What is Ceramic Coating for Cars?

Thom Blackett | Nov 23, 2020

For many of us, protecting the appearance of our cars is just part of the ownership experience. Maybe you’re an enthusiast who obsesses over every detail, a lessee intent on avoiding excess wear-and-tear charges, or one of an increasing number of folks who seldom drive due to a new work-from-home arrangement. Where you fall on that spectrum will dictate the amount of time and money you’re willing to spend, and whether an expensive ceramic coating is a worthwhile investment.

ceramic coating for cars

What is Ceramic Coating for Cars?

To understand ceramic coatings, it’s helpful to first look at the most common paint-protection products. 

Wax is organic and the most affordable, available in various forms ranging from an old-school paste to a quick-and-easy spray. For decades, “waxing” a car has been synonymous with keeping it looking shiny and new. Unfortunately, wax isn’t terribly durable and, therefore, should be applied multiple times per year. Some companies claim otherwise but environmental contaminants and even a harsh soap can easily break through that thin wax barrier. 

Sealants, on the other hand, are synthetic and developed to last several months. They are easily applied, though typically don’t offer the same deep shine one gets from a quality wax.

Both are outmatched by a ceramic coating. This silica-based liquid polymer is applied by hand and cures to form a protective layer that, when properly maintained, can be effective for several years.

Advantages of Ceramic Coating

That long-lasting protection is the main reason car owners choose a ceramic coating over the other options. Essentially a hard shell, a ceramic coating will prevent water stains, road grime, bird droppings, and other substances from reaching and harming the paint. With a quick rinse, they’ll simply slide right off.

And that brings us to an interesting word: hydrophobic. Typically, anything related to “phobic” has a negative connotation, but in this case it’s all positive. A ceramic coating will create a hydrophobic layer that essentially repels water, meaning mineral deposits and dirt have less opportunity to damage the paint surface.

What Ceramic Coating Won’t Do

Unfortunately, ceramic coatings are not ideal for everyone, primarily due to high costs. Unlike a wax, for example, a ceramic coating adheres to and bonds with a car’s paint and cannot simply be wiped off and reapplied. The process is more akin to applying stain to a piece of wood, where the application needs to be smooth, consistent and, for the best results, performed by an experienced professional. If a mistake is made, or if something touches the surface before it has fully cured, the entire area of the car must be wet sanded and the coating reapplied. 

While the price of ceramic coating kits is less than $100, proper preparation can make this an expensive endeavor. Since the coating will magnify any imperfections, you must first laboriously polish the paint to remove any swirls, scratches, or discoloration. Experts claim that’s even true for brand-new cars fresh off of a dealer’s lot, as they likely have slight paint damage from being run through an automatic car wash. 

With this in mind, you may not be surprised to learn that a professional may charge $1,000 or more to apply a ceramic coating to your vehicle. We don’t recommend the average do-it-yourself attempt on a car of any value.

Perhaps more significant than the cost of a ceramic coating are the unrealistic expectations some people have with regard to the result. Granted, ceramic coatings offer unrivaled protection, but your car won’t suddenly have an impenetrable barrier. Stones will still chip your paint, rogue shopping carts will absolutely dent your fender, and tree sap left to bake on the hood will laugh at your $1,000 silica-based polymer. 

Furthermore, you must maintain a ceramic coating with frequent brush-free washes (to avoid swirls and scratches) and occasional treatment with a particular spray which, thankfully, owners can do themselves.

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