Ceramic Coatings: Miracle Material Science or All Hype?

Ceramic coatings have been a hot topic in the automotive industry for several years now. Often touted as the best thing since sliced bread while usually coming with an eyebrow-raising price tag.

The question remains, are ceramic coatings worth the money? To fully answer this, it’s important to understand what ceramic coatings are and the benefits they offer.

Ceramic coatings are a type of protective layer that is applied to the surface of a car. They are made from a combination of ceramic particles and a resin that forms a bond with the paint. This bond creates a barrier that protects the paint from harmful elements such as UV rays, dust, dirt, and water

The Benefits of Ceramic Coatings

When it comes to ceramic coatings, it is unquestionable that they come with a definite upside. Whether you are comparing them to naked paint or other forms of protection, the fact of the matter is that ceramic coatings bring a unique set of benefits to the table.

Benefits can vary a bit from one formulation to another but some of the most common are as follows:

  1. Protection: Ceramic coatings provide a barrier that protects the underlying surface from damage due to weather, chemicals, and UV rays.
  2. Durability: Ceramic coatings are extremely durable and long-lasting, helping to extend the lifespan of the coated surface.
  3. Hydrophobicity: Ceramic coatings are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water and other liquids, making it easier to clean and maintain the coated surface.
  4. Gloss: Ceramic coatings enhance the appearance of the coated surface, providing a glossy and smooth finish that lasts for a long time.
  5. Easy Maintenance: Ceramic coatings make cleaning and maintaining the coated surface easier and less time-consuming, as dirt, dust, and grime don’t adhere to the surface as easily.
  6. Improved Performance: Ceramic coatings can also improve the performance of the coated surface by reducing friction, increasing fuel efficiency, and lowering emissions in some cases.

The Cost of a Ceramic Coating

Without getting into the weeds and comparing different products, it’s safe to say that ceramic coatings are typically pretty expensive. Often over $1,000 for a standard-size vehicle. Keep in mind that this can vary dramatically depending on the formula and its installation requirements.

Typically, much of this cost is the labor required to prep the paint for application. A properly installed ceramic coating is applied to naked paint that has been leveled to as close to perfection as possible via compound and polishing.

Polishing a sedan can take 8+ hours of labor, charged at $50-$100/hour or more. Add the requirement of multiple passes due to extremely hard and/or swirled paint and you can see how this can quickly become costly.

To add insult to injury here, many manufacturers are moving more and more into exotic additives that increase costs even more. All of this quickly moves a critically thinking person to one obvious question.

Are Ceramic Coatings Worth the Money?

This is the million-dollar question and like so many things in life, the answer depends on your unique circumstances and objectives.

The point of this article is not to talk everyone out of ceramic coatings, it’s to discuss when they are worth considering and when they are worth passing up on.

So When is a Ceramic Coating Worth Investing in?

A ceramic coating is particularly worth investing in if you have a newer or high-end vehicle that you want to keep looking new, or if you live in an area with harsh weather conditions or heavy pollution.

And if both of these conditions are true, then it is often a no-brainer. The reality is that a ceramic coating applied to a new, high-end vehicle is simply money well spent.

If you’re in a harsh environment with mag-chloride and industrial fallout bombarding the paint, putting a durable sacrificial layer over the top is going to pay for itself in retained value once you go to sell the vehicle.

When Should a Ceramic Coating be Skipped?

There are many people in the world who purchase an efficient, reliable, and inexpensive vehicle to use as a commuter. These vehicles need to be taken care of to retain as much asset value as possible, but sometimes a full coating is just total overkill.

For example, your detailer may offer a fast polish service that leaves behind a synthetic sealant for $200. The sealant lasts for 6 months and looks about 85% as good as a full ceramic coating. The coating would last 3 years but you plan on selling the car in a year. In this case, there is basically no aesthetic or financial argument for the ceramic coating, it’s just wasted money.

Of course, this is also dependent on the services you have access to. A service offering car detailing in Denver may offer a fast polishing service, while one in Los Angeles does not. Unfortunately, this might require a little upfront research, but it can definitely save you money in the long run.

What About Graphene Coatings?

Graphene ceramic coatings are a relatively new addition to the market, and like any new product, there are opinions on whether they are a marketing gimmick or a genuine technological advancement.

While graphene is a promising material with unique properties, the use of it in ceramic coatings for automobiles is still being evaluated in terms of its effectiveness and longevity.

Some people believe that the added benefits of graphene in ceramic coatings are not significant enough to justify the extra cost and that it is simply being used as a marketing tool to differentiate the product from traditional ceramic coatings.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that the incorporation of graphene can provide added durability and protection, making it a worthwhile investment.

Ultimately, whether or not graphene ceramic coatings are a marketing gimmick depends on individual perspectives and can only be determined by comparing their performance and longevity to that of traditional ceramic coatings.

All that being said, longevity only matters so much because entropy comes for us all. Put another way, just because the coating is still on the car does not mean it’s still pretty. 10 years of auto washes will leave even the hardest ceramic coatings looking dull and swirled.

There is a point of diminishing returns for the aesthetic benefits of ceramic coatings. Because of this, many
people feel strongly that the added cost of graphene coatings is not worth the money.

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