Are ceramic coatings a superior form of paint protection, or just marketing fluff?

Are ceramic coatings a superior form of paint protection, or just marketing fluff?

September 26, 2019

Recently a customer posted pictures of his car on Facebook after we performed paint correction and applied a Ceramic Pro coating. It quickly sparked a discussion about whether ceramic coatings are just marketing fluff, or actually a superior form of "last step protection" for paint finishes. 

Here is my point of view on ceramic coatings:

At The Refinery, we offer all varieties of "last step protection" (LSP) for paint finishes, including natural wax, synthetic sealants, and ceramic coatings.

First - I'm extremely skeptical by nature, but my engineering background has given me the analytical tool set and approach to scientifically evaluate products, technologies, concepts, and scenarios objectively. I apply this approach in everything I do - and it's a big part of our customer consultations at The Refinery.

Ceramic coatings are not intended to deliver some sort of magical maintenance-free car care experience. The basic purpose of any wax/sealant is to provide 1) chemical resistance to surface contamination, 2) hydrophobic properties, 3) gloss + shine. All LSP products (ie wax, sealants, coatings) do these things to some degree.

Natural waxes have been around a long time, and deliver these 3 characteristics well, but only for a short period of time (3-4mo's) before you need to reapply. With natural wax, longevity is its weakness.

That's what synthetic sealants were designed to improve: provide the looks and protection of natural wax, but make it last longer. And they do. A high quality synthetic sealant offers good protection with gloss and shine properties similar to a natural wax - but lasts for 6-8mo's before you need to reapply. So, about 2x the longevity of natural wax, but it still depletes 2x per year.

Now comes the next technological evolution - ceramic coatings. Using more exotic ingredients (primarily silicon dioxide), researchers found that they could produce a coating layer that delivers the 3 important properties of LSP's - but the tiny particle size and high bond strength of the coating lasts for years (ie 2-5+ yrs) per application, instead of just a few months. And there are other benefits: extreme thermal stability (ie resistance to heat), increased surface hardness (ie resistance to some surface marring), strong hydrophobic properties, strong chemical resistance (eg to acids or bonding contaminants like sap).

As a result of this latest LSP evolution, rail companies now use ceramic coatings on train cars to be able to more easily wash off spray paint and vandalism. The marine industry uses ceramic coatings to make boat hulls resist staining from the water and lower the drag of the hull in the water (improving speed and/or fuel economy).

And as we know, ceramic coatings have become extremely popular in the automotive industry because they deliver great looks and unparalleled surface protection for long periods of time. But this doesn't mean you never have to wash your car again, that your car is scratch-proof, or that the coating will last forever. It is simply a technological IMPROVEMENT over the LSP products that were previously available. This makes a lot of sense for owners that simply want the absolute best protection available, or for cars that are subjected to the most abuse: multi-season daily drivers, cars parked outdoors, or cars subjected to unusual amounts of filth (cottage vehicles, highway drivers, track cars, work trucks, etc).

There is no question that ceramic coatings provide the longest lasting and best performing surface coating available. And this is why they cost more up-front than waxes or sealants. But the future maintenance costs (or effort) are also lower since you won't need to reapply the product 2-4x per year like a wax or sealant.

I hope this info helps. Feel free to give me a shout at The Refinery (or on our FB page) anytime with questions or to chat about your project.

- Gerard @ The Refinery

Some other resources:
The Refinery's ceramic coatings page:

Engineering Explained tests and explains XPEL's FUSION PLUS ceramic coating: