Ceramic coating is one option for protecting your vehicle. How much does it cost, and is it? Here’s what you should know about this car-protection option.
Ceramic coatings are an additional protective layer for vehicles. Most are silica-based polymers that harden into a transparent shell over the paint.
Ceramic coatings are hydrophobic, which means they actively repel water. This quality also reduces the ability of dirt, mineral deposits, bird droppings, and other materials to stick to the car’s surface.
As long as you don’t abuse a ceramic coating, it makes cleaning the vehicle significantly easier while warding off dings and scrapes.
The same properties that make ceramic coatings hydrophobic also help them withstand typical weather conditions. It doesn’t degrade in rain or sunlight and holds up in both summer and winter temperatures.
Cars are one of the most exposed things most people own, so adding durability makes a real difference in overall performance.
Functionally, ceramic is a much better version of waxing a vehicle. Car wax is a temporary coating that will eventually wash or rub off, though it can make a car look much better while it’s on.
Ceramic provides longer-lasting protection, though admittedly at a much higher cost.
Applying a ceramic coating to a vehicle usually costs $1000 to $3000, including professional labor costs.
A bottle of ordinary ceramic coating can cost as little as $20, though a single bottle may not be enough to cover your vehicle. However, coatings in this price range tend to be low-quality and don’t last as long as higher-quality options.
At the professional level, ceramic coatings tend to cost $100 to $200 in supplies. Pros use higher-quality coating kits than most DIY buyers, and the difference is visible.
Most people try to apply at least two ceramic layers, which is usually possible with a single kit. A second pass helps ensure 100% coverage. Anything less can leave vulnerable spots.
Professional ceramic coating can cost up to $3000, depending on the size and condition of the vehicle. Cleanliness is a significant factor for a vehicle’s ceramic coating, as the correct application requires ensuring the car is as clean as possible.
The cost goes up if the worker has to spend extra hours cleaning.
An immaculate vehicle could go under $1000 for professional coating, although this is rare. Even brand-new vehicles usually need some cleaning, as they go through an automatic car wash that leaves some residue and slight damage.
On the high end, professional ceramic coating can cost upwards of $10,000. The main cost is labor. If you want to apply one or two dozen layers of ceramic to a vehicle, that will take several days, and mechanics have to minimize the chance of bringing in dirt from other jobs while they’re at it.
Most people don’t bother with the high end because it’s guaranteed to be excessive for protecting a vehicle, but a few people choose it for that reason.
The option is on the table if you have the money and want to be sure of the results.
The costs of doing a ceramic coating yourself vary. The single largest factor is the coating itself, where you may need one or more bottles for your vehicle.
Theoretically, this could go as low as $20, but realistically you’re more likely to spend at least $80.
You can plausibly DIY a ceramic coating for $150 to $200, but the ceramic itself probably won’t last that long. Buying higher-quality ceramic will significantly increase your cost and the coating’s lifespan, which tends to come in at $400 or more.
Alternatively, you can apply many layers of a cheaper coating. You may be able to add five or six layers of cheap ceramic for the same cost as one or two layers of a more-expensive kit, and at that point, the difference in quality doesn’t matter much.
The cost of having a ceramic coating on your vehicle for five years depends on several factors, including how much maintenance it requires and whether you need additional products.
Some people get a professional car wash every other week, which can cost about $60 and run you $7,800 over five years.
Other people only need an additional booster spray and hose down the vehicle, which is unlikely to exceed a few hundred dollars.
No ceramic coatings are true lifetime coverings. While they can last for quite a long time, especially in a good environment, damage from using the vehicle can eventually wear them down.
However, companies may offer packages with multiple layers of ceramic. This is usually several thousand dollars, but the result is durable enough that you’ll only need minimal maintenance to keep the ceramic in good shape for the lifetime of your vehicle.
Ceramic coating kits usually cost between $20 and $150, and most kits are enough to thoroughly coat a vehicle when applied properly. Most of the cost of getting someone to apply the kit for you is in time and labor, not materials.
Although some manufacturers advertise ceramic coating like it will last a lifetime by default, its actual lifespan depends on three main factors: the quality of the coating, the number of coatings, and your driving environment.
Quality-wise, thicker coatings are more durable, while spray-on coatings usually last a few months. This is an area where you can get considerably more when you’re willing to pay a higher fee.
Most ceramic coatings are quite thin. The thinner they are, the sooner they’ll wear out.
One way to increase the lifespan of ceramic coating is by using multiple layers. While a single layer may not be much on its own, having four or five layers can drastically improve its overall durability. The effect is magnified when you’re using thicker layers.
Realistically, most vehicles don’t need more than two or three layers, especially in a milder driving environment.
Finally, how and where you drive can affect a ceramic coating’s lifespan. If a car is on display in a museum, the coating will last almost forever.
It will wear down much faster if it’s on a dirt road and constantly behind trucks carrying gravel that flies off and hits the car. Ceramic is tough but not invincible.
As a general rule, the dirtier the environment, the faster a ceramic coating will chip and break down. There’s something to be said for getting extra layers if you plan to drive in a nastier environment.
Labor is the largest factor in ceramic coating cost.
While costs vary, a typical repair shop will charge $45 to $170 per hour. It’s always better to work with skilled people for ceramics, so most people look for higher-rated and, thus, more-expensive facilities in their area.
Next, the car goes through several steps for cleaning. Dirt and other debris will stop a ceramic coating from bonding correctly, so the vehicle needs to be as clean as possible.
The cleaning starts with an initial wash. Then it goes through chemical decontamination, physical decontamination, another wash, and a brief drying phase.
At this point, workers will do a close inspection of the paint and may need to do touch-ups and wait for those to harden and dry.
After the inspection, the car goes through a machine polishing, which can take three to six hours, then a final cleaning with a panel wipe solution.
All this can take between six to nine hours, meaning it’s an entire day’s work for a professional mechanic.
Applying the ceramic usually takes less than an hour per coat, but most people get several coats for a professional job, which can be another half a day to a whole day of work. Then the ceramic must cure for about a day, though this incurs minimal labor costs.
Realistically, applying ceramic takes 2-3 days for most vehicles. On top of those labor costs, there’s about $100 per kit, although a single kit can usually provide several layers of ceramic for one vehicle, and that lowers the costs a little.
|Advantages of Ceramic coating||Disadvantages of ceramic coating|
|Excellent protection from common sources of damage||Significantly more expensive than waxing a vehicle|
|Vehicles look cleaner as long as the coating lasts||Usually not as durable as the manufacturers like to advertise|
|Requires minimal maintenance over its lifespan||Requires taking a car out of commission for at least several days|
|Adding additional layers is relatively affordable||Cheaper products aren’t worth it|
Whether the ceramic coating is worth it depends on your situation. Ceramic can indeed help protect a vehicle from common threats and keep a vehicle looking much better.
Ceramic is much more expensive than waxing a vehicle, and applying it correctly at home is challenging.
In short, ceramic is worth it if you have more money than time. It’s primarily a luxury for vehicles, not a must-have for basic operations.
Here are some of the best ceramic coating products on the market.
Gtechniq’s EXOv4 kit is a dual-coating product with excellent hydrophobic properties. It’s also easy to use and comes with a topper that provides even more shine.
Turtle Wax’s Ceramic Wet Wax is a relatively affordable product, coming in a large spray bottle that you can use to add multiple layers to one vehicle quickly. A single layer of this spray lasts for about a year. You need to apply it on a wet surface for the best results.
McKee’s 16-piece ceramic coating kit is much more expensive but comes with an auto wash, an iron remover, detailing clay and cloths, the ceramic coating, a prep spray, a finishing spray, and several other parts. This kind of kit is much closer to what pros use.