A Deep Dive Into Ceramic Coating: Why They're Good, What to Look out for and How to Apply Them
For people of a certain age, the word ceramic, and by extension pottery, tend to bring up images of the 90's classic Ghost. I remember when I first told my parents that there was going to be a special ceramic class at school and they actually began singing words to 'Unchained Melody' afterwards. I didn't actually get the joke until much later when I finally saw that film and now whenever I think about ceramics, that image of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore is what popped up on my head as well.
Other than for the purpose of passionate lovemaking and decorations, ceramic can be used for a lot of things, and the automotive world actually uses ceramic in two notable ways. The first is the use of carbon-ceramic brake discs on several high-performance cars, which is both lighter and capable of withstanding higher temperature compared to regular cast iron brake discs and the other is in the application of ceramic coating. Ceramic coating arguably is the better alternative to typical wax and is what I'm going to be focusing on.
An overview on ceramic coating
Ceramic coating is a liquid polymer that is typically applied by hand to provide an extra layer of protection for cars on top of the already existing paint. Ceramic coating falls under the clear-coat category and as long as it's applied correctly, it won't alter the aesthetic properties of the paint. This type of coating chemically bonds with the paint and as such, it can last for far longer compared to waxes. In some cases, it is possible to apply waxes and sealants on top of the coating, adding another layer of protection for your car if you so desire.
Why you'd want ceramic coating for your car
For one, a single layer of ceramic coating could typically last for more than a year, sometimes up to three years, thanks to the chemical bond it forms with the car's paint. For a longer and more permanent protection, it is possible to add more layers of ceramic coating although there's a limit on how much you could add depending on the type of coating used. This chemical bond also provides protection against UV damage and prevents your car's paint from looking faded and dull.
Another valuable characteristic of ceramic coating is that it's hydrophobic. When your car comes into contact with water, the water will runoff faster compared to an uncoated car. Mud and other grimes will have a tougher time clinging to your car and even when they do stick, they're going to be much easier to wash off. The initial investment might not be small but if you have any intention of using the same car in the long run, ceramic coating has some attractive qualities that make it easier to care for your car for an extended period of time.
Things to look out for with ceramic coating
For one, thickness matters a lot in ceramic coating. The level of protection provided by the coating relates directly to the level of thickness applied and ceramic coating is a bit on the thin side with a thickness level of around 1 to 3 microns. Applying them any thicker could cause unpleasing aesthetic qualities such as high spots, ridges and other topological defects. It's imperative to use thickness gauges such as Elcometer 510 to keep these defects from happening.
One solution is to add more layers of ceramic coating but this would lead to considerably higher costs and a longer application time. The time consideration is actually pretty important as ceramic coating can take as long as three days to naturally dry and adding multiple layers will increase the time you have leave your car in the shop, which might be impossible if your car is essential for your work. While it is possible to apply ceramic coating on your own, it should be noted that because of the thickness considerations, you have to be extra careful. Ceramic coating is supposed to be a clear coat and you typically don't want the coating to alter the aesthetic properties of your car.
Applying ceramic coating
The hardest and most important part in applying ceramic coating is actually one that takes places directly beforehand. Surface preparation is important as any lingering defects or damages from your car have to be removed and/or fixed before the coating can be applied or they'll be preserved for posterity. Clean the car of any contaminants and apply polish to your car until it's in a state you're happy with and then apply the ceramic coating.
The majority of commercial ceramic coating available comes with a sponge that you could use to apply the coating with. Some coating comes in spray-on bottles while some has to be poured manually but either the way, the basic principle remains the same. Pour the coating on the sponge and begin to wipe over the car surface. Use a wet cloth to ensure the uniformity of the coating and keep the car safe from the environments until the coating has dried off. The drying time is different for each product so consult the manual or packaging for this particular detail.