax will last about six weeks, and paint sealants about six months, many high-quality nano-ceramic coatings can last anywhere from two to five years.
- Highly chemical resistant: A ceramic coating is made from quartz and other hard minerals that are exceptionally resistant to chemicals. This keeps the clear coat protected against these harmful agents.
- Superior scratch resistance: Since they cure incredibly hard, they are very good about protecting against scratches. It’s not scratch proof, but it’s more difficult to scratch a ceramic coated-protected vehicle through normal washes.
- No need for other protection products: When you correctly use a nano-ceramic coating, it is a great standalone product. No need for wax, paint sealants, or other products.
- Incredible hydrophobic properties: Hydrophobic means water-resistant. Since the layer of protection is so smooth, water simply slides off of the surface and has a hard time sticking. This property also repels dirt, makes it easy to remove bird droppings, bug splatters, and more.
- Produces a brilliant shine: Since the layer is essentially glass, it produces a brilliant shine, that makes your car appear wet and slippery.
Ceramic Coating Cons
While ceramic coatings are amazing products to protect a vehicle paint surface from damage, it’s not perfect by any means. Here are a few items to consider before making the investment:
- The application requires a lot of prep work: For maximum impact, you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time with prep work. This means completely washing the vehicle manually (not a car wash), clay bar treatment, completing paint correction (to remove swirl marks and other paint imperfections), polishing the surface, then finishing up with an IPA wipe-down.
- Will highlight paint imperfections: The reason why you want to complete paint correction first is that ceramic coatings really highlight the brilliance and damage to the car’s paint.
- Hard to remove: If you apply a ceramic coating, eventually it will wear thin and require an additional coat. For optimal results, you should remove the old coating and restart the prep and installation process.
- More expensive for professional coating installation: Consumers have multiple options to consider. They can have a professional detailing shop install a professional grade ceramic coating or do it themselves with a DIY specific ceramic coating. Opting for the professional choice is much more expensive, but you’re having a pro handle everything.
- Buyer beware: There are several cheap DIY ceramic coatings on the market. Before you make the investment, it’s important to complete due diligence to verify the product is high-quality, and that you feel comfortable with the prep work and installation.
What Does a Ceramic Coating Protect Against?
Ceramic coatings generally protect a vehicle against UV sun rays, chemicals, acids produced by bird droppings and bug guts, scratches, dirt and debris, extreme heat, graffiti, and more. It also makes it easier to remove hard sticking items like tar, bugs, bird droppings, tree sap, and other ‘sticky stuff’.
What Does Ceramic Coating Not Protect Against?
While they’re really great products, they don’t make your vehicle bulletproof.
A ceramic coating will not make your car fire-proof, won’t protect against rock chips, does not self-cure when scratches or damage happens, and will not remove the need to wash your car. It’s recommended to wash the vehicle every two weeks for extended use.
Paint Protection Film Explained
Paint Protection Film or PPF as we’ll call it going forward is the upper echelon is paint protection products. It’s a space-age technology product that was initially invented by PPG and used to protect helicopter blades from damage during the Vietnam War. It evolved from those early days into an exceptional protection product.
Basically, PPF is a thin vinyl product that is clear and installed on the vehicle’s surface. Most car owners will apply PPF on the front bumper, hood, side-view mirrors, and other front area sections that tend to be hit by debris. Some folks will apply it on the entire vehicle.
Paint protection film is installed by a professional detailer or an automotive vinyl expert. When it’s applied correctly and maintained, it offers consumers multiple benefits:
- Exceptional protection against rock chips: PPF is the product to use if you’re looking for the best way to protect your vehicle against small rock chips.
- Incredible self-healing properties: PPF is similar to thermoplastic polyurethane or TPU as it’s called. When it’s scratched, or chipped with small rocks or debris, you simply need to buff the surface and it will literally self-heal.
- Virtually scratch proof: If you’re looking for the best way to protect a car against being keyed by that asshole at the bar, PPF is the option for you.
- Can last for 10 years: Many of the best PPF products can protect the vehicle for up to 10 years.
PPF is a great paint protection product, but there are some things you should consider before making the investment:
- Is the most expensive option: When you compare wax vs paint sealant vs ceramic coating vs PPF, the last one is the most expensive. Applying to the entire vehicle can cost up to $6,000.
- Not very hydrophobic: PPF protects quite well, but it’s not very good about repelling water and dirt. This means that cars get dirtier quicker and tend to collect water spots easier.
- More labor intensive to care: While you don’t need to apply wax or sealants to PPF, you’ll have to wash your car more frequently. Since it’ vinyl, debris tends to stick rather easily.
- When damaged – requires replacement: If the PPF is damaged due to vandalism or other reasons, you’ll have to replace the entire section.
- Can discolor: Overtime, a PPF will begin to discolor when exposed to UV light frequently. Most consumers that use PPF apply them to garage queens or use a car cover to avoid this common issue.
What does PPF Protect Against?
PPF is great to protect your vehicle against scratches, small rocks and road debris, sticks, and other items that chip the paint. With regard to “protection” it is basically a vinyl wrap, so it protects the paint quite well.
What does PPF Not Protect Against?
PPF is really good at protecting a car paint surface. But it will not protect against vehicle accidents, sharp objects (like knives), bullets, fire, and acids. Gasoline will also eat away at PPF fairly easily.
Wrapping it Up
As you can see, there is a lot of info above to absorb. Picking the best product to keep your paint protected really breaks down to dollars and sense. We used the other spelling for ‘sense’ for a reason.
If you opt for car wax, you’ll spend a lot of time and sweat equity applying, removing, and repeating this process every six weeks. Same thing with paint sealants, except it’s every six months. For many car owners, this just doesn’t make sense.
However, PPF tends to be too expensive for many car owners. Or, since they keep the vehicle outdoors, it doesn’t make sense because it can damage quickly with excessive exposure to sunlight.
When you break it down to ‘making sense’ – using a high-quality ceramic coating like AvalonKing’s Armor Shield IX is the most practical solution. However, before you make the leap of faith, take time to review what other consumers like you think, how it’ reviewed by experts, and determine whether you feel comfortable with the prep and installation work.