The latest technology in automotive paint protective coatings is a ceramic coating. To some, this is a heresy, while to others, it’s a “must-have” solution. Let’s break it down and look at the pros and cons of wax and ceramic coatings.
Automotive wax is the gold standard for not only paint protection, but to make the vehicle’s paint POP! There’s nothing like a fresh coat of carnauba wax on a perfectly polished car, it simply demands that one takes a second, long look. If there was ever a PRO for wax, it’s the shiny, glossy look!
The biggest two CONS for wax are longevity and durability – it simply does not last long and does little to protect the paint from scratches. Wax sits on top of the vehicle’s paint, be it single stage enamel or a clear coat, and over time it dissipates until there’s no more protection and no more shiny left. Some say that reapplying wax regularly is a PRO. But who has the time to wax a car every 2-3 months? If you don’t like waxing your vehicle, you need to take it to a detailer and pay $300-400 for a good carnauba wax job. And since that price is way cheaper than a ceramic coating, it’s considered a PRO.
Recently some of the automotive wax manufacturers introduced hybrid ceramic waxes to the market. These are spray waxes infused with the main ingredient in a ceramic coating: SiO2 (silica oxide), which gives the wax a longer life. A good hybrid ceramic wax can bead water and shine for 6-12 months if properly cared for. This is a huge PRO for wax. Additionally, it can be applied by almost anyone in just 15-20 minutes, another PRO! Finally, the cost of a hybrid ceramic wax is much cheaper than a ceramic coating. Yep, another PRO for wax!
The biggest game changer in automotive paint protection in recent years is the advent of ceramic coatings. It’s literally changed how a vehicle’s paint is protected via chemistry.
First, let’s talk about what a ceramic coating is. Think glass, and then think liquid. Now put the two together – liquid glass. A ceramic coating forms a nano-covalent bond with the vehicle’s clear coat, and depending upon the rating of the coating, it can last for as long as you own your ride.
Ceramic coatings typically come in 50ml bottles. Inside is a liquid substance containing silica oxide (SiO2) and titanium oxide (TiO2) and other resins that are suspended in a variety of solvents. When you apply this liquid on the vehicle, the solvents evaporate and the SiO2 and TiO2 remain on the surface of the clear coat and start to “cure”, meaning, the chemical bonding process begins. The amount of cure time varies, but most ceramic coatings take a week to cure 100%. Once cured, the coating is permanent, or semi-permanent, depending upon the rating of the coating. That is the biggest PRO for ceramic coating. Permanence.
The second biggest PRO for a ceramic coating is gloss. A high-quality professional grade coating will out-gloss the finest carnauba wax hands down! On dark paint it looks like a mirror!
But that permanence and gloss come at a cost. A professionally installed coating ranges from $1,000-3,000. Now that’s a lot of wax jobs! So, let’s do the math. If it costs $350 for a carnauba wax job that lasts 3 months, that’s $1,400 annually. Over five years, that’s a whopping $7,000! You could have purchased the best of the best ceramic coating and paid less than half of that and have it last more than five years. Which is the best investment? That’s a PRO for a professional grade coating.
The overall value is more than permanence and high gloss though. Today’s vehicles have thinner clear coats than their predecessors. Many manufacturers apply only 1.5-2 mils (0.002 inches) of clear. This means two things to the owner: 1) if left unprotected from UV rays, oxidation will be noticeable in only a few years on most vehicles, and 2) the clear coat is prone to scratches and swirl marks from the car wash, and over time, diminishes the original gloss. A ceramic coating is the answer for both.
Most coatings rates 9H on the pencil hardness scale, with 10H ratings on ceramic coatings infused with graphene. A clear coat typically rates 2-3H in pencil hardness. (See my blog on pencil hardness) This is a huge PRO for a ceramic coating. And whilst it’s not scratch proof, it is scratch resistant. But there’s still another PRO that makes a ceramic coating even more valuable. Plus, a ceramic coating is about 2 mils thick on average. In essence, you are getting a second clear coat that’s 3-4 times harder than the factory clear coat.
As mentioned above, UV rays are like kryptonite to a clear coat. Despite the many advances in paint technology, UV rays eat paint like Whimpey eats hamburgers! The less ozone layer there is, the greater the potential for UV rays to annihilate your vehicle’s clear coat. A ceramic coating has powerful UV blocking agents to protect your vehicle from premature oxidation. In fact, most professional grade ceramic coatings prevent oxidation for as long as the rating of the coating. Now that’s a real PRO!
I’ll quickly explain longevity ratings for ceramic coatings. In the simplest terms, ceramic coatings are rated by longevity. You can get entry level and DIY coatings rated 6, 12 and 24 months. These typically do not have warranties. Professional grade coatings that are unavailable for retail sale, are rated for 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 years. And and now there are coatings with a lifetime rating. Most professional coatings come with a limited warranty that match their rating.
To wax or not to wax, that, is NOT the question anymore. To install a ceramic coating versus wax – that’s the real question you should answer for yourself. Hopefully these PROS and CONS will help you make the decision that’s best for you and your vehicle. At the end of the day, you want what you want, and you get what you pay for, so decide what your objectives and priorities are, do the math, and make your decision.
About the Author
Ken Chance is the owner of Dripping Auto Pros in Dripping Springs, Texas. He has decades of automotive detailing knowledge and is the premier provider of automotive ceramic coatings in Dripping Springs. He is a certified installer for SystemX, IGL Coatings and CeramicPro.