Ceramic coatings are the greatest thing to happen to car care since the dawn of carnauba wax – they last for years, give you great gloss, protect against micro-marring, and repel liquids for easy cleaning. The problem is, many people have it in their heads that a ceramic coating is something you can just apply and forget about, and that’s not exactly the case.
Ceramic coatings do require occasional upkeep to maximize their lifespan, because as it happens, they weaken slightly over time as they are exposed to the elements. So how does this weakening happen, and what can you do to resist it? Let’s take a look!
Loss of Gloss
When your ceramic coating first cures, your paintwork’s gloss is nothing short of breathtaking. Unfortunately, this gloss dulls slightly over time, taking you from “breathtaking” to “decently shiny”. If you’re not a gloss fanatic, this isn’t a huge deal, but if you strive to maintain a showroom-quality shine, “decent” just won’t cut it. So what causes this dulling to occur? It has to do with the way your paint reflects light.
Glossy surfaces shine because they are smooth. When rays of light hit the surface, they all bounce off at the same angle. This makes the light concentrate in a single direction, resulting in a high level of shine. Here’s a graphic to give you a better idea:
When you’re dealing with a surface that’s even slightly uneven, some light bounces off at different angles, scattering light rays so they’re less concentrated and therefore less shiny. Here’s another graphic showing a slightly abraded surface scattering light.
So as you can see, the dulling effect comes from your coating wearing down in certain sections, creating an uneven surface that scatters light. So what causes your coating to wear down in the first place? Let’s take a look!
As your coating is exposed to the environment, it slowly and slightly wears away, mostly through abrasion. Everything from high winds to your wash mitts abrade the surface at a microscopic level. You’d never notice this wearing on a day to day basis, but over time it does take its toll. This can lead to decreased protection. So what does that mean for you?
Let’s say a bug hits your hood as you’re driving, splattering all over the place. With a fresh ceramic coating, this isn’t a big deal – it may etch slightly into the surface but it won’t reach the paint. But if your coating’s been on for a long time without any maintenance, the bugs’ insides could very well etch straight through to your paint!
But it’s not just decreased protection that wear-and-tear causes – it also affects your hydrophobicity.
Water beads on a hydrophobic surface are just about one of the coolest-looking things ever. Plus, all that hydrophobicity makes contaminants like hard water or mud slide right off, saving your coating (and your paint, for that matter) from staining or etching. Yet that hydrophobicity can be lost if you don’t keep up maintenance. Why is that? It has to do with something called surface energy.
Surface energy determines the behavior of a liquid when interacting with a given surface. The lower the surface energy gets on a surface, the more difficult it becomes for liquids to cling to said surface. Ceramic coatings are formulated for a low surface energy, which is what allows them to bead liquids.
Here’s the thing, though – surface energy isn’t static. It can actually rise if the surface becomes contaminated, reversing the hydrophobicity. Surface energy can also rise if the coating abrades too much, which takes us to our next section – how to maintain a ceramic coating.
Don’t Lose Your Patience, Practice Proper Maintenance
So if ceramic coatings aren’t invincible on their own, what can you do to make sure they last as long as possible? The answer lies in the practice of proper maintenance. There are two ways to keep your coating functioning properly – washing regularly and using booster products.
Remember how I said layered contaminants on an infrequently washed ceramic coating are often the cause of hydrophobicity loss? Well, as you can guess, one way to maintain your hydrophobicity is to keep up a regular washing regimen. Most brands recommend washing every two weeks, which should take care of any contaminants layered on top before they have a chance to embed into the surface.
Beyond regular washes, maintenance booster products will be your go-to for keeping your coating in tip-top shape. What do these products do exactly? Well, they’re basically hyper-concentrated versions of the ceramic coating’s formula. So when you spray them on to a ceramic coated surface, they fill in any minor imperfections from abrasion to restore gloss and bring the surface energy back down so liquids can bead again. Applying every 3-4 months is usually enough to keep your coating in optimal condition.
Now, you may be wondering, “If I have to spray on a booster product every 3-4 months, why not just ditch coatings altogether and just apply a spray wax every 3-4 months?” Well, the frequency of application may be the same, but you’re not going to get the same level of gloss, hydrophobicity or protection that you’d get with a ceramic coating. If you’re serious about protection, wax won’t cut it.
Most manufacturers offer inexpensive booster products. Here is a list of the most common:
Dr. Beasley's: Advance Coat Gloss & Advance Coat Matte (for matte surfaces)
Sonax: Polymer NetShield