I bet you’ve heard a lot about ceramic car coatings. They have been on the market for several years and they started out as durable protective coatings to be applied by professionals only.
As demand grew, consumer “light” versions of these products were marketed with mixed success. Along with a large fanbase of enthusiastic DIYers claiming awesome, long-lasting results there were alarming reports of protective coatings that had totally ruined car paints.
So what’s the deal? Do these protective coatings last? Are they easy to apply? What’s the risk of things going horribly wrong? Do they really work? Do they take a lot of work to apply? Do you need skill or training? Are they really scratch-proof?
We’ll answer all of these questions and more.
Check out the best performing ceramic car coatings:
Best Ceramic Spray Coating
Best Budget Ceramic Spray Coating
Best Ceramic Coating
Best Budget Ceramic Coating
Ceramic Car Coatings
What Are the Benefits of a Ceramic Coating?
A ceramic car coating forms a protective, durable layer (shell) over your car paint. This protects your paintwork against the elements and makes your car much easier to clean. Any tree sap, bird droppings or tar will be much easier to remove. Some even have built-in UV protection to slow the aging process of your precious car’s paint.
Ceramic coatings are extremely hydrophobic and protect against water stains, the awful hard-to-remove mineral deposits after rain or garden sprinkler droplets have dried on your car’s paint. A ceramic coating repels water and promotes water beading action. Excess water will roll right off the sides of your car to prevent streaks and water stains.
Ceramic coatings are more durable and stronger than wax and polymer sprays. That’s why ceramic sprays can last up to 4 months and ceramic coatings up to 9 years in optimal circumstances, while spray waxes and polymers only last up to a couple of weeks.
It is also a cost effective solution: the initial amount of money you put in is higher than a wax, but you’ll have to put in much less maintenance work and product for months or years to come.
Another great benefit is that it makes your car look like a shiny new car, it adds a deep gloss to your car paint.
A ceramic coating hardens the surface, so your car paint is more protected against minor scratches. However, it does not protect against larger or deeper scratches.
It’s important for you to understand that a ceramic coating protects your car paint, and although it might mask minute marring, it will not correct or repair it. When you apply a ceramic car coating, it’s like pushing a pause button in the natural deterioration process of your car paint. It’ll stop aging. You’ll be freezing the current condition in time.
What Is a Ceramic Car Coating Made Of?
Ceramic is also called SiO2, silica or quartz. These are basically different names for the mineral that glass is made of. A ceramic coating contains this mineral, which is bonded, glued in place if you will, by a range of chemical ingredients to form a protective layer on car paint.
There are basically two types of ceramic protective coatings: water based ones and solvent based ones. They both protect your car paint or clear coat by bonding to it and forming a sacrificial SiO2 outer layer, a high ultra thin protective shell if you will.
Water Based Ceramic Car Sprays, the “Light” Approach:
Water-based ceramic products always come in spray form with a SiO2 content far below 30%. They last up to 4 months in ideal conditions and are the easiest, fastest, monkey-proof way to go.
Ceramic car sprays should however not be categorized as a full-blown “ceramic” car coating. Although a ceramic spray coating protects your car paint against the elements by leaving a protective ceramic top layer, spray coatings only leave a very thin coat of protective material compared to solvent based ceramic coatings that are applied with an applicator. That’s why ceramic spray coatings have to be reapplied every couple of months or so, depending.
However, these ceramic sprays are great if you don’t mind more frequent applications. They are less scary to most people because you really can’t go wrong: spray on, wipe off. That’s it. It’s also a less permanent solution. You need less worry about the state of your car paint before application because you can correct blemishes and take it to the next level in a couple of months when the coating wears off anyway. They are also easy and fast to remove with a polisher should you want or need to before they wear off.
Solvent Based Ceramic Car Coatings, “The Real Deal”:
Solvent based ceramic car coatings typically come in a small glass vial and need to be applied with an applicator. They need paint prep and some elbow grease to apply but last up to 5 years or even longer.
The toughest, longest lasting ceramic car coatings are solvent based and have a high SiO2 content. It’s a give-and-take though: as a general rule, the higher the SiO2 content of the coating, the more difficult it is to apply. The sweet spot is between 30% and 45% SiO2 content. Below 30%, durability suffers. Above 45% the coating becomes difficult to apply.
Graphene Ceramic Car Coatings
Graphene is the latest addition to the ceramic arsenal. It’s an ingredient that further strengthens the ceramic coating by forming a 2D or 3D mesh that reinforces the ceramic layer, similar to what rebar does in concrete. These enhanced ceramic coatings are called graphene coatings. More on this subject in “Best Graphene Coatings For Cars”.
How Hard Is a Ceramic Car Coating?
It’s a very hard material with a 7 on the hardness scale. The hardness scale or “Mohs” scale ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being talc and 10 being diamond. As a comparison, car paint or clear coat typically has a hardness of 2-3(H) on the Mohs scale. A hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale categorizes ceramic as a very hard coating. It’s arguably the toughest protective car coating to date.
With ceramic coating being 7(H) on the Mohs scale while car paint or clear coat has a hardness of 2-3(H), it’s safe to say that a quality ceramic car coating more than doubles the hardness and scratch resistance of any car paint. That’s no marketing, that’s just plain fact.
How Durable Is a Ceramic Car Coating?
Solvent based ceramic coatings last longer than water based ceramic spray coatings. However, you should be aware that the longevity of any ceramic car coating not only depends on its chemical composition.
It also largely depends on:
- the preparation of the car paint surface before application
- the way the coating is applied
- coating thickness or number of layers
- the way the coating is maintained
- intensity of use
A lot of external factors also influence the durability of a protective car coating:
- mechanical wear (rubbing)
- washing and maintenance procedures (hand wash or car wash)
- weather and climate conditions
- temperature fluctuations
- road salt
- acidity of environment and cleaning products used
- chemical contamination in general (e.g.: bird poop, tree sap, exhaust gasses, iron dust from brakes, chemical fallout, cleaning products,…).
That’s why it’s only fair to say that although in perfect lab conditions the toughest ceramic coatings may reach a simulated lifespan of 5, 7 or more years, in most real-life situations this is not realistic at all.
For example: A track car that is driven hard the year round and is detailed before each race to remove tar, oil and other roadspill may only have a couple of months of protection from the best coatings out there before they wear and have to be reapplied.
On the other hand, a trailer queen that is garaged and lives 95% of its life under a soft car cover in an air conditioned environment and is only trailered to the odd concours, its high end coating may even greatly outlive the promised lifespan.
Most cars are somewhere in between, making it hard to guesstimate longevity. Some manufacturers recommend using a SiO2 “top-up” spray after each wash to revive and restore the coating, to make it last longer. This technique can be applied to any ceramic coating.
Ceramic spray coatings are about as easy to apply as a classic detail spray or a spray wax. In fact, you could call them wax sprays 2.0. They’re really monkey-proof!
Some can even be sprayed on a wet, freshly washed car before drying it, which is even easier. You just spray the ceramic spray on your car and wipe it dry immediately without letting it dry. Instant shine, instant protection. Easy peasy!
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course.
Solvent based ceramic coatings, the ones that are more expensive and come in little vials, have to be applied with an applicator.
These coatings have to be applied in a crosshatch pattern, working 2’x 2’ areas at a time with a small overlap between areas. Once the surface starts “flashing” or “rainbowing” (look for a multicolor hue), wipe away any excess product or high spots and move on to the next area, and so on…
If you take your time and don’t rush it, anyone can do it. For an easy step-by-step guide, check “How to Apply a Ceramic Coating for Cars”.
Again, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Professional vs DIY Ceramic Coatings for Cars
The professional car coating market is very lucrative with high profit margins. There’s a lot of secrecy and use of “differently labeled products” mostly from the same manufacturers or factories that supply the DIY market.
Are coatings that professionals use really that different from DIY coatings?
Short answer: nobody knows for sure. Product formulas are well-kept secrets and there’s a lot of marketing mumbo-jumbo. Knowing that the DIY market is much bigger than the professional one and there’s a lot of competition, that is however very hard to believe.
Some argue that professional coatings have a higher SiO2 concentration, which makes them much more difficult and unforgiving to apply for the average consumer. This explanation seems plausible, because from a commercial point of view, an experienced car detailer would rather apply one thick layer than two thinner coats because that is a huge time saver, and time is money…
From a manufacturer’s point of view, it’s smart to only sell multiple layer products to consumers. Because they are easier to use with less complications, DIY customer satisfaction will be optimal.
Long answer: the elephant in the room is preparation, not the products you use.
If you buy the best DIY product you can get hold of, you’re virtually fighting with the same weapons as a professional detailer. Don’t be put off by a popular marketing claim used by many professionals that their one layer coating is thicker than any DIY one. In our extensive research we haven’t found any independent scientific proof whatsoever to back these claims.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume for a moment that this were true. Then what’s stopping you from applying two or more layers of any top DIY ceramic car coating to achieve the same thickness or an even thicker coating? Most DIY products suggest or even recommend this to get maximum longevity from their product.
That said, here comes the elephant: it’s the way you prep and apply your product that makes a world of difference. You should know that any serious professional detailer spends over 90% of your budget on labor. It takes anywhere from a few hours for a factory-new daily driver to a few weeks of paint correction and polishing for a concours winning classic car paint prep. Prices can vary widely depending on expectations and budget.
It’s the level of paint preparation that will determine the look and quality of the end result. If the paint is rough, no protective coating on this planet will make it perfect. A ceramic coating may fill very light marring, but it will not correct scratches or blemishes. A protective coating does what it says: it protects, it does not correct. Any blemishes or scratches that you cover, will be frozen in time until the coating wears off. If you’re OK with the way your paint looks, that’s fine. If you’re not, correct it first.
Another reason why professional coatings last longer than the average Joe’s Walmart slap-it-on-myself job is guidance and regular maintenance. There is no miracle coating on the market that will stand the test of time without some form of maintenance and the use of the right cleaning techniques and suitable products.
Behind the marketing facade of a “7 or 10 yr guarantee” with any professionally applied coating lies a maze of buts and maybes. Make sure to read the small print and ask the right questions should you decide to outsource any coating to a professional detailer.
With most professional installers you’ll have to have your coating inspected yearly to “refresh” the coating and correct minor blemishes as a guarantee requirement. If not, they will require you to follow strict maintenance instructions. In this case, if any problems arise it’s up to you to prove you did nothing wrong…
What they are really doing with these checkups is adding an extra layer to replace or “top up” some of the coating’s wear.
Beware: generally these “checkups” aren’t included in the initial price. You’re actually “signing” for a longtime maintenance contract if you want the coating to last…
And of course it will last if it is topped up yearly, but at what price? In the long run you might end up paying double the initial amount for a professionally applied ceramic car coating. So, make sure to read the small print should you decide to have your ceramic coating installed professionally.
How We Did Our Review
Over the years we’ve tried and tested a lot of different protective car coatings for our cars, because not all cars are the same (new metallic paint, aging paint, chrome, steel, plastic,…) This wide experience was a solid base to start from in our hunt for the best ceramic car coatings on the market.
For this review we dove deep in the manufacturer specifications and looked at customer reviews to see what their experience was. We only recommend ceramic car coatings that did an excellent job for us and the vast majority of car enthusiasts. We’ve selected ceramic coatings from different perspectives, to make it easy for you to choose the right coating for your car, depending on what you intend to use it for, your budget and time. We only selected the best, nobody wants to buy second-bests, right?
These are the ceramic car coatings we recommend:
CCM’s Top 4 Best Ceramic Car Coatings
Carpro Reload is a water-based ceramic protective detailing spray that has been out there for a while, but is still one of the preferred products of many professional detailers as well as car enthusiasts.
It just does what it says on the box: it covers any automotive surface with an invisible transparent layer that boosts gloss, protects from UV and is super sleek. This protective film lasts up to 3 months but can be reapplied after each wash like any detail spray because it is so easy: spray on, wipe off.
A little goes a very long way. The effect is amazing: water sheets off and dirt can’t get a hold. Bird droppings or tree sap can be removed with ease. It also protects treated surfaces against little scratches or marring because it enhances surface hardness.
Customers say that Carpro Reload is not cheap but worth every penny. It makes water run off like from a duck’s back. They state it’s the quickest way to make your paint pop.
- Loved by professionals around the world
- Can be used as a detail spray as well as a paint sealant
- Water based, so no harmful vapors
- UV-, scratch-, water-, and dirt protection
- Very sleek to the touch
- Dramatic gloss enhancement
- Also perfect to top up any ceramic coating
- Only lasts up to 3 months
- Type: water and solvent based emulsion
- Application Method: Spray on, Wipe off
- Durability: 1-4 months
- Drying time until water contact: Cures in 24 hours (do not get vehicle wet during curing period)
- Drying time until full hardness: 24 hours
- Finish: High gloss
- Content: 24 fl. oz
Mother’s CMX Ceramic Spray Coating is a powerful blend of SiO2 (Silicon Dioxide) and TiO2 (Titanium Dioxide) which provides ultra long-term protection from the elements and continuous water beading. It’s the titanium dioxide that gives it the edge over most ceramic spray coatings on the market.
For the perfectionists out there: let it cure a couple of minutes after application before wiping it off for an even thicker protective layer. You can even “stack it” in several invisible coatings, letting it cure for 24 hrs in between layers.
Use as a stand-alone product, or as a booster over your existing sealant or ceramic coating.
When you’re done, you wanna wash any towels or applicators that you used immediately to prevent the product from drying and bonding to the material.
Customers say that it even performs better than it says on the bottle. They do warn not to use too much at once. They say it works best when you apply it in thin layers.
- Great value
- Easy peasy application
- Can be “stacked”
- SiO2, enhanced with TiO2 for extra durability
- Can be used as a stand-alone product or as a booster for any ceramic coating
- Does not have the longevity of a full-blown ceramic coating
The latest ceramic coating from the well-known California based detailing products specialists promises up to a whopping 5 years of protection against the elements.
This full ceramic coating will protect your paint with its advanced ceramic nanotechnology. Its state-of-the-art formula delivers mirror-like reflection and superior hydrophobic water beading. It also helps to prevent minor scratches and marring. This high end coating protects against sun damage and rejects dirt and dust making your car easier to clean with longer cleaning intervals.
You can use it on virtually all materials like paintwork, polished metal, glossy wheels, glass, headlights, taillights,…
The vast majority of customers are wowed by the effect it delivers to their car. Some state that it is important to buff it properly to not get streaks. Users agree that good paint preparation is key to get amazing results.
- Easy to apply.
- Up to 5 years of durability.
- Low maintenance.
- Mirror-like extreme reflection.
- Superior hydrophobic water beading.
- Advanced ceramic nanotechnology.
- Helps prevent minor scratches and marring.
- Intended for use on paintwork, polished metal, glossy wheels, glass, headlights, taillights,…
- Extreme all-weather protection.
- Protects against sun damage.
- Powerful dust and dirt rejection.
- Made in USA.
- While “Carbon” suggests that it contains graphene, it does NOT. It’s a 100% ceramic coating.
- The kit includes 3 application pads but towels are not included.
- Type: Solvent Based
- Application Method: Applicator
- Durability: 2 layers: 24 months (hand wash only)
- Drying time until water contact: 24h
- Drying time until full hardness: 7 days
- Finish: High gloss
- Content: 1x 50ml bottle of CQUARTZ UK 3.0, 1x CARPRO Foam Applicator Block, 4x 4″ MF Suede applicators, 1x Reload 100ml Bottle, 1x 16″ x 16″ Orange Suede Leveling Towel
Founded in 2009, Carpro is one of the leading edge companies in protective car coatings.
With 70% of SiO2 content this ceramic coating outlasts most of its higher priced competitors. This makes it one of the most sold and loved ceramics on the market.
It’s probably the easiest to apply (contrary to what you’d expect from a 70% SiO2 content) and with its 99,9% purity one of the clearest coats out there.
Every once in a while you can refresh the coating with the included Carpro Reload Spray to enhance performance. Carpro says it will typically last up to 24 months which is awesome when compared to its ease of application and pricing.
The kit includes: 1x 50ml bottle of CQUARTZ UK 3.0 (Use 15ml+/- per coat – average size car) / 1x CARPRO Foam Applicator Block / 4x 4″ MF Suede applicators / 1x Reload 100ml Bottle / 1x (16′ x 16′) Orange Suede Leveling Towel.
Most customers are very happy with this product because it makes their car super glossy. They say it makes water bead and roll off too. They do confirm that you have to prep your car carefully if you want to achieve the best results.
- Very easy to apply.
- Crystal clear.
- Very high 70% SiO2 content.
- Up to 24 months of longevity.
- Complete kit includes top-up spray for maintenance.
- Less longevity than all the above. (Yet very impressive real-world tests.)
- You might need some extra towels.
Comparison Table of the Best Ceramic Coatings for Cars
It’s a jungle out there…
There are so many ceramic products on offer that promise the world with one application…Some are great, while most are underperformers at best.
It’s fair to say that no ceramic spray coating has the longevity of a full-blown ceramic coating that is applied with an applicator. Water-based ceramic sprays can last up to 4 months while a full-blown solvent-based ceramic car coating can last up to 5 years or even longer. That’s way, way better than any other shampoo, spray, wax or sealant out there.
We think ceramic sprays are great for people who are scared of screwing it up. Because they don’t last as long, you don’t have to start with an immaculately prepared surface either. In a couple of months, you’ll have the opportunity to correct any flaws you didn’t have time for, overlooked, or didn’t want to address at the time. This makes spray ceramics the most user-friendly and flexible solution.
Ceramic sprays are without doubt the fast and easy way to give your car maximum protection against the elements. Tests show that they perform as good as their full-blown cousins, but because of their much lower percentage of active ingredients and their water-based formula, they lay down a much thinner layer that wears much faster.
Full-blown ceramic coatings are a more permanent solution compared to a ceramic spray. They last the longest but need to be applied using an applicator. Thorough paint prep is key to get the best results, so you need to think about what level of paint correction you want to achieve before you “freeze” it in time. Remember, this ceramic coat will be on your car paint for a long time.
We’ve extensively searched the market so you don’t have to and came up with some astonishing products that do live up to their promise:
Carpro Reload Silica Based Spray Sealant is a veteran compared to the other products in the lineup but has proven its worth. It still is the king of ceramic water based spray coatings and it can also be used frequently as a detailing spray. That’s why it’s still the go-to product for so many pros as well as weekend warriors.
You should never underestimate mother’s power… Well, the same goes for the next product: Mothers CMX Ceramic Spray coating. It does extremely well at what others struggle to do, for a lot less! According to Mother’s – the brand, that is – it has to do with their unique blend of SiO2 and TiO2 reinforcing each other. Whatever the trick is, it works! Heck, you can even layer the product to make it last longer… Did we mention that it is ridiculously cheap?
If you want the best ceramic coating, Chemical Guys Carbon Force is our product of choice. It’s easy to apply compared to its competitors and lasts up to 5 years.
The most bang for your buck when it comes to full-blown ceramic coatings is CARPRO CQUARTZ UK 3.0, no doubt about it. It’s a good, reliable high gloss ceramic coating that won’t break the bank. It will protect your car paint for up to 2 years. It will not disappoint.
Well, I hope we’ve made it a bit easier for you to differentiate between ceramic car coating products. It’s still up to you though to choose between these 4 great products, depending on your personal preference.
Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
Is a Ceramic Coating Good for Your Car?
Yes, a protective ceramic coating is good for your car. It will protect your car from minor scratches and UV rays. It will also enhance your car paint’s slickness and repel water and dirt. This will make it easier for you to remove bird droppings, tree sap and insect splatter.
How to Tell if a Car Has a Ceramic Coating?
You can’t. Well, not off the bat anyway. You can do a water-beading test but if water really beads off like crazy just like it would on a ceramic coating, this still is no proof. It might be because of some other protective wax or sealant. Only time will tell. If the water beading disappears or greatly diminishes in the next weeks or months, you’ll know there was no (fresh) ceramic coating on there, but a less durable kind of wax or sealant. If water still beads off after more than 4 months, there’s a ceramic coating of some kind on your car paint.
What Is the Downside of a Ceramic Coating?
The only downside is that it takes time and dedication to do it right. To get optimal results, your paint has to be in its best possible condition. Depending on the condition your car paint is in, this involves several hours of washing, decontaminating, claying and polishing before you can even start applying the ceramic coating. Although applying a ceramic coating isn’t rocket science, this will also easily take an hour or even a few hours, depending on the size and complexity of your vehicle. However, once the work is done you won’t regret it. A ceramic car coating is awesome paint protection that lasts up to several years and it makes your car paint pop like no other coating can.
Can You Wax Over a Ceramic Coating?
Although it’s not common practice, you can wax over a ceramic car coating. Once it has fully cured, a ceramic car coating can even benefit from any other kind of supplementary paint protection. The wax will act like a primary sacrificial layer, slowing the ceramic coating’s deterioration therefore enhancing its longevity.
Is There Anything Better Than a Ceramic Coating?
Yes there is. Graphene coatings are more durable than ceramic coatings. They have better heat-dispersing properties too. High-end graphene coatings last anywhere from 5 to 9 years. These coatings are much more expensive than ceramic car coatings, however.
Will a Ceramic Coating Remove Scratches?
No, a ceramic coating will not remove scratches. It may mask minute swirls and very light marring by filling them though.
What Is the Longest Lasting Ceramic Coating?
The longest lasting ceramic coating is Chemical Guys Carbon Force. Although competing brands may promise greater longevity, in real-life situations this ceramic coating performs best.
How Long Does a Ceramic Coating Last?
A ceramic car coating lasts anywhere from 1 year up to 5 years or longer. Ceramic spray coatings only last up to 4 months however. The longevity of a ceramic coating largely depends on intensity and conditions of use. In a situation where the ceramic coating is exposed to harsh winter conditions year-round, longevity will suffer. If a car spends its life in an enclosed garage and is only used sparingly, longevity may far exceed expectations though.
Can You Pressure Wash a Ceramic Coated Car?
No problem, you can wash a ceramic coated car with a pressure washer. In fact, it’s the best way to wash a ceramic coated car. Because of the coating’s water and dirt repelling properties, it’s easy to blast it clean touchless with a pressure washer.
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