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Ceramic coatings explained: What are they? Do they work? Are they worth it? How much do they cost?

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Ceramic coatings explained:

What are they?

Do they work?

Are they worth it?

How much do they cost?

In this article:

What is a ceramic coating?

Ceramic coatings are a protective layer which is applied to a vehicles paint (and other surfaces) to protect the surface from environmental factors which can damage unprotected car paint while making them easier to wash and maintain.

Ceramic coatings bond to the surface, sealing the paint in and essentially become the new outside layer of the paint - the thing that takes the hit from UV, road salt, chemicals and some many other things.

Ceramic coatings not only protect the surface they are applied to, they also increase gloss and clarity and because of their hydrophobic properties they make future washing and maintenance much easier.

Ceramic coatings bond to surfaces at the molecular level and are called "ceramic' coatings because they introduce a layer of silicone dioxide (Si02 - also known as silica) which is the major ingredient in glass, quartz, sand and other ceramic material. Similar to the clear ceramic glaze you'll find on plates and cups. When cured a coating of Si02 is very hard, shiny and waterproof.

What does a ceramic coating do?

Most car enthusiasts at some stage have waxed their car. It’s something you apply to your car to protect the paint from whatever the road throws at it.

A ceramic coating works in a similar way to a wax, but with a few key differences:

  • ceramic coatings make a strong chemical bond with the paint, this gives them lifespans which are measured in years rather than months

  • ceramic coatings are highly chemical resistant, so can’t just be washed off unlike a wax

  • ceramic coatings protect the paint from UV damage, so a car which has been coated won’t fade or lose it’s gloss over the lifetime of the coating

  • a ceramic coating is much harder than wax when cured, this offers a much higher level of protection

  • ceramic coatings provide increased resistance to etching from bird poo

Do ceramic coatings work?

The short answer is yes (and some are really good!). But…

Not all ceramic coatings are created equal and most brands will tell you that their products are “the best”.

The truth is that there are ceramic coating manufacturers who make high quality products which really work and perform and there are products on the market which don’t or are just relabelled versions of someone else’s coating.

How the coating is applied (and in which environmental conditions) can have a huge impact on whether a ceramic coating will be durable or perform correctly.

A ceramic coating should be applied indoors, in a controlled environment, within strict temperature ranges and by a professionally trained installer. The coating will then need a certain amount of time indoors for the coating to cure before it can go outside.

Ceramic coatings should not be applied outdoors or in direct sunlight.

When you follow these guidelines, you’ll end up with a car which looks beautiful for years with shiny paint which is easy to wash.

What preparation is needed to apply a ceramic coating?

As with so many things in life, preparation is key to success and this is particularly true with ceramic coatings.

To prepare for ceramic coating, the following work must be completed to prepare the vehicle:

  • a thorough and detailed wash

  • paint decontamination to remove unwanted particles such as tar spots, tree sap and iron fallout from the paint

  • old waxes or sealants removed

  • the paintwork smoothed and cleaned using a clay bar

  • vehicle thoroughly dried

  • paintwork machine polished to desired standard

  • paint panel wiped: this is a process which removes all traces of oils or chemical residues so that the ceramic coating can make the chemical bond necessary to give maximum protection and durability

  • Application of the ceramic coating

Wax vs ceramic coating

While a wax gives a nice glossy finish, the benefits of a ceramic coating over a wax are substantial. The biggest differences between a wax and a ceramic coating are the increase in UV protection, chemical resistance and durability that a ceramic coating provides.

Paint protection film: PPF vs ceramic coating

Ceramic coating and PPF are two very effective but very different options for protecting car paint. Ceramic coatings are a liquid which is applied to the paint and after curing and being buffed off leave a thin but very durable layer.

PPF is is a very tough clear vinyl. When applying PPF to a car, it is usually fitted using pre-cut templates which are applied a panel at a time using soapy solutions and water.

Paint protection film creates an almost invisible, but highly protective layer on the car which protects the paint from stone chips, minor scuffs and damage. It doesn’t have the same hydrophobic properties as a ceramic coating though, which is why people often apply a ceramic coating over the top of PPF to gain the easy washing properties of the coating. (This can’t be done the other way round as the ceramic coating would stop the PPF sticking to the paint)

Is a ceramic coating worth it?

Or, is a ceramic coating good value?

Ceramic coatings give tremendous value and performance when compared to other types of paint protection.

A high quality ceramic coating is more expensive initially than applying, for example, a coat of wax, but a lot of this cost will be from the initial cleaning, preparation of the car and machine polishing and this process can totally transform the condition of the cars paint, taking the gloss to a level which is better than new, while removing defects and flaws such as swirls, fine scratches, holograms, water spots, bird poo etchings among other things.

Also, once a ceramic coating has been applied to your car, you won’t need to polish it again for the life of the coating. For the majority of the time the only thing you will need to do to maintain the paint is to perform a safe wash.

This means that by machine polishing the car once, followed by a single application of a ceramic coating you can achieve a finish which lasts for years. With the average coat of wax, you would be preparing and waxing the car every 3 months or so to maintain the protection and the car would also need polishing more regularly.

Comparison of ceramic coating and wax application costs over the course of 2 years.

If you were to clean, polish, panel wipe and wax the car on a regular basis, this could likely take 5 hours each time. Doing this over two years would mean 8 applications. If the cost of each application is £175 (based on £35 per hour) then over 2 years these 8 applications would cost £1400.

A single stage machine polish and 2 year professional grade ceramic coating on a medium size car costs on average around £450.

Thats a saving of nearly £1000 over the course of 2 years for a much better finish for your cars paint and a coating which provides much higher protection than a coat of wax.

Even if you only did the wax application every 6 months instead of every 3, it would still cost you £700 over 2 years, which is £250 (two thirds!) more expensive than the ceramic coating alternative.

How long does a ceramic coating last?

Most ceramic coating manufacturers make several types of ceramic coating, which typically range in durability from 1-5 years from a single application. Some coatings are available for anyone to buy and apply, while others require professional detailers to have a certain amount of experience, skill and training before they are able to buy and install their coatings.

How much do ceramic coatings cost in the uk?

When getting a ceramic coating, many detailers break the cost down into two parts:

  • The preparation and machine polishing

  • Applying your chosen coating

This is because whether the car is new or used can affect the initial cleaning and preparation and because how much machine polishing is needed to reach the finish you’re wanting can range between a few hours and several days.

Ceramic coatings usually range in durability from 1 year to 5 from a single application and can be single or multiple layers so the prices can vary a lot depending on what you choose.

Roughly, for the application of a ceramic coating after the car has been prepared, you should usually expect to pay somewhere between £175 to £650 for a good quality ceramic coating.

What happens to a ceramic coating over time?

Over time, a ceramic coating will begin to wear away with environmental factors, chemicals, UV and washing slowly breaking it down. The good news is that as this happens, you can’t see any visible evidence of this. Ceramic coatings don’t crack. Ceramic coatings don’t peel. Ceramic coatings don’t yellow. In fact, the only visual indication that a ceramic coating is coming to the end of it’s life is usually the water behaviour, which over time will begin to drop off (the beading and hydrophobic properties will begin to diminish).

Ceramic coatings do require regular washing and annual maintenance to keep the coatings performance. Things like road salt and water-spots can block ceramic coatings, affecting their water behaviour and repellency, but these can usually be removed and the coating unblocked with regular washing and annual coating maintenance cleaning.

How do you wash a ceramic coated car?

The better you look after your ceramic coating, the better it will protect your car’s paint.

If you want to keep your car looking amazing and keep the ceramic coating performing then how you wash the car will be the most important factor.

At Knight Detailing, when we have ceramic coated a car, the first question our customers have is “how do I look after it?”

One of our passions is teaching our customers how to maintain their cars themselves. If your car only looked amazing on the day you collect it from us then paying to have it detailed would be a waste of time and money.

We take the time to explain our safe wash process and teach our customers how to wash and maintain their cars ceramic coating in a way which makes the car look amazing after each, without it taking all day.

We have created a handy page on our website which gives you detailed information on how to safely wash your car, what products we use and how to avoid adding swirls and scratches when washing.

Visit the link below to read all you need to know:

Which ceramic coating is best?

This is one of those questions which doesn’t have a single answer. If you’re looking for a ceramic coating for your car, then the best thing you can do is speak to a professional. Someone who has the knowledge and experience to guide you is a must. Each will have their own preferences and should take the time to find out exactly what your needs, expectations and budget are to help advise which coatings may best suit you.

There are many coatings from many manufacturers, so doing your research and speaking with a professional will really help you to decide what is the best fit for you.

At Knight Detailing, having used ceramic coatings from many different manufacturers over the years I have become accredited with Garage Therapy and IGL coatings. For me, both of these companies have philosophies and an approach to how they create and bring their products to market which fits with how I operate as a business owner. Quite simply, they make high quality products which work and perform really well!

How do I choose a professional detailer?

If you are searching for a car detailer in Devon or Somerset, you’ll find there are lots. Choosing can be difficult as you’re entrusting your cherished car into the hands of someone you haven’t met and don’t know. It can be worrying, but don’t be put off, there are a few things you can do to sort the true professionals from the cowboys.

While anyone can claim to be a “detailer”, there are a couple of professional bodies that valeters and detailers can join.

PVD is the Professional Valeters and Detailers trade association and there is also the IDA: International Detailers Association.

Both are independent, professional bodies. They both require their members to be fully insured, have a track record of good customer reviews and to become a member, applicants must take and pass written and practical exams to prove their knowledge and skills.

If you are looking for a skilled professional to work on your car, choosing a PVD or IDA approved member would be a great start. You can search for approved members in your area through their websites.

Secondly, visit the detailers website, social media profiles and check their reviews.

Do their services suit your needs?

Do they have a track record of working on high value cars?

Does their premises look suitable?

What jobs have they completed recently?

Are their reviews consistent?

And lastly, visit their shop or phone them. A direct conversation can really help to give you a feel for the detailers knowledge and experience and to find out if they can provide the service you need.

If you’re concerned about security, privacy or insurance then ask, a professional detailer should be able to answer all your questions and put your mind at ease.

Do ceramic coatings prevent stone chips and scratches?

Sadly not. Despite the claims of some manufacturers and installers, there is no ceramic coating which can protect your cars paint from stone chips and scratches. They can’t protect from fire or chainsaws either and won’t mean you never need to wash the car again either (unfortunately!)

A ceramic coating can keep your car looking really shiny and make it easy to wash and maintain and can even help to reduce the risk of creating swirls when washing, but this is because the dirt doesn’t stick to coatings in the same way as an unprotected car, so removing dirt safety is much easier.

Can I polish a car thats been ceramic coated?

You don’t need to polish a car that’s been ceramic coated. When applying a ceramic coating, first you machine polish the paint to get it looking it’s best, then the ceramic coating is applied to seal in and protect the glossy paint underneath.

The ceramic coating essentially becomes the new outside layer of the car and it’s the coating which you are washing and maintaining after that. If you polish a car that has been ceramic coated, you run the risk of damaging, removing or shortening the lifespan of the coating.

Is it worth getting a new car ceramic coated?

If you’re taking delivery of a new car then there are some definite benefits from getting it coated straight away:

1) it will give you protection from day one before it gets driven much

2) with the correct approach, you can save money

3)) the dealership will likely offer you some kind of protective coating - by finding an independent detailer, you will (in most cases) get a better deal, a better finish and a higher quality coating with greater durability

While not all dealerships operate in the same way, most will offer their own type of protective coatings such as lifeshine, platinum, starguard, gardx, diamondbrite, williams - the list is long.

These coatings vary in quality, but in most cases don’t give the same levels of hydropobicity, chemical resistance or durability as professional grade ceramic coatings.

As mentioned earlier in this article, preparation is key with ceramic coatings and (again, only in some cases) dealership coatings have a reputation for failing in a short space of time, or not performing well. Before applying a ceramic coating the paint MUST be properly prepared. This means; a thorough wash, paint decontamination, machine polishing and panel wiping to cleanse the paint. Only when the paint is completely clean and free from oils, chemicals and polish residues can a coating bond to the paint. This is what gives it maximum performance and durability.

If a ceramic coating is for example, applied to an area with polish on, or which has dirt, grease or anything else on it then the coating isn’t bonding to the paint and will probably wash off in a very short space of time.

If you are planning on getting your new car ceramic coated, then to get the best results and save money on getting this done, my advice would be this:

First, once you’ve got a delivery date for your new car, arrange a booking with your detailer for as soon as possible after collection. I have often had customers drive or trailer their car to me straight from picking it up at the dealership.

Secondly, ask the dealer not to clean or prepare the car before handing it over. I know this sounds counter intuitive but many dealerships use brushes and less than gentle ways to clean cars which can cause a lot of swirls (fine scratches) your detailer can safely remove any dirt when preparing the car without damage.

This should mean that your cars paint is in better condition and will need less machine polishing to make it look really good than it might have done otherwise, which can save you a lot of money.

Can you ceramic coat an older car?

Absolutely, ceramic coatings are suitable for cars of all ages, not just new cars.

If you’ve never had a ceramic coating before and you’re interested in having one applied, speak to your local detailer who will be happy to guide you and advise you on the best preparation and coatings to suit your needs and budget.

Can you ceramic coat matte and satin paint?

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion around protecting and maintaining matte and satin paint finishes.

But the good news is that there are lots of ceramic coatings which are suitable for applying to matte and satin paint.

Due to matte and satin paint being less smooth than gloss finishes, dirt can grip to the paint more firmly so a ceramic coating will make washing and maintaining the car much easier. Applying a suitable ceramic coating is a great solution to looking after the paint without adding unwanted gloss.

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