If you’ve ever waved a sponge near your car or googled anything to do with car detailing then chances are you’ll have come across ceramic coating. It’s a relatively new concept that involves applying a liquid to your vehicle’s bodywork which sets hard, bonding with your paint surface to create a microscopic physical barrier against the outside world.

However, there’s a lot of nonsense on the internet about what ceramic coatings can and can’t do. Some people seem to think it’s the car equivalent of an invisible bulletproof vest, while others think it’s a waste of money and about as effective as getting a witch to cast a spell of cleanliness on your motor.

Which is why we’ve put together a quick BS-free guide to ceramic coatings. Thank us later.

How tough are car ceramic coatings?

A ceramic coating product – like Avalon King’s Armor Shield IX (clang) – essentially forms a second skin over your car’s paintwork.

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A second skin that does indeed protect the paintwork from all manner of things including, but not limited to, the sun’s damaging Ultraviolet rays, mud and dirt, water and light scratches.

All hail the water beads

All hail the water beads

It’s also far more water repellant than your car’s original clearcoat, which means that once you’ve applied a ceramic coating, water will just run straight off or sit in beautiful beads. If you’re lazy like us, you’ll be pleased to hear this also means that mud and dirt won’t stick as strongly to your paintwork, so you can wash off pesky muck far more easily than on a non-coated car. It makes car washing a complete non-event, rather than something you book a day off work for.

That UV protection can’t be overstated either. If you live in a very sunny part of the world you’ll have likely noticed your paint and headlights going dull over time – this is thanks to certain parts of the sun’s UV output jiggering about with the molecules in your paint and plastics. A ceramic coating can indeed mitigate the effects of our local gas giant and keep your paint and plastics fresher for longer, but it’s not guaranteed to protect from UV forever.

You might think that high-end carnauba-based wax does the same job. Which is sort of true, except it doesn’t bond fully with the paintwork so it’ll last a couple of months at best – a properly applied ceramic coating should last for two to three years.

What can’t ceramic coatings do?

Some people seem to think that because ceramic coating forms a glass-like finish and is technically solid, it makes your car impervious to bullets. It does not. Please don’t shoot your car.

"Don't worry, it's ceramic coated…" – don't do this

"Don't worry, it's ceramic coated…" – don't do this

It does, however, protect your bodywork from light scratches – the sort you get when people brush past your car dragging their clothing and coat zips along your pristine paint. But rock chips will still happen – you’ll want paint protection film to help avoid those. And yes, you’ll still need to dry your car after washing it to avoid unsightly water marks.

What are the differences between professional ceramic coatings and DIY kits?

In terms of actual physical differences in the product, you’ll tend to find professional grade coatings contain more silica dioxide – that’s quartz to you and me. Silica dioxide is the thing that gives ceramic coatings their hardness. As a rough guide, most good DIY products have between 40-60% quartz, and most professional-level products have more than 60%. So-called ceramic sprays tend to only have about 5% quartz in them. Avalon King’s Armor Shield IX has 84% silica dioxide content.

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A decent ceramic coating like Armor Shield IX contains more than 80% silica dioxide – for extra hardness. Oo-er

A decent ceramic coating like Armor Shield IX contains more than 80% silica dioxide – for extra hardness. Oo-er

Despite what pros might tell you, the application process is dead simple whatever kit you get – it’s a case of wipe on, wipe off. The prep work is what takes the time, as you need to ensure you’re putting the ceramic coating onto the shiniest, cleanest surface possible. It’s not hard, but it takes time to do, and it’s worth doing well so you’re protecting the best possible finish underneath. You wouldn’t bother framing a crappy blurred photo, would you?

DIY kits tend to be designed to be easier to apply yourself, while many professional kits require heat lamps and so on to get them to cure and harden.

Because of all the prep work, the biggest cost in terms of applying a ceramic coating tends to be the labor cost. You can pay anything between $500-3000 for a professional to detail your car and apply the coating, while the price range for a DIY product is between $70-150, and you’re left with your personal labor cost to prep and apply it. What’s your time worth?

Once the products are on you can expect similar levels of durability, with DIY kits lasting about three years. Some pro-grade applications claim to be warrantied for up to eight years, but that’s mostly because they require annual check-ups and reapplications. Over time you’re likely to save even more by just reapplying your own coating.

Can I apply a ceramic coating myself?

Getting your car ceramic coated doesn’t need to be hard. You’ll need to properly clean it first to make sure the ceramic coating can bond with your paintwork. That means shampooing it and running a clay bar over the surface to remove any tree sap, muck or other imperfections.

Avalon King's kit comes with trendy black nitrile gloves to protect your skin and help you get into Berlin nightclubs

Avalon King's kit comes with trendy black nitrile gloves to protect your skin and help you get into Berlin nightclubs

You’ll also want to do any paint restoration before bunging the ceramic coating on – so break out your rotary polisher and paint depth gauge now if you want your bodywork to shine more brightly than the day it left the factory.

Once the car’s ready, you can easily apply the coating yourself – Avalon King (clang) give you everything you need in the box, including gloves and microfibre cloths.

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Should I bother with a ceramic coating on my car?

If you want your car to look glossy and factory-fresh all year round then yes, you should ceramic coat your car. Just be aware that it doesn’t make it bulletproof and won’t protect against anything scratchier than a kitten’s paws. But it will save you a lot of washing.

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