What are ceramic coatings for your car?

Tristan Young

20 Oct 2021

Ceramic coatings and sprays are the hottest products in the world of car cleaning and detailing. With so many new products available that include ceramic in their name we smash through the hype to find out what they’re all about.

In the world of detailing – car cleaning to you and I – the number one topic being discussed is ceramics. But what are they, what do they do and why are they popular?

Google ‘ceramic’ in a non-automotive context and you’ll get pictures of pottery and cookware. In the world of cars the meaning of ceramic is a little more vague with no hard and fast meaning.

Some experts say it simply refers to the key ingredient silicon dioxide (SiO2) which is a hard substance not unlike that of pottery. Others suggest it’s because early coatings needed infrared heat lamps to cure them onto surfaces, similar to an actual ceramic that is baked.

Even experts at those companies that produce ceramics don’t have all the answers.

A spokesman for Autoglym suggested the name may be a useful catch-all for non-wax coatings: “Before ceramic there were nano coatings, glass coatings and now we have graphene coatings on the market. There is always something new coming with a new name – whether that name has any actual bearing on the ingredients or not. There is no ceramic in ceramic coatings, if you understand ceramic to be a type of pottery.”

However, he highlights one of the first uses of the phrase by Mercedes: “There was also Ceramiclear which was launched on Mercedes cars in the early 2000s which may also have been a trigger for the use if the word in car care. I understand that this was a harder clear coat system.”

The most likely reason they’re called ceramics is because of a combination of these reasons.

What are ceramics made of?

While the term ceramic is a very broad church in terms of what they’re made of, the one thing most agree on is the inclusion of silicon dioxide. A few, however, accept the term can generally mean any long lasting, durable, synthetic product that is not derived from a natural ingredient like a wax.

“They are not all the same,” according to Autoglym. “You have quite thick gloopy ceramic products and you can also have quite thin products.

“Some products are very difficult to apply by home users and are best left to professionals. Some products are designed to be used at home and are very forgiving and easy to apply.”

Detailing experts claim there is a trade-off between how hard or easy the coating is to apply and how long or short it lasts.

Due to the adoption of the general term ceramic by the car care industry it is possible to have different factors at work in the products which will give different results. For instance, how hydrophobic, or water repellent, a surface is, what the resistance is to washes with detergent, and other variables.

“It all really depends what it is you want from your product,” says Autoglym. “Whether you want to apply it yourself or have a professional do it. I would say the most important thing is to decide why it is you want the ceramic coating, and then check whether a ceramic coating actually meets that criteria.

“It certainly isn't a product that is for everyone.”

Why are ceramics popular?

Good ceramic products are popular because they last much longer than a wax coating and so need to be applied less often. They also have excellent detergent resistance, so are not easily washed away.

Autoglym’s spokesman adds: “In truth I think a lot of their popularity is due, in some part, to the occasional outlandish claim and a general misunderstanding about what these products are and can actually do. For example some people believe that ceramic coated car will clean itself and an owner never has to do any maintenance or upkeep on their car to keep it clean. Others believe that ceramic coatings will provide scratch or stone-chip resistance.”

While they won’t stop stonechips (clear wraps are better for this) ceramic coatings are more durable and give better protection for your paintwork.

“Some ceramic coatings do have a limited degree of ‘self-cleaning’ although I would argue this is more due to the high water repellent nature of the products and them carrying away contamination that falls in rain, preventing them from drying on the surface. Wax is certainly not dead though, and there are many advantages of waxing over a ceramic,” says Autoglym.

Can you apply ceramics at home?

When ceramics were first offered, they were purely the reserve of professional car valeters. Now there are so many different types of ceramic products on offer, some can be applied at home to cars on your driveway.

“Some products are very fiddly and better for professionals, some products are very quick and easy to apply and can be done by somebody on their driveway, although ideally they are all best applied indoors. Some products, if applied incorrectly, need to be fixed with a machine polisher,” says Autoglym.

How much do ceramic coatings cost?

As we’ve said, there are so many coatings now being referred to as ceramic, it’s difficult to give a simple answer on their cost.

According to Autoglym: “You can have ‘light’ ceramic products that are available as a spray and wipe for consumers to use which may cost £15 to £30, and you can have ceramic kits which can run into several hundreds if not sometimes thousands of pounds only available to accredited, trained professionals.”

The advantage of the high purchase price professional products is that they often come with a guaranteed durability statement usually expressed in years. This means that if have an issue the person or company that applied the coating would be able to rectify any issues for you.

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Tristan Young

20 Oct 2021