Ceramic coating: worthwhile protection for your car?

If you have a black car, or even a dark-colored car, you know that keeping it clean can be a full-time job. And even when you spend hours washing and painstakingly polishing it… you’re usually left with swirl marks. It’s enough to drive a slightly obsessive car owner crazy.

There are always new car washing and detailing products coming out that claim to make things easier. Spray waxes, microfiber cloths, and touchless sealant are just a few of the products that have simplified washing and polishing in recent years.

Regular wax vs. ceramic coating treatment
(image credit: Intersportperformance.com)

A lot of people simply take their car to a detailer each year for a good polish and coat of wax to protect their paint. It looks amazing for a few hours to days, and then… a little less so. But there’s been a lot of buzz about ceramic coating for cars lately. It’s a common option buyers add to high-end luxury cars before they take their purchase home from the dealership. But how does it work? Is it worth it? Here are some of the basics of automotive ceramic coating.

What does ceramic coating for cars do?

Ceramic coating is basically a newer, more advanced way of protecting paint than previous waxes or sealants.

The key benefits of ceramic coating are that it:

  • Locks down your paint’s condition. It acts sort of like a clearcoat, only more durable than most factory clearcoats. So if your car’s paint is in prime condition, like when it’s just been detailed and polished, applying ceramic will basically enhance and preserve that. 
  • Adds greater resistance to light scratches, water spots, and other contaminants.
  • Helps your car stay cleaner, longer. It creates a super smooth surface that’s harder for road dirt, dust, and brake dust to stick to. That also makes it great for wheels—it keeps stubborn brake dust from accumulating, which simplifies wheel cleaning a lot. 
  • Long-term protection, increased longevity for your paint. Ceramic coating will protect against damage from UV rays, as well as oxidation and rust.

What are the downsides to ceramic coating?

  • Just as ceramic coating locks down the prime paint condition, the same is also true for the other end of the spectrum; if you put it on when your paint shows some swirl marks, or has some grime or infiltrates—or if it’s hazy—the ceramic will preserve and ‘protect’ that. So you have to be willing to put in some serious work—or spend some not inconsequential money—to get your paint to a state that you want to preserve.
  • It’s generally pretty expensive. If you do it yourself, it’s less so, but you have to be willing to put in some serious hours toward paint correction and then ceramic application—and depending on your level of experience, you may not get a result that’s anywhere near what the best shops in your area can do.
(image credit: ocdcarcare.com)

Does it really work?

There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s worth the cost, because to have it done professionally (along with paint correction, which is basically a requirement), it’s not cheap! But the general consensus among car buffs on the forums, and car product reviewers and commentators is that it definitely adds some benefit. The extent of that benefit seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and it’s also dependent on the quality of the prep and application.

DIY Ceramic Coating

Like most car projects, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can probably get some really good results. You can buy a DIY ceramic coating kit and do the whole process yourself. But bear in mind that getting your paint looking its absolute best is really important for optimal results.

Some things to consider are the costs involved in supplies and tools you might not already have—you’ll need some high quality products like car wash liquid, car polish, automotive clay car, polish pads, microfiber cloths, and buckets (those sound basic, but ideally you’ll get a special bucket with mesh to prevent dirt and other abrasives from getting on your was mitt every time you dip it into the bucket!)

Then—if you’re not already an experienced detailer—you’ll need to invest some time learning techniques for paint correction. There are lots of great videos on YouTube, and a lot of detailing supply vendors have excellent resources on their websites. If you have any friends who are into this sort of thing, it’s a great time to get them to help you learn the ropes (and maybe lend you some of their supplies!) Then you need to learn how to apply ceramic coating. Which is simpler than paint correction, but still a fair amount of work.

What’s the best ceramic coating?

There are a lot of manufacturers selling ceramic coating products now. Some—like Mothers CMX ceramic spray coating and Meguiar’s ceramic wax spray—are simpler solutions you can easily use at home. (They both have a variety of ceramic products now, in fact.) Another, more advanced (and more expensive) DIY option to check out is Adam’s line of ceramic coating kits. They make some great detailing products, and have a lot of really useful videos for learning detailing techniques. (Definitely check out their videos if you’re planning to do ceramic treatment at home.)

If you decide to look for a shop to do your paint correction and ceramic coating treatment, there are a number of manufacturers of the pro products, and each shop tends to specialize in one line of products. Two of the most popular products are CarPro Cquartz and Ceramic Pro 9H.

(image credit: ceramicpro)

If you decide to have your car treated professionally, the most important thing is not so much the product itself, but the shop. Your best bet is to read reviews, and ask car enthusiasts in your area. Go to a cars and coffee gathering and talk to the people with the shiniest cars, or ask your local chapter of an enthusiast group, like the Porsche Club of America, for their recommendation. When you find the shop that those groups use, you can be confident you’ll get a great result—whichever products they use.

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