The perfect shine is the Holy Grail of the automotive appearance industry. For over a century, professionals have sought a magical solution ― a bullish, long-lasting shine product that is quick and easy to apply and will repel dirt, environmental contaminants, and rain so the vehicle has the best protection on the market. Some even looked for a product that would uphold a new car shine without waxing, which builds up on your paint and makes it cloudy, or buffing, which, over time, threatens the clear coat. So how far have we come in the world of “coatings”?
What are Nano Coatings?
Essentially, nano technology in the detailing industry utilizes a 9th century Mesopotamian trick. A trick in which pottery-makers created a metallic nano glaze made from copper, silver salts, and oxides that created a glittering effect on pottery that up through the Renaissance, made it distinctive for its ancient, shimmering luster. The term “coating” is nothing more than a new term to identify these incredibly durable polymers. Because that’s all these nano coatings are, polymers.
A study shows that in 1995, “surface engineering”, the study of the surface of hard matter, was a $17 billion market in the UK with 50% of that, dedicated to coatings that protect automotive surfaces against wear and corrosion.
Known as “Surface Science”, products now allow the transfer of particles from one surface to the other so that the nano coating becomes inseparable from the car’s paint surface. Automotive coating manufacturers claim their formulas “bond” chemically and physically to the paint surface, however, their bond loosens over time! On the other hand, some of these nano coatings claim they never loosen their bond to the paint meaning that they need to be buffed off which involves taking off part of your clear coat with it.
But is the difference between “coatings” and poly sealants really in the technology?
What’s on the Market Now?
Some of these nano coatings on the market right now refer to themselves as glass, or ceramic coatings, perpetuating the idea that these coatings are more durable than a traditional polymer.
First, let’s look at these names from the most literal stand point. If we we’re to actually be coating the exterior of our cars with glass or ceramic, what would be the result through the basic functions of the body of the car? The body of the car flexes as it drives, as the heat and cold play their part on the chemistry of the metal (hot metal can bend more while cold metal is more stiff). If our cars were coated with glass and ceramics, two very rigid materials that lack the ability to be flexible, it wouldn’t take long for the coating to crack and break.
Second, it’s clearly just a metaphor to explain how durable of a protection you’re getting. There’s no denying, a durable and long lasting product is great! Just forewarning you though, many of these products are not a one stop shop! These 7 year warranty coatings are only valid if you can verify you’ve reapplied the product every year or two and washed the car once a month.
One of the big reasons these products work so effectively is the amount of prep required to apply the coating. After washing, claying, and buffing the car, you’re often required to wipe down the entire surface with some alcohol based cleaner. This intensive prep period is highly effective in removing all contaminants and oils from the surface to allow the coating to bond to the paint as best as it can.
What are the Benefits of one of these Coatings?
Many of these coatings require an authorized detailer to apply them for you. That means that they have experience in prepping the paint for application. This is a huge bonus for car lovers. Your paint may never look that good again because of how much work goes into preparing the car for one of these coatings.
Their durability, whether you adhere to their fine print guidelines or not, is impressive. They last a long time and protect your paint from naturally acidic contaminants, UV damage, and may even add a little cushion room in terms of light scratches.
These benefits are not much different than other poly sealants that have been on the market. They protect against the same things, however, their longevity may be slightly less considering they don’t require as much preparation for application.
What are Some Downsides?
When considering one of these coatings, the pros and cons for a consumer may be different than those of a specialized detailer.
Before you can even apply the coating, the surface has to be 100% free of surface blemishes, which applies to even brand new vehicles. A multi-stage paint correction involves washing the car, claying, buffing, and keeping it pristine while applying the coating. That last step is particularly difficult for anyone who isn’t working in a clean indoor facility.
Nearly all of these coatings use extremely harsh chemicals that when you open the bottle, smell like a nice sampling of jet fuel. After speaking with many detailers who specialize in applying many of these coatings, they mention how they need to take frequent breaks to refrain from going light-headed. These harsh chemicals contain high levels of VOC’s.
Furthermore, when you have a coating that is unlikely to lose it’s bond with the paint, when a paint correction is needed (and believe me, it will be), you lose the coating and all the money that went into it as well.
And lastly, they’re quite expensive. You’re talking about a potential four figure number to get a detailer to do all this work for you.
What are the Alternatives?
Personally, I like to stick to the 6-12 month coating regimens. Whether once or twice a year, I reapply my durable coating along with a complete in and out detail of my car. If it’s spring or summer, I’ll reapply a wax on top of my coating every other car wash (every month or two).
Then when it’s needed, I’ll do a paintwork correction. I prefer once every two years for a light colored car and maybe once a year for a dark or black car.
A light buff and shine is going to be needed regardless if you have a nano coating or not so going with a less aggressive and less expensive paint protection system is preferred.
Rather than a $400 coating system that then needs to be done by a professional, I’ll spend $50-$100 on a coating that’ll give me impressive protection as well.
The other alternative would be to get a clear bra on your car. Clear bras will protect your paint from chips and scratches that even those other coating can’t protect against. And as long as you’re applying a durable poly sealant to the clear bra, you’ll protect the clear bra (and paint) from fading or other damages from UV rays.
So feel free to make your decision and let us know what you think in the comments below!