How ceramic coatings work
Automotive ceramic coatings are liquid coatings that cure to surfaces when applied. The important ingredient is silicon dioxide (SIO2), which cures a thin (typically 1-5 microns) quartz-like layer onto the surface of the vehicle. The resulting surface is smooth – far smoother than even newly baked automotive paint. The molecular nature of this coating leads to a very high level of hydrophobicity – to water rolling more easily off of paint, plastics, rubber, and glass.
What ceramic can do for you
Ceramic coating offers multiple benefits to vehicles.
First, water is more likely to collect dirt/dust/contamination and then roll off the surface, minimizing the amount of dirt and mineral build-up that normally would dry onto the surface causing mud, road salt, and/or water spots. This means vehicles look clean for a longer period after each wash and that each vehicle is easier to wash and dry.
Ceramic coatings are also highly resistant to chemicals. CQUARTZ UK 3.0 has a chemical resistance of 3-14pH, meaning it is resistant to all kinds of common household and automotive chemicals. So instead of using labor-intensive abrasion to clean exteriors, ceramic coating allows for more aggressive chemicals to do the work of lifting contamination from the vehicle without risking the clearcoat underneath.
Ceramics cure to the paint and result in a very hard surface. This (in theory) means that ceramic coatings are resistant to scratches – more on that later.
Paint oxidation is normally caused by exposure to UV radiation and oxygen. While ceramic coatings don’t block UV radiation directly (they don’t – we’ve tested it), they do seal the surface and prevent oxygen from degrading the clear coat. And since the clear coat contains the UV-blocking material that prevents paint from fading, ceramic coatings ultimately protect the painted surfaces from oxidizing and fading.
Lastly, ceramic coatings fill microscopic surface damage and create a smoother, shinier surface. They typically install to a better luster and sheen than waxes or other sealants, because of how smooth the cured ceramic surface is even in comparison to these other products.
What ceramic can’t do
Chemically resistant does not mean indestructible. Bug guts, rail dust, bird droppings, and other organic material will eventually etch even the best ceramic coating.
Similarly, scratch resistance is limited to relatively minor scratches. It’s not going to protect against rock chips, door dings, dog nails, belt buckles, and so on. Because the ceramic layer is so thin, any scratch resistance it may offer only works in that layer. At the most basic level, ceramic coating is chemical protection – for physical protection we direct customers towards paint protection film.
While ceramic coatings keep a vehicle looking clean for longer, they do not allow for vehicles to never be washed. Since the most important benefits of a ceramic coat rely on the coat’s hydrophobicity, it is important to understand that the surface must be clean to be effective. And since a dirty surface will eventually hold those etching contaminants on the surface, a ceramic coat will not last as long on a vehicle that isn’t kept clean.
The surface is prepared by the following decontamination process:
- Wash to remove loose dirt.
- Iron remover to remove rail dust, break dust, and/or iron particles.
- Clay bar to remove physical decontamination.
- 2-step polish to prepare the surface. This is a necessary step, as otherwise surface imperfections will be too large for the ceramic to fill and even out properly. No polishing à poor hydrophobic properties.
- An isopropyl-alcohol-based prep wipe to remove any remaining waxes, polishing compound, or other oils
Consumer-Grade vs. Pro-Grade Coatings
There are many different coatings on the market, all of which fall into two categories: consumer-grade coatings and professional-grade coatings. Pro-grade coatings are marketed as longer lasting, offering better hydrophobics (not always accurate) and better sheen/luster/gloss (we have never seen firm proof). Pro grade coatings tend to take longer to install, as they need to be cured indoors for a longer period.
Pro-grade coatings often come with 3-10+ year or even lifetime warranties. However, these coatings come with some major downsides:
1. The warranty doesn’t provide meaningful coverage. Many of them only cover the costs of materials, will only cover a single claim and then lapse, and/or only guarantee the “shine” of the coating.
2. Warranties require annual inspections for the warranty to remain active, at which time the shop performing the inspection is allowed to charge the customer for the inspection, for a decontamination cleaning, and in some cases application of new ceramic product. In other words, customers could potentially pay a large up-front cost for a long- term warranty that is only satisfied through the regular cost of application of lesser products.
3. Polishing ceramic coatings voids the warranty, meaning that a lifetime coating warranty can only be maintained by never actually correcting scratches, brush marks, swirls, or other physical damage that paint-correction would normally be required to fix.
Consumer-grade coatings tend to offer similar results for a shorter time frame – usually 1-3 years. They don’t have warranties, and they are supposed to be maintained using ceramic toppers, ceramic waxes, or ceramic sealants. Consumer-grade coatings offer fantastic value for daily driver vehicles, as they tend to be less expensive, and they provide opportunity every couple of years for paint correction to improve the visual aspects of the paint.
Ceramic coats have different care routines than typical paint or wax do. Ceramic coats don’t need to be scrubbed; they need to be chemically decontaminated.
Washing every 1-2 weeks is ideal. Rarely washing will shorten the performance and the lifespan of the coating.
Iron remover is an important part of cleaning ceramic coatings, as iron is one of the few molecules that can still grab onto a ceramic surface. From there, iron will rust (etching the coat) and be a non-smooth surface that water can collect on (removing the hydrophobic benefits of ceramic).
Chemical staining can still occur, so it is important to stay on top of bug guts, bird droppings, and any organic growth in the body lines or elsewhere.
Bringing all this together: How to decide
Depending on the type of vehicle, the reasons to have them ceramic coated will be different.
For people with economy vehicles and daily drivers, ceramic coatings are going to be valuable because they are a pause button that keeps the vehicle exterior from degrading. Not only that, but the prep process and the coating will make the paint look as good as it possibly can given its current condition.
For vehicle enthusiasts and customers with luxury vehicles, ceramic coatings do the same while also providing the easiest path to a reliable care routine. If someone is going to be hand washing their own car, ceramic coatings are an enormous time-saver.
For customers with farm trucks, service vehicles, and off-road vehicles, care must be taken in considering the value of ceramic coatings. Notably, ceramic coatings do not protect against physical damage, so while ceramic coating is still a good choice it is not going to be a solution for every problem.
Heavy abrasion can quickly ruin a ceramic coat. Owners need to understand that they can’t just run a ceramic coated vehicle through an automated touch carwash without the coat being damaged. Hand washes are ideal; touchless carwashes are acceptable if automated washing is desired.