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Ceramic Coatings, myths and nuances...and other Last Step Products


shane@detailedreflections
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The topic of ceramic coatings comes up frequently on the forums, along with other last step products (LSP’s).  After answering some questions with regard to these topics, I figured it was time to take a few minutes and do some writing again.  So let’s get into it...

 

What is a Last Step Product (LSP)?

 

Your LSP is the final step or steps of protection you’re applying to your vehicle after prepping it.  LSP’s can be waxes, sealants or coatings.  They all qualify as a LSP.  LSP’s are protection layers, not repair or correction layers.

 

Is there a difference between sealants, waxes and coatings?

 

Yes, there’s a huge difference between the three.  Sealants are essentially synthetic waxes that bond directly to the paint.  Waxes are typically plant based mixed with fillers to allow them to be spread.  Coatings are commonly silica based products that form a permanent or semi-permanent bond with the surface it’s being applied to.

 

How long do these products last?

 

The reality is that the durability is variable with the products.  Durability is affected by so many factors, it’s hard to nail down a specific range.  Climate, vehicle storage, etc are all factors that play a huge role.  As a general rule, we assume approximately six months of durability for a sealant.  Wax lifespans are measured in weeks to months depending on the product.  And coatings are typically measured in years.  

 

What about ceramic waxes?

 

A ceramic wax is a silica based wax.  The claimed durability can be up to six months and can negate the need for a sealant.  In full disclosure, we haven’t tested the ceramic wax.  We don’t feel it fits our line up of products.  At some point, we may give it a try to see if we can skip the sealant and glaze steps and cut it down to a single step of waxing.  The action of the ceramic wax is hydrophobic like a coating, but without the durability.

 

What about ceramic coatings?

 

Ceramic coatings like I mentioned form a permanent bond with the paint providing the longest protection of any of the products.  That being said, ceramic coatings are NOT maintenance free.  They make it more difficult for contaminantion to bond to the paint, but they don’t make it impossible.  Environments can be harsh and nothing will protect against the elements forever or with absolution.

 

What will a ceramic coating do for my vehicle?

 

A ceramic coating will provide some scratch resistance, better UV protection and more durability than a sealant or wax while providing excellent hydrophobic action.  Ceramic coatings can offer long lasting, incredible gloss.

 

More importantly, what won’t a ceramic coating do?

 

A ceramic coating won’t prevent scratches and won’t last forever.  Despite the claims from some manufacturers, coatings are not the answer to preventing damage from chips, sharp objects and fire.  For the ultimate in paint protection, you should consider paint protection films (PPF).  PPF though is more about “paint protection, not paint perfection.”  

 

My vehicle has a matte finish, do I have options?

 

Yes, you have options.  There are companies who offer matte specific coatings.  You can use other coatings, but they may add some unwanted gloss to the finish of the vehicle you’re working on.  We haven’t experienced any negative comments, when we’ve coated matte stripes and such but if we had a whole matte vehicle come in we would use the matte specific product without hesitation.

 

What’s the difference between consumer and “professional” coatings?

 

Coatings tend to fall into two categories.  There are professional coatings that can only be purchased and installed by authorized installers.  There are also consumer coatings that can be purchased and installed by anyone.  The consumer grade products tend to be more forgiving in their application versus some of the professional coatings which are harder to fix your mistakes with.  In our experience, the professional products tend to offer a higher durability and slightly deeper gloss.  The other benefit of professional grade coatings is that they typically include a manufacturer warranty when installed by authorized installers.

 

Can I install a coating myself?

 

Yes, you can.  Installing coatings isn’t inherently difficult.  You just may not be able to install it as quickly as a “pro” or experienced installer would.  When working with coatings, your prep stages are everything with regard to the final product.  If you skip the prep steps, or don’t do them in completion you won’t have the desired end result.  If you’re working with a coating for the first time, take your time and work in small sections.

 

What are the steps to install?

 

The preparation phase is just like any other LSP.  You’ll want to decontaminate the surface by washing, iron removing and claying the surface.  Once those steps are complete, you’ll want to polish your paint as you would any other time until you’re satisfied with the results.  Prior to installing the coating, you’ll want to ensure that all residues from polishes and cleaners are removed completely.  After that’s done, you’ll install according to the instructions.  These vary slightly based on coatings, but the process is similar.  We use three to four steps to buff the coatings off.  One takes off the heavy residue.  The next the push lines from removal.  The final removes the little spots and the fourth is just to make sure we got it all.  

 

How do I maintain my coating?

 

Coatings are not maintenance free.  The require cleaning like any other surface.  The biggest cause of coatings coming back with clients claiming the coating has “failed” is that the surface is contaminated.  The vehicle will still need to have iron removed and the surface clayed occasionally to maintain the performance aspect of the coating.  Some coatings require a maintenance coat, but this varies manufacturer to manufacturer.   We tell clients with coatings to bring it back once a year for a maintenance detail.  For those with traditional finishes, we recommend every six months. 

 

Which products should I pick?

 

The reality is, it depends on your goals and how much time you want to put into the vehicle.  Do you enjoy the waxing process?  Or do you enjoy driving?  We have clients who have to touch their vehicle, and for them applying some wax is the way to go to satisfy their need to touch.  Some people want to wash and have it look good.  If that’s you, a coating is the way to go.

 

And to summarize?

 

Coatings are great.  So are traditional products.  You really need to assess your needs, desires and tolerance for errors in application.  If you are struggling to decide, I’m happy to help you with guidance as are many other experienced forum users. If you have a question I didn’t include, feel free to ask and we will get to answer it!

 

 

 

 

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First, thanks for taking the time to do these write ups, there very well done and very informative.

 

I do have one question about ceramic coatings that I've never seen anyone discuss.... How do you know when it's time to re-coating a vehicle, and how does that process differ from the original coating. 

 

Can you just decontaminate and clay and apply another coating (on top of the original) every few years, or do you have to do a full paint correction each time the vehicle needs a new coating applied?

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2 hours ago, rseward said:

First, thanks for taking the time to do these write ups, there very well done and very informative.

 

I do have one question about ceramic coatings that I've never seen anyone discuss.... How do you know when it's time to re-coating a vehicle, and how does that process differ from the original coating. 

 

Can you just decontaminate and clay and apply another coating (on top of the original) every few years, or do you have to do a full paint correction each time the vehicle needs a new coating applied?

 

You’re welcome. You ask some good follow up questions. 

 

For your first question, you know it’s time for a new coating when the old one stops performing. Coatings are removers by abrasion. Iron remover, etc will not remove the coating. Driving down the road, environmental conditions will abrade the coating and wear it down. When it stops performing and the action doesn’t come back with decontamination, it’s time for a new one. 

 

The process isn’t any different really from initial application. We will usually run over it with a fine polish to ensure a clean surface. And then it’s business as usual. 

 

If you are trying to remove an existing coating, it usually needs to be polished off. In some cases of professional grade stuff it can sometimes involve wet sanding. 

 

For your last question, the polishing is up to you and the appearance of the finish. We would typically polish since coatings don’t prevent damage to the paint surface. So before coating, we would want to fix that surface again. 

 

If it’s maintenance and you’re happy with the finish because you’ve taken care of it with good technique, decontaminate it, clean it and reinstall. We would always at minimum use a finishing polish. But that’s just our internal practice. Not requirement. 

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29 minutes ago, rseward said:

Why would one want to remove a coating? When it "stops preforming" is there some visual indication (cracking, peeling, etc...) that would require removal, or does it just stop preforming similar to the way a wax or sealant would.

 

There are a few reasons we’ve removed coatings.

 

- To repair an area we weren’t happy with for whatever reason (something under the coating, high spot, etc).

- To change to a different coating. We did this with one of my personal vehicles where we wanted to try a new product. 

- To satisfy a client who’s unhappy or wants something different for any given reason. We are currently changing coatings on a clients vehicle because he wants what we use and installed by us. When we found his new to him, used vehicle was coated we gave him the option to just keep what he has and save considerable money. He chose to go with what we use so when we maintain it, we know what it is. 

- Towards the end of a coatings life, it won’t all fail evenly. High wear areas go first. Then lower impact areas. To reinstall, you’d want to remove anything remaining. 

 

The indicator is lack of performance after the vehicle has been decontaminated. If the action of the coating doesn’t return, it’s a good guess the coating is used up. 

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Thanks Shane for a terrific and time consuming write up!

 Thanks for answering a bunch of questions i had as well..one more follow up..my car is CC, lets say i decide i needed to re apply theCC and i give it a quick polish first.  If i didnt polish long enough to remove the old CC, will the new coating still adhere to the partially polished older CC???? Assuming i use coating prep??

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14 minutes ago, tlbullet said:

Thanks Shane for a terrific and time consuming write up!

 Thanks for answering a bunch of questions i had as well..one more follow up..my car is CC, lets say i decide i needed to re apply theCC and i give it a quick polish first.  If i didnt polish long enough to remove the old CC, will the new coating still adhere to the partially polished older CC???? Assuming i use coating prep??

 

You’re welcome. And yes, it should still stick. Most coatings can be layered (there’s question of the benefits of layering with some coatings). So the finish polish will allow the coating to adhere to the existing coating provided you’re still happy with the finish. 

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Thank you @shane@detailedreflections, I always look forward to your articles and I always a couple of new items or ways to improve what I'm doing.  There is no doubt you take your profession seriously and just as important, you care about helping others.  I very much appreciate you taking your time to help educate me on some of the finer details of detailing.

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On 9/25/2018 at 4:36 PM, RayS said:

Thank you @shane@detailedreflections, I always look forward to your articles and I always a couple of new items or ways to improve what I'm doing.  There is no doubt you take your profession seriously and just as important, you care about helping others.  I very much appreciate you taking your time to help educate me on some of the finer details of detailing.

 

Thank you for the kind words. We are just a few guys in a garage who enjoy working on cars. We strive to put out quality work. Some of our lessons shared are through mistakes of our own. We learned a lot through others, so in fair play we try to give what we’ve gotten. 

 

I’m always happy to help out with answering questions!  And my doors are always open if anyone’s in the area. We will do another clinic, just not sure when yet. Hopefully we can grow attendance more and more every year. 

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