Basics: Ceramic Coatings
In this article we sort out the details of the newest detailing trend.
This post is designed to explain and clarify the main points of automotive ceramic coatings, in doing so, we will confront and debunk some of the marketing hype. Just so we’re all on the same page, this article will be focused on coatings made from Silicon Dioxide (SiO2), not Silicon Carbide (SiC). SiO2 constitutes the majority of what’s available on the market, and the two compounds have different properties.
This is a long one… If you’re in a hurry, feel free to scroll down to the summary at the bottom.
Now that we’ve gotten the nitty-gritty out of the way, read on for a complete primer on ceramic coatings.
Where Did Ceramic Coatings Come From?
In order for this to make sense, we need to start by explaining automotive paint. Most paints jobs done at the factory are 3-coat systems. Cars from the factory arrive with a primer to prepare the metal, a base coat to give the pigment, and a clear coat to protect everything from the elements. In addition to protection, the clear coat also gives the pigment gloss, depth, and lustre.
All things considered, factory clear coats are pretty good at their jobs. Factory clear coats perform well at reducing UV fading and protecting against mechanical damage. Clear coats perform poorly at repelling water (and therefore dirt), protecting against chemical damage, and they are easy to scratch and swirl.
Traditionally, motorists and detail shops use waxes and sealants to add a layer of protection to vehicles. These compounds are good at bolstering the abilities of the clear coat to protect, but are too soft to prevent small scratches, are easily swirled, don’t resist chemical breakdown very well, and require constant reapplication.
In recent years, ceramic coatings have taken the industry by storm as a durable and effective upgrade to waxes and sealants.
What Are Ceramic Coatings?
Ceramic coatings are a liquid that comes in a surprisingly small bottle. The liquid is composed of ceramic nano particles suspended in a clear resin. When applied to a vehicle, the resin forms a chemical bond with the clear coat and hardens into an armour-like layer.
Ceramic coatings are considered “semi-permanent” because without abrasion or very specific and powerful solvents, they will never break down. After the curing process, commercial ceramic coatings provide enhanced UV protection, chemical resistance, increased gloss, and extraordinary hydrophobicity.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, the primary ingredient in ceramic coatings is SiO2. Silicon Dioxide is often added to products like automotive soaps, sealants, and waterless car washes. You need to know that even with the addition of SiO2, these products are not ceramic coatings because the effectiveness of the SiO2 will only last a couple of days.
A true ceramic coating must be resin based. Don’t let anyone try to sell you a sealant when you really want a coating.
Is the Hype Legit?
“Rock Chip Proof”
Nope. Don’t listen to this claim. While ceramic coatings are very hard and protective, they are very VERY thin. If a pebble kicked up by a tire at highway speeds can break your windshield, it can also probably penetrate a layer of ceramic coating thinner than a human hair.
The only product that will actually prevent rock chips is paint protection film (PPF). The good news is that PPF and ceramic coatings can be used concurrently, so you can get the best of both worlds.
This one is true. Factory clear coats are so vulnerable to chemical damage that a deposit of acidic bird droppings is enough to quickly erode the clear coat and damage the paint underneath.
Chemical resistance is one of the primary reasons that people invest in ceramic coatings. If you live in an area that experiences acid rain or industrial fallout, ceramic coatings are a must.
This one is a little more nuanced. Ceramic coatings won’t protect your parked car from the angry, key-wielding driver that you may-or-may-not have cut off on the highway. Similar to how coatings can’t protect against major rock chips, they can also not protect against major scratches. Ceramic coatings are designed to prevent the small scratches that result in swirl marks or other imperfections.
You will hear “9H Hardness” thrown around a lot. This is just referencing the pencil harness scale, which goes from 1 to 9 (9 being the hardest). For reference, factory clear coats usually measure at about 9. While “9H” is very hard, most hard objects, like keys, rocks, and glass, will also be harder than “9H”.
“Self Healing Coatings”
Some coatings are self healing, some coatings are not. Extremely hard coatings are too rigid to offer any type of self healing property, some coatings require an application of heat to heal, and others only need to be parked in the sun to heal. Ask your chosen installer what self-healing options they have available.
Ceramic Coatings: In Sum
What Are They?
Ceramic coatings are a clear liquid resin that protects your vehicle’s clear coat from damage. They are the most recent innovation in automotive detailing.
What Do They Do?
Ceramic coatings protect your clear coat from abrasion and chemical damage, repel water, and increase gloss.
What Can’t They Do?
Ceramic coatings don’t replace proper maintenance, prevent rock chips, serious scratches or gouges, and they don’t last forever.
Who Are They For?
Everyone’s car will look better after an application of ceramic coatings, but we don’t necessarily recommend them for everyone. Ceramic coatings are really for people who are committed to proper maintenance and demand the best from their vehicles. To ask more questions and find out if they are right for you, just take a look at our services page or give us a shout.