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What is Ceramic Coating & Is It Worth It  | 3D Car Care Miami Blog

What are Ceramic Paint Coatings?

Ceramic paint coatings are defined as any paint protection product that contains nano-sized particles of SiO2 or Silicon Dioxide.   True ceramic paint coatings use nano-sized particles of Silicon Dioxide to create a paint protection product that dramatically outlasts and out-protects conventional and traditional car waxes and synthetic paint sealants.  Due to their pure concentrated form and the fact when exposed to air they will solidify, most real or true ceramic coatings come in tiny glass vials.

Glass Vial

What is SiO2?

SiO2 is the abbreviated element name for Silicon Dioxide, and it is one of 118 chemical elements known to man listed in the Periodic Table or Periodic Table of Elements.  Silicon Dioxide, also referred to as simply silica, is the most common substance on earth.  Silica is most commonly found in nature as quartz, which is a type of natural glass.

Silicon Dixide

What does nano-sized mean?

When you see the term nano-sized, this refers to a unit of measurement called nanometer.  A nanometer is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one billionth of a meter (0.000000001 m).  For context, a human hair is about 75 microns in diameter or 75um. To translate that to nanometers the human hair would be 75,000nm in diameter.  In more simpler terms, nano-sized particles of silicon dioxide used to make ceramic paint coatings are very, very tiny.

What Does Nano-sized Mean?

What different types of ceramic coating are there?

There are different types of ceramic paint coatings available, some are the real-deal, and some are simply marketing gimmicks to cash in on consumer confusion.  Some of the currently available paint coating options include,

SiO2 Ceramic Paint Coating

These paint coatings rely on Silicon Dioxide as the key element for protection.  The chemistry behind SiO2 Ceramic Paint Coatings is proven and there are many great options to choose from today.

SiC Paint Coatings

These paint coatings rely on Silicon Carbide or SiC on the Periodic Table, as the key element for protection.  This category is still new to the market and there is not a lot of solid scientific information available at this time.

Graphene Paint Coatings

These paint coatings rely on Graphene as the key element for protection.  Graphene is derived from Graphite.  It is a single layer of graphite only one atom thick.  Currently there are a flood of products on the market that claim the graphene used in their formula provides true functional protection, gloss, water beading etc. however there is very little to no solid scientific information on how this element is processed to be functional in car care product formulas.

Self-Healing Coatings

These paint coatings rely on nanotechnology, and most, if not all the chemistry behind these products is proprietary.  The theory behind how these work is if the coating becomes marred with very shallow swirls and scratches – the coating can be heated and caused to re-flow to form a more perfect surface restoring the previous swirl-free finish created at the time of installation.

Marketing, hype and word gimmickry

Because there are no laws, rules or regulations when it comes to companies naming their product or listing the ingredients, it can be hard to know which products on the market are the real-deal and which are phony trying to separate you from your hard-earned money.  

Too many brands on the market today are NOT actual manufacturers but are marketing companies purchasing products from blenders or manufactures that offer private labeling.  The problem with purchasing products from marketing companies is you simply can never know if the product is the real deal or not. Due to the high profitability for paint protection products, there are many paint coatings on the market that are simply re-branded product offerings with some other company’s label on the outside of the bottle.

How to choose a ceramic coating?

The best rule-of-thumb when trying to choose which brand to trust when purchasing a ceramic paint coating is to stick with established brands that manufacture their own products.  If you’re unsure if a brand you’re interested in makes their own products or re-labels some other company’s products, simply call them on the phone and ask them these two questions,

  1. Do you manufacture all of your products?
  2. Where is your manufacturing plant located?

Marketing companies will not want to answer the above questions especially question number #2.

How long does it take to install a ceramic paint coating?

The time it takes to install or apply the coating to a vehicle depends upon the size of the vehicle.  For the average-sized 2-door passenger car the application process can average around one hour.  For larger vehicles like sports utility vehicles, trucks and vans, the application process can take up to two hours and even longer.

Unlike applying a car wax or synthetic paint sealant, for which you can apply to an entire vehicle at one time, with ceramic paint coatings ceramic paint coatings you apply only to a section of a panel at a time, wait for the recommended flash time and then re-wipe this panel to even out the coating and remove any high spots.

Approximate time for each step

Installing the ceramic coating is not the aspect of this type of product that requires the most time, it’s the prep steps before installing the coating that require the most time.  The prep steps before applying the coating include,

Step 1: Washing and drying the vehicle – 1 hour

For most people, it takes about an hour to thoroughly wash and dry a passenger size car.  Tall vehicles like suvs, trucks and vans, which require some form of step stool or work platform to stand on in order to reach the highest part of the vehicle like the roof require more time.  Always inspect your wash mitt to make sure it’s clean and free from any debris.

ceramic coating wash mitt

Step 2: Claying the exterior paint to remove any bonded contaminants – 1 hour

After washing and drying the car perform the Baggie Test to determine if the paint is contaminated or not.  If through the baggie test you feel little bumps on the finish – this is a sign the paint has above surface bonded contaminants and requires claying to remove these contaminants. 

ceramic coating spray

Step 3: Paint correction – 2 to 7 hours

The paint correction step is where you clean and perfect the paint using a variety of different product options.  This can include a paint cleaner, a coating prep polish or a compound or just a polish.  These products can be applied by hand or by using a dual action polisher.  

Typically, you would hand, or machine apply one or two of these products to remove any topical impurities, swirls, scratches, water spots or oxidation.  The goal of paint correction is to restore the beauty of the paint before applying the ceramic paint coating.  Over time, the paint on most cars shows signs of age like swirls, scratches and marring from repeated washing and drying plus exposure to the elements and normal wear-and-tear from driving in day-to day life.

Ceramic Coating Dual Action Polisher

Step 4: Prepping the paint – 30 minutes to an hour

After any paint correction steps, (or after washing and drying the car if you’re going to skip the paint correction steps), you need to wipe each of the body panels with a panel wipe, which is a paint safe solvent.  The panel wipe will remove any residual chemicals or other substances possibly left by the car wash soap.  When paint correction is performed, the panel wipe removes any residual polishing oils left on the surface by compounds and polishes.  The panel wipe step is to ensure the paint is perfectly clean so the ceramic paint coating can make a proper bond with the paint.

Ceramic Coating Wipe

Step 5: Installing the ceramic paint coating – 1 hour+

When installing a ceramic paint coating you typically start at the highest point of the vehicle, (the roof), and then work your way down to the lower sections of the vehicle.  For large panels like the roof, the hood and the trunk lid, you divide these large sections into smaller, more manageable sections.  

The reason you divide large body panels into smaller sections is to give you time to thoroughly apply the coating to this section, wait for 30 seconds to a minute for the coating to flash, and then you carefully wipe this section with a clean, soft microfiber towel.  When wiping the section that has been treated with the ceramic paint coating, the goal is,

First – Level the coating so that there is a uniform layer of coating over the surface.

Second – Remove any excess product to avoid leaving behind high spots of ceramic coating.

When using a real ceramic paint coating, if you leave any high spots behind, (high spots are simply streaks or smears of the ceramic coating that is not removed), a true ceramic coating will fully harden after it fully dries and cannot be wiped-off.  If you discover high spots, (ceramic paint coating that is not removed before curing), about the only way to remove this excess coating is to hand or machine apply a quality compound or polish.  If you use a compound or polish to remove a high spot, next you must repeat the panel wipe step to remove any residual polishing oils and then re-install the coating to the affected area or the entire panel.

Ceramic Coating Polish

Leveling the coating and removing any high spots

Ceramic Coating Microfiber

Inspection Use an Inspection Light when installing a ceramic coating

Anytime you’re installing a true ceramic paint coating, you want to inspect each section of a treated body panel with a strong inspection light to check and see if there are any high spots leftover after the final wipe.  These inspection lights are commonly called swirl finder lights.  A quality swirl finder light will expose high spots so that you can remove them before the ceramic paint coating has time to harden.  A quality swirl finder light protects you from having to remove high spots the next day and can be a real time-saver.

Ceramic Coating

What are the benefits of an SiO2 ceramic paint coating?

  1. Creates a super hydrophobic surface that beads-up water really well.
  2. Longer lasting protection – coatings won’t wear off like waxes and sealants.
  3. The hardness aspect helps prevent future swirls, scratches and marring.
  4. Vehicles stay cleaner longer as contaminants are less likely to bond.
  5. Faster, easier and safer washing and drying.
  6. More effective at preserving the factory finish which maintains resale or trade-in value.
  7. Creates a high-gloss, glassy look, more gloss than traditional waxes and sealants.
  8. Pride of ownership as your car will look showroom new longer.
  9. The vehicle will self-clean anytime there’s a hard rain as dirt will more readily flush off the surface.

Ceramic coating myths and misinformation

While real ceramic coatings last longer and are better at protecting your car’s finish than traditional car waxes and conventional synthetic paint sealants this doesn’t mean they are an invisible force field around your car that will stop all attacks.

Myth – Ceramic coatings prevent swirls, scratches and water spots

This is a myth.  Anything that can scratch your car’s urethane clear coat finish will also scratch the ceramic coating installed onto the clear coat finish.  The most important thing you can do to maintain a ceramic coating is to wash the vehicle often to remove any built-up dirt and road grime and more importantly – make sure your wash mitts and drying towel are clean and uncontaminated.  A ceramic coating will HELP prevent swirls, scratches and water spots but will not totally prevent these common paint defects.

Rubbing a contaminated wash mitt over a ceramic coating will scratch both the coating and the paint.  Same thing goes for your drying towels.  Always inspect anything that will touch your car’s finish and if it looks contaminated or feels scratchy, don’t use these things but instead replace them.  Then moving forward, put practices into place that keep your car washing mitt and drying towels clean and uncontaminated.

Myth – It’s safe to take a ceramic coated car through an automatic car wash

This is a myth.  Automatic car washes, be they the spinning brush style or the spinning mop style, will scratch your car’s paint.  This means it will remove the coating by scratching it off the paint while at the same time leaving swirls and scratches in the paint.

Myth – It’s safe to take a ceramic coated car through a touchless car wash

This is a gray area but for the most part a myth.  The way a touchless car wash works is the exterior of the car is sprayed with strong chemical cleaners that will dissolve any dirt and road grime so that it can be removed via high pressure water spray.  While this does in fact get your car clean without anything touching the paint and causing swirls and scratches, the problem is sometimes there are delicate materials used on the outside of a car like anodized aluminum trim and over time the strong chemicals used can permanently stain these delicate surfaces.

The best way to maintain a ceramic coated car

The best way and the safest way to maintain the ceramic coating on your vehicle's exterior finish is to carefully hand wash and hand dry the vehicle.  Before washing the vehicle, you should inspect both visually and tactically with your sense of touch, (your clean hands) wash mitts and drying towels.  If you see or feel any hard, sharp or pokey particulates in either your wash mitt or your drying towel – avoid using these things and replace them with new, clean mitts and drying towels.

So, is a ceramic paint coating worth it?

The answer is YES! 

Ceramic Coating Mercedes

True ceramic paint coatings last longer and therefore protect longer than conventional car waxes and synthetic paint sealants.  Real ceramic paint coatings offer better protection than conventional car waxes and synthetic paint sealants.  And a quality ceramic paint coating will also make your car’s finish look nicer with better gloss and shine.

The price of a brand-new car, truck or suv is expensive and increasing more each year.  Whether you’re trying to maintain your current vehicle's finish to preserve its resale or trade-in value for the future or if you are purchasing a brand-new vehicle, the best option for protecting it is with a quality ceramic coating.

One extra step

The difference between using a car wax or a paint sealant versus installing a ceramic coating is the additional step of using a panel wipe over each of the body panels before installing the ceramic paint coating.  With conventional waxes and paint sealant, you don’t need to do this step as this type of paint protection is less finicky when it comes to bonding to the paint.

A little more prep time for a lot longer protection time

While it does require a little more time overall to install a ceramic paint coating to your vehicle as compared to the time you would invest to apply a car wax or synthetic paint sealant, because the ceramic paint coating will last longer, protect better and future washing and drying will be faster and safer – ceramic paint coatings are easily a better option to protect and maintain your car.

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