If you are particular about the paint on your car, or if you are simply interested in keeping your car clean for longer periods of time, you may have considered ceramic coating. More than a wax or sealant, ceramic coating provides long-lasting protection for your vehicle, as long as you take care of it properly.
What is ceramic coating?
If you are not yet familiar with the technology, ceramic coating is a liquid polymer coating that chemically bonds with the paint on your car to form a hydrophobic barrier. It is similar to a wax or polymer sealant that you might apply to your paint, but it is far more durable and lasts longer. A lot longer.
Ceramic coating causes intense water beading and helps dirt and other contaminants to run off of the surface easily. It also helps keep those contaminants from sticking to your paint, thus protecting it from blemishes and keeping it clean.
In general, there are two types or grades of ceramic coatings: professional products and DIY products. Because of the strict conditions under which they have to be applied, professional products are sold to, and applied by, approved or certified technicians. These pro-level coatings are considered the premium option by car detailing experts. They last the longest, protect the most, and (commensurately) cost far more than DIY materials. They often come with a warranty.
Ceramic coatings that are available for the DIYer are certainly not made for casual application; any ceramic coating must be carefully applied to a near-perfect paint surface for maximum effect. Still, these DIY products can be purchased for far less money. The downside is that they do not offer quite the same level of protection and shine. And poor installation techniques can lead to a mess – because of its chemical bond, a ceramic coating is extremely difficult to remove.
What can ceramics do for your car?
The paint on your car is susceptible to the abrasive effects of sand and dirt, along with scratches caused by poor car washing techniques or the stiff nylon brushes found in old-school drive-through car washes. Harsh chemicals found in the environment, like hard water or acid rain, and in some touch-free car washes (or even in a wash bucket while washing your car at home) can damage your car’s clear coat finish.
Ceramic coatings create a barrier between the paint and the elements. Because of their hydrophobic properties, they shed water easily, along with the contaminants that would otherwise stick to the surface. Kind of like the teflon in a non-stick pan. Naturally, if contaminants are unable to stick to your paint, and water is able to run off easily, your car will look clean.
A clean paint surface has more to do with looks. It also has to do with protection – from bird droppings, bug splatter, tree sap, acid rain, and other environmental paint hazards. Ceramic coatings also protect from the harmful effects of UV rays from the sun that otherwise cause the paint to break down.
Of course, ceramic coatings do make the paint look good when applied properly, enhancing the gloss to show off an extremely shiny surface.
What ceramics do not do
Professional grade ceramic coatings penetrate deep into the pores of your car’s clear coat and physically bond to the paint. They provide a thin, hard, smooth layer to protect the finish. But that does not mean that ceramics protect against every problem.
For instance, if you were to throw a stone at your fender, you would probably create a dent in the metal and a chip in the paint. A ceramic coating is not a force field. Now, you are not likely to do that, but on a smaller scale, even though they are extremely durable, ceramic coatings can still be scratched. Decorating your car by wiping a finger through the dust after driving on a dirt road will still create fine scratches. Stones that impact the paint when they bounce off the road can also cause damage.
Another thing ceramics will not do? They will not wash themselves. A car with ceramic coating may be easier to wash, but washing still needs to occur. And as durable as ceramics may be, the manner in which a vehicle is dried after a car wash can cause abrasive damage to a ceramic coating.
How to dry a car with ceramic coating
Many drivers and car wash attendants rely on cotton towels to dry a vehicle after a wash. Unfortunately, cotton towels can cause fine scratches in the paint (and in ceramic coatings). Those scratches are microscopic, often appearing as light spider webs when they catch the light just right. But over time, those tiny abrasions add up and appear as dull paint.
To avoid scratching the paint or coating while drying, others turn to microfiber chamois or drying towels. The advantage of these tools is that they themselves do not introduce scratches like cotton products do. They are softer to the touch and to the vehicle surface. But to be effective, and to avoid scratching, a vehicle needs to be extremely clean before drying. Ceramic coatings make this easier, getting a car clean. But dragging any towel, even microfiber ones, across a hood or roof or door can lead to scratches.
Fortunately, a car coated with ceramic does not need to be dried by wiping. There are two other techniques that professional detailers employ to avoid scratching a ceramic coating.
The first is entirely counterintuitive. The water drying technique uses water to dry the vehicle. Sound impossible? Because ceramics are so effective at shedding water and making it bead up, the water itself, along with gravity, can dry the surface.
When a car coated in ceramic is rinsed with clean water, the water will bead up significantly – all over the place. The water drying technique involves using a hose without a spray nozzle, with water simply pouring out of the end. No jetting, no diffusing. Just pouring. Begin rinsing at a close distance at one end of a panel and shepherd the water beads off the panel. Instead of scores of water droplets, the beads will join forces and accompany the stream of water to the ground, leaving behind a clean and dry surface.
In areas where the water drying technique is not fully effective, often on a horizontal surface, a second technique is recommended: the blotting method. This involves the use of a highly-absorbent drying towel (some automotive drying towels are capable of holding several pounds of water) that is laid out flat on a panel. With the towel applied to the panel, gently pat the towel to aid in absorption. Peel or roll the towel away, being careful not to drag it across the surface. Squeeze out the water from the towel and repeat.
If you have access to a blower system, a touch-less drier, or even compressed air to aid in drying, those would be another option to avoid scratching your expensive ceramic coating.
And expensive it is. The most effective ceramic coating, one applied by a professional, brings with it a significant cost – several hundred to more than a thousand dollars. But with it, you can trust in two to five years of superior gloss and protection for your prized possession. Just make sure to treat it right.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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