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What is Ceramic Coating? Purpose Explained

Put simply, a vehicle ceramic coating is a protective layer of liquid applied to the exterior of your vehicle that provides a long-lasting protective layer over your paint.

Like paint, it takes time to cure and harden after it is applied. In more complicated terms, ceramic coating is a silicon or Teflon-based liquid that chemically binds to your vehicle’s paint, hardens, and provides a very thin layer – sometimes referred to as a nano-ceramic-coating – of protection against a variety of outside factors.

Ceramic Coating is technically considered a vehicle detailing product like polishes and waxes. Even though it is possible to apply a ceramic coating to your vehicle by yourself, it is recommended that a professional do the work unless you have previous experience. Making a mistake can be costly as the ceramic coating isn’t cheap. 

Though it functions similarly to polish or wax in that it is a vehicle protectant, it is a big step up from both of those products in terms of protection level, expense, and application difficulty. On the other hand, it is not as expensive, not as difficult to apply, and does it provide as high a level of protection as a paint protection film. 

The Purpose of a Ceramic Coating

ceramic coating

The main purpose of a ceramic coating is to protect your vehicle’s paint, but there are many facets of paint protection that go deeper than simple general protection. Here are the most common purposes of ceramic coating:

It Protects Against Scratches and Swirl Marks

Since a ceramic coating is a clear protective layer painted over the actual clear coat of your vehicle, any scratches that might occur have to get through the ceramic coat before they can scratch your paint. This effectively provides a buffer zone against light debris such as rocks, road grime, and even improper vehicle washing materials. 

Washing your car too much or using abrasive towels can lead to swirl marks on your clear coat, something a ceramic coating can also prevent. This does not mean that you can wash your vehicle with whatever materials you have handy. You still need to take the necessary precautions to protect your vehicle’s ceramic layer so it will not wear prematurely as you wash your vehicle.

Creates a Hydrophobic Surface

In addition to preventing swirl marks from washing, a ceramic coat should make any car wash much easier as the coating is hydrophobic.

This means that it is made to repel water by making it bead and run off your vehicle. Any washing you do should be light as ceramic coats also repel road oils and grimes.

Though your car can still get dirty, a rinse should be all that is needed to get the job done. As your ceramic coat wears off, this may change. An indicator that it may be time to reapply another coat is when a “hose-off” no longer works in place of a thorough car wash.

Prevents Oxidation, Heat, and Sunlight Damage

Oxidation and paint fading occurs when the sun’s rays heat the paint under your vehicle’s clear coat. A ceramic coating can create an additional barrier from the heat and UV rays similarly to how it repels water. Though it cannot prevent this from occurring one hundred percent of the time, it does aid in slowing the paint fading and oxidation process.

Protects Against Air Pollution

Air pollution is one of the least known and least thought about reasons for paint fading and eventual deterioration. It exists everywhere you drive your car, but a ceramic coating can slow the process.

Like dirt particles or the microscopic abrasive edges of non-vehicle-specific soaps and towels, pollution particles are microscopically abrasive too. Additionally, they are toxic and can eat away at your paint. 

Provides Extra Shine

Ceramic coating not only protects your paint, but it also functions similarly to wax or polishing products. Due to its hydrophobic properties, it also does a great job of keeping dirt off the vehicle’s surface, giving it a better overall appearance for longer.

Additionally, being very easy to wash, it can take much less time to rinse off your vehicle than to give it a full wash when it does get dirty.

What are the Downsides to Ceramic Coating?

nano-ceramic coating

Although ceramic coatings are much better overall than waxes and polishes and can help prevent scratches, they are not perfect. There are several downsides to ceramic coatings:

They Do Not Eliminate Anything They Protect Against

Ceramic coating is a great way to prevent scratches, dirt, car washing, and UV rays, but no ceramic coating, regardless of its quality, will completely eradicate any of these things.

Driving your vehicle exposes it to all of these environmental factors and more. Some people even claim that ceramic coatings are flame resistant which is not true.

Many people see the benefits of ceramic coating and mistake prevention for immunity. They are just another measure you can take to prolong the life of your vehicle.

Your Car Will Still Get Dirty

Though the hydrophobic properties of ceramic coatings are great, they do not repel dirt, dust, and water forever. Car washes will still eventually be needed given that you drive your vehicle daily.

They are Expensive

In theory, ceramic coatings function like waxes and polishes that you can pick up in your local retail store or automotive outlet. They both function to protect your car against any number of environmental and human factors that might prematurely age your vehicle’s delicate exterior.

Ceramic coatings are much more permanent than spray-on waxes or polishes. They create a shell over your entire vehicle, because of the amount of technology within them, and because of the labor involved with their application, they can cost hundreds of dollars.

A DIY ceramic coating can cost well over $500 for a complete kit. Professional ceramic coating can cost several thousand dollars for a quality job. If you are interested in having a professional ceramic coating job done to your vehicle, you should be cautious of “value” pricing. Even though it is great to save money, the cost of quality ceramics and reputable shops should not be significantly lower than comparable competitors. 

They are Difficult to Apply Without Experience

A good way to save money and gain experience is to do all of it yourself. This is much more common than it used to be with ceramic coatings increasing in popularity and advanced technology that has allowed these coatings to become more readily available to the consumer market.

Despite this, a quality job using high-quality ceramics and tools will still be expensive, and with no experience, it is very easy to miss things an experienced professional would not.

Those serious about applying ceramic coatings to their own car should do the research necessary to ensure that no steps are missed, quality products are being used, rushing through the process is avoided, and the appropriate curing instructions are followed. 

What Types of Ceramic Coating are There?

types of ceramic coating

Ceramic coatings used to be much more one-dimensional than they are now. Fortunately, there are a variety of different ceramic coatings available on the market ranging widely in price.

Spray-on

Spray-on ceramic coatings are the least expensive, most easily applied, and least resilient type of coating. They can be silicone and Teflon-based, but they do much less than traditional ceramic coatings in terms of protection because they often mimic a true ceramic coat rather than produce a very hard shell. 

This is especially true of Teflon-based spray-on ceramic coatings. They can be very inexpensive but produce a much softer ceramic coating than a silicone boost spray.

Silicone boost sprays are usually made up of a combination of silicon and titanium dioxide and are usually more resilient than Teflon-based coatings. Even though they are better than base coatings, they still cannot match professional-grade coatings.

Nano-Ceramic

Nano-ceramic coatings are those true ceramic coatings that form a very hard silicone-based shell over your vehicle. These are still offered for DIY-ers or professionals.

DIY-grade nano-ceramics are designed to be easier to apply than professional-grade nano-ceramics. Professional-grade ceramics usually require a higher amount of specific prep work and can be mixed to fit specific conditions, whereas DIY nano-ceramics – while they are much better than spray-on – offer more of a “one size fits all” product.

This also means that DIY nano-ceramics may not produce the desired results because of environmental factors, paint conditions, or inadequate prep work.

Final Thoughts

Ceramic coatings are often misunderstood, but when used correctly, they can increase the longevity of your paint by preventing many of the factors that lead to fading and scratching.

Though ceramic coatings do not make your vehicle immune to any scratching, fading, or swirl marks, a quality ceramic coating applied properly can last for years.

If you want to save some money, you can apply ceramic coatings yourself, but you will need to understand the risks involved, the materials necessary, and the appropriate type of coating to use. 

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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