In this article, we will focus on the application of ceramic coating for cars combined with protective film. If you’ve followed the ceramic coating craze lately, you may hear claims such as coatings completely prevent scratches and rock chips, or that you’ll never need to wash your car again. This is not exactly accurate, but that’s not to take away from the very real benefits that ceramic coatings provide, such as:

  • The ease of maintaining your car paints cleanliness,
  • Protection from things like tree SAP, bug guts and bird droppings,
  • The deep glossy appearance and,
  • The very popular hydrophobic or water repelling qualities.

Firstly let’s start with how it works, why it’s useful, and then get into some of the more common misconceptions. Fusion Plus ceramic coating by Xpel is used to conduct the ceramic coating experiment for this article This ceramic coating provides a four-year warranty which was based on third-party accelerated wear testing. Fusion Plus is a silicon-based product. It is a ceramic coating carrier fluid containing nanoparticles. These tiny particles create an inseparable bond with your paintwork that can’t easily be washed off like a wax or sealant. One of the easiest ways to think about a ceramic coating is like a semi-permanent wax or sealant that lasts for several years.

Ceramic Coating on Car Paint

Paint protective film applied before applying ceramic coating

Paint Protective Film

For this test, the ceramic coating is being applied on top of the car’s paint protection film using a Model 3 Tesla. Applying the product starts with the condition of your car’s paint and whether it’s being applied to the paint directly or on top of a paint protective film. Ceramic coatings will not hide swirls or scratches on cars. Therefore, if it is being directly applied to the car’s paint, you’ll want the paint to be perfectly clean and any paint correction to be done beforehand. It’s important that you have the car paint as perfect as possible before applying the coating or else it will seal in the car’s paint imperfections. If the ceramic coating is being applied on top of a paint protection film, then paint correction is not required. Unlike ceramic coatings, protective films can actually cover up and hide light, swirls and scratches on a clear coat. Since the adhesives of the film fill in the gaps on the paint surface.

Ceramic Coating Safety and Application

The application process itself is pretty straightforward. Similar to painting a car, proper protection is required. This includes skin and eye protection, as well as an approved ventilator if you’re not working in a well-ventilated area. The risk of inhaling fumes with liquid-based products that are applied directly is decreased versus spray-on coatings. However, a proper respirator is never a bad idea.

The ceramic coating is applied with a dropper to a micro suede towel and then applied to the vehicle in small sections. Once the product starts to develop a streaky appearance and is beginning to flash off, you wipe off the excess with a microfiber towel. Then a final wipe down with an additional separate microfiber towel.

When applying the ceramic coating to glass, it may require a third wipe down, with a slightly water-damped microfiber towel to remove any haziness that may appear. The coating will be perfectly clear on glass when applied correctly. The process is repeated for the entire car, and you can slightly overlap sections, which won’t leave any visual indication. This will ensure that the complete car is covered.

Some ceramic coatings are sold as DIY kits. Some are professional install only. Xpel Fusion Plus only allows four professional installations. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, taking proper safety precautions is certainly easier to control in a professional environment. Glasses, gloves and respirator, and while the application process is fairly straightforward, it’s also just as easy to mess up. The biggest thing is preparing the paint surface, making sure proper correction is done before applying the product and that the surface is perfectly clean. When applying the product, things like humidity, temperature, and how much you apply can all change how quickly the product starts to flash off, which alters the exact time to wipe the surface down.

Improper Application of Ceramic Coating

Poor application of ceramic coating

Excessive Coating

If you apply too much product especially to a dirty surface, you can leave behind a streaky appearance. This will drip or seal dirt to the surface. Once the product has cured, it’s difficult to remove and also difficult to tell if you’ve fully removed it. To remove it requires polishing aggressive compound or worst case, wet sanding. The image above shows what ceramic coating on a car will look like when the product has been excessively applied and cured.

Ceramic Coating Curing Process

With the paint job well done, a full installation can happen in a few hours, and then the coating needs time to cure. For the first 24 hours, you shouldn’t get any water on the surface. The coating cures with exposure to sunlight or even just air. While it can happen sooner, the surface will be cured after four days. During this curing process, the gloss of the finish will actually increase, peaking and glossy appearance days after the installation.

Ceramic Coating Vs Paint Protective film

Ceramic Coating applied to the right side of the car hood and paint protective film applied to the left side of the hood

No Ceramic Coating

With the entire surface, including all of the glass on the car has been coated; half of the car’s hood was not. A bucket of mud was thrown on top of the car’s hood to show the benefit of ceramic coating on cars. The left side of the hood does not have a ceramic coating, though it is covered with paint protection film. As you can see from the image above, the ceramic coating on the right side of the hood has significantly less friction and is more hydrophobic. The mud on the right drains right off, whereas the non-coated side keeps the dirt on top.

The ceramic coating has a self-cleaning characteristic. Dirt on the surface of the car would rather stick to water droplets than the paint surface. So when it rains, dirt traps in the water droplets and is blown off the car as you drive. So does all of this mean you never have to wash your car again? No, absolutely not. You still have to maintain the surface of a ceramic-coated car.

Another fascinating thing about ceramic coating is its compatibility with paint protection films.  You may ask if a ceramic coating is applied on top of a urethane paint protective film wouldn’t that negate the protective properties of the film, allowing for cracks and rock chips and also remove the self-healing properties of paint protection films? The answer is NO, it does not. Much of this is a result of how incredibly thin the ceramic coating layer on cars is. The flexible protective film helps prevent rock chips by spreading out the stresses of rock on impact. The ceramic coating is so thin, the self-healing properties of that film still work.

Comparing how ceramic coating on a car protects the car paint.

Scratched Surface

The image above displays a sheet of painted metal covered with paint protection film and then covered ceramic coating. First, the car was sprayed with water on the surface showing the hydrophobic properties of the ceramic coating. Next, a brass brush was used to create surface scratches on the film and coating.  You can scratch ceramic coating on a car since it has a resistance of nine, the highest rating on the pencil hardness test and the standard for a good ceramic coating. A heat gun was used to heat up the surface after scratching the metal. As a result, just like a non-coated paint protection film, the surface heels well. Again, it comes down to just how thin the ceramic coating is.

With a paint protective film and a coating, you get the best of both worlds. Essentially, the brass brush is rearranging the protective film structure and with some heat, it’s back to a lower energy state that’s smooth and flat. The ceramic coating is bonded to that topmost surface and rearranged with the film as it’s heated. Leaving no noticeable scratches and a smooth car surface. After allowing the coating some time to cool and then spraying again with water, it still maintains the hydrophobic properties of the ceramic coating.

Ceramic Coating Maintenance

It simply makes washing your car significantly easier, and it eliminates the need to apply a wax or sealant afterward. No more waxing! In fact, waxes and sealants often have solvents within them, which should not be used on a ceramic coating. You don’t want to use acetone or lacquer thinners either, as these can degrade the surface. Isopropyl alcohol can be used to remove stains for water spots, which you can still get with a ceramic coating, you can remove them with a water-vinegar mix as well.

Again, think of coatings like a permanent wax or sealant. You still need to wash your car. It’s just easier and you won’t have to wax at the end. A simple two bucket method wash and then dry the surface with clean towels is recommended weekly. It is also recommended to apply ceramic boost every four to six washes to help maintain the hydrophobic qualities of the coating.

Ceramic Coating for Cars Cost

If the car is fully wrapped in paint protective film, it could cost approximately $1,000.00. If car paint correction is needed, it can possibly cost as much as $2,000.00. It really comes down to having a perfect surface to put your ceramic coating on. You won’t get good results on an old car unless you correct the paint first. The fluctuation in prices will depend on the size of the car and the local labour rates when seeking a professional to apply a ceramic coating on your car.

A ceramic coating will provide some basic protection, but it is more so about the depth and glossy appearance as well as hydrophobic and self-cleaning properties. Think relatively permanent wax paint. Protective films, on the other hand, will offer real protection against rock chips and scratches. Ceramic coatings can also be applied to matte surfaces, like on the trim of a car or the carbon fiber spoiler, without significantly altering the matte appearance. While you could get either product, it is important to note that a ceramic coating can go on top of a paint protective film, but not the other way around. If a car has a ceramic coating, it makes it very difficult for a paint protective film to bond to the surface. The coating has to be removed before installing the protective film. Since the paint protective film is a much thicker layer by covering up the ceramic coating, you will lose the purpose and benefits of that coating. Putting the coating on top of the film gives you the best of both worlds.