Ceramic coatings are undoubtedly the most popular choice for automotive paint protection. There are many, many brands in the industry that are offering all sorts of variants of SiO2 coatings. With the growing popularity and different information being spread, facts can get a bit distorted. It is important that a customer knows what they are getting into when their car is ceramic coated so they aren't lied to or set unrealistic expectations.
What is a ceramic coating?
A true ceramic coating is an SiO2-based liquid polymer sealant that chemically bonds to paint. The liquid applied to the surface of the paint cures to form a hard protective glass-like layer. When levelled out correctly during install, it is clear and invisible. The silicon properties make it extremely hydrophobic.
How long do ceramic coatings last for?
This depends on the brand, their formula(s) and more. Each coating has a rated lifetime, but whether it lasts that long, depends on how it is cared for and the environment it lives in. A coated car that lives outside in the sun everyday will not last as long as a coated car that is kept in a garage or undercover. A coating will not last forever, do not buy into lifetime warranties.
How strong are ceramic coatings?
Ceramic coatings in a realistic world are super weak. They may last a few years, however they can be removed easily and do not offer the barrier that people think they do. A coating will NOT stop your car from getting washing scratches, washing swirls, wiping scratches, stone chips, paint fade, clear coat peel, bird poo etchings, water etchings, tree sap etchings, bee pollen and more. They can also be removed quite easily through seconds worth of polishing with a machine.
How thick are ceramic coatings?
This varies on the brand and how many layers were applied. So just as a range, the average thickness can be between 1-8 microns which, to put into perspective, is less than 0.008 millimetres...! Nowhere near visible to the naked eye. Paint Protection Film (PPF), which is a clear plastic film, will usually be around 170-180 microns as a starting point.
What is the benefit of a ceramic coating then?
The longevity of a ceramic is one of the key selling points. Compared to a traditional wax (which will only last 1-6 months), a coating will last years, especially if cared for. The water repellence offered by the SiO2-based liquid polymer is astounding, which will make washing and drying far easier than a standard wax. The repellence will aid in removing bird droppings, tree sap, bee pollen etc, but if left for too long, especially on a hot day, will still etch into the paint.
Will ceramic coatings protect your car from scratches?
A ceramic coating will NOT stop your paint from getting scratched. It will still get swirls over time from washing and wiping. A four-wheel-drive vehicle will come out of a narrow bush track with the same amount of scratches whether it was coated or not. It is true that coatings have a small resistance to very fine stuff, but in a realistic application, it means nothing.
Will your car still get water, bird poo, tree sap and bee pollen etchings?
The answer is yes. As long as you act on the matters quickly you will be fine. However if left too long, especially on a hot Australian summer day, you can expect etching to occur.
Will a ceramic coating stop paint fade or clear coat peel?
Unfortunately not. Applying a ceramic coating to a panel that is fading or has clear coat peel and bubbling will not magically halt the natural process. It may on some level, slow it down, but if it is going to happen, it is going to happen.
Will a ceramic coating stop stonechips?
Not even close. A coating is simply nowhere near thick enough or flexible enough to absorb an impact of a stone chip.
Is there a paint protection that can do everything the ceramic coating can't do?
The answer is Paint Protection Film (PPF). Paint Protection Film is a clear plastic vinyl film that is usually 170-180 microns thick which adheres to paint to create a shield. As a standard, most PPF films are self healing and some even have a coating on top for extra beading.
Should you have your car ceramic coated?
For daily vehicles that aren't really cared for, a ceramic coating will still be a good option as it will outlast a wax anyway. Show cars generally don't get ceramic coatings as they are garaged most of their life, are polished regularly and get better clarity and gloss from a carnauba wax. If you like to maintain your vehicle often and don't want to be confined to a coating's lifetime then a wax will suffice.