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The Case Against Coatings: Part 1 of 4


This is the first part of a four part article series by Marc Harris and Jacob Bunyan of Auto Lavish. In this series they will make a case against coatings, sealants, and waxes, to help you find out what form of protection is best for your needs! To view all of the articles in this series click here.

What’s the best thing to use on your vehicle’s finish if you want maximum durability, additional gloss, and protection against the elements? Clear-coat of course. So much so that is was designed for this exact reason. With clear-coat coming to mass production in the 80’s, we were promised we’d no longer need to wax our vehicles or worry about paint fade (ever seen a formerly red vehicle that is now pink?). We now had a permanent barrier that adds gloss and protection for the life of our vehicle.

Modern day paint technology is at an all-time high. It can last longer and provide better protection with less of it having to be applied. If this is the case, then what’s with all the coating hype everyone’s been talking about? Now you’re saying you need another layer of a permanent or semi-permanent barrier? Even worse, these modern coatings are a small fraction of the thickness of automotive clear-coat. While many modern paint jobs are averaging in the 50-75 micron range for clear-coat thickness, these coatings are a thin film: less than a micron. They don’t have the tenacity and resiliency that clear-coat does.

Don’t get me wrong; coatings aren’t all bad. For one, their profit margins are amazing. They’re sold in small amounts for big money, and if you want a quality professional to apply one properly to your baby, you’re going to have to pay even more. Because profit margins are high, many detailers like to push these products. Because detailers like to push them, there is a lot of competition with them, resulting in raised prices for the most desirable ones. With increased prices, the exact cars that I believe benefit the least often have them applied. Weekend, top-down, nice-weather-only exotic vehicles springing for this additional service is sadly the same reason Porsche now pipes in “turbo noise” though the stereo on the new 911 Turbo (991 body-style): it sounds cool!

Paint engineers have worked for years to make automotive paint better than ever, so of course we’ll cover it with a thin film to finally make it “good” in the same way mechanical engineers have worked hard to control balance and vibration in engines (turbo noise is from minute weight imbalance resulting in audible frequencies), just to have the marketing department correct their… mistake?

Keep in mind the main reason to have any type of protection on your paintwork, is to keep it cleaner longer, and also so it is easier to clean when you do need to wash it. Easier to clean equates to decreased likelihood of scratching and swirling the finish.

Therefore, what you really want is something that is super slick feeling, and can easily be reapplied when that slickness and protection begins to wane. What you’re looking for is a good carnauba wax. Not only does it work effectively to make your car easier to clean, it excels (temporarily) with acid-based damage like bird bombs. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s basically fool-proof. Many quality carnauba’s aren’t just great for protection, many come in nice cases (like the iroku wood Dodo Juice Supernatural tub below) to give you something to touch, hold, and value: a rare experience in today’s electronic age. Stop wasting your time and money on coatings, and start waxing your car. As true car enthusiasts know: it’s about the journey, not the destination.

dodo juice supernatural on Rosso Corsa paint.

Marc Harris and Jacob Bunyan
Auto Lavish
Rochester, MI

23 comments on The Case Against Coatings: Part 1 of 4

  1. Z says:

    Don’t care for the line at the end, or the article, really. I get that you’re playing devil’s advocate, but when you complain about the thinness of coatings then say to wax your car, it’s absurd. You are going to be waxing so much more than if you applied one of those coatings, and some people don’t want to/can’t wax their cars as often as that depending on where they live. But because of that, they aren’t a true car enthusiast? I don’t know if I buy that.

    • Understandable and I appreciate your feedback Z. I don’t mean to apply you can’t be an enthusiast if you use a coating, as I doubt any non-enthusiast even knows what Opti-Coat is. I hope you’ll read part 2 of 4 to be leased in two days to get a better feel for the direction of this article series.

  2. Johnathon says:

    I enjoy seeing an article looking at the opposite side of these coatings. I have been watching these coatings grow in popularity over the last few years, and see what people are spending on them. Is it really worth it? I have yet to see long term results and evidence. Whats funny is that I have seen many detailer`s try to sell a wax job on top of these coatings that you “supposedly” don`t need to wax.

    • That was my goal Johnathon. There are plenty pro/con reviews of wax versus sealant, but it’s hard to find anything about coatings. Though I see many benefits of coatings, I find there are too many people who don’t fully understand the pros and cons of them. Permanent and zero maintenance are two different things after all.

  3. While I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I would have to say that I strongly disagree with this statement: “Stop wasting your time and money on coatings, and start waxing your car.”

    From a business standpoint, coatings are more expensive and require more prep work and therefore clients are charged accordingly, no denying that. From an owner of a daily driver that now has a silica coating applied to it, I will say that my car has never looked better or been easier to maintain (emphasis on the ease of maintenance). It definitely takes a lot more time and effort to maintain a car with traditional protection (ie sealant or wax).

    I will also argue that the upfront difference in time and cost required for a coating is quite misleading. Consider a 20mL bottle of 22ple VX1 Pro which retails for $60 (there are cheaper coatings available, too) compared to a relatively inexpensive jar of wax like Pete’s 53 which retails for $40. You will coat at least 2 vehicles with a 20mL coating which in this case should provide about 4 years of protection (reapply every 1.5-2 years). It is often suggested to reapply natural carnauba wax every 2 months, or 24 times over the course of four years. It seems like you would be “wasting” a lot more time with a wax. There are many reasons I believe coatings are the best choice for daily drivers, but I can agree that they may not always be necessary on a garage queen. Just some food for thought. I look forward to reading the following articles in this 4 part series.

    • Thanks Zach and very well put points. Different products have their places, but the over-hype, over-promising, and over-selling of certain market trends ends up hurt the credibility of good professional detailers that help their clients achieve their car care goals. I certainly hope you’ll chime in on the next few articles.

    • Johnathon says:

      Most waxes last a lot longer than 2 months though Zach. A good wax job over paint sealant will last well over twice that long.

      But are all these permanent coatings equal? They vary in price, as does waxes.

      • Jean-Claude says:

        You just doubled(or more) the labor and cost of the “wax job” with that example which further improves the value of a coating system. Probably better to just keep it apples to apples and say wax vs coating per the article’s argument.

      • I understand that wax can last longer than 2 months, however it can also last less than 2 months. The same can be said about a coating – they can last longer than the specified durability or shorter. There are simply too many variables that play a factor in LSP durability/performance.

        • Jean-Claude says:

          I concur.

          Educate your client to the limits and benefits of coatings as well as waxes and sealants and they will make a good decision most of the time. Then educate them how to maintain properly. What they get out of it will be up to them.

  4. Sweet!

    I’ve been waiting for these articles to come out Marc/Jacob. This will definitely get people thinking and talking about the various types of protection. I will however wait until all 4 are published before giving my thoughts on what you guys have to say. 🙂


  5. Jean-Claude says:

    They’re not all bad -“they have amazing profit margins”. At face value every single product a professional uses has an amazing profit margin if someone is just looking at the cost and not the labor required. A jar of wax could easily produce the same or higher profit margins as a coating.

    They are not all bad the same as waxes or sealants are. There is a place for each. The problems come in when any of them are applied wrong, are sold under false pretenses by a professional/retailer or are poor solutions for a client/owner’s needs. I imagine you will address those areas in one of the other parts.

    But, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they aren’t all bad with only the profit margin mentioned as the reason they aren’t. They are amazing solutions for many owners and their cars for how they perform and what they offer.

    I completely agree that some oversell coatings with an eye on getting their hands in their client’s pockets rather than the owner’s best interest in mind. But, that is an issue with the professional and not the coating.

    I look forward to hearing you make your case against coatings, Marc.

  6. ron jenkins says:

    I was thinking that wax is meant to protect a polished finish. I see people applying Turtle Wax and all sorts of other “waxes” to their vehicles. Wax does not give a shine; it is an opaque product and is only meant to give a level of protection to a vehicle. I realize that a lot of products come with the inherent “sales puffery”‘, but at the end of the day, coatings, waxes, sealants….I do waterless wash, clay, polish, sealant. Wax if the vehicle is new, but polish is better. After all, you don’t WAX shoes, you POLISH them. I would like to read more of this, though.

  7. I used this stuff (can’t remember the name) that was used on navy ships for storage of the ships. Two very very small bottles, about 1.5 ounces each. I totally prepped the car before, then I put on the first bottle with just small dabs. Worked small areas and wiped off. Then applied the second bottle with a different formula (two stage process) the same way. It was an Glacier White 1989 Jag XJ6. You wouldn’t believe what it did!! I was very skeptical because this stuff was $90!! I talked to the owner of the product and went for it. I didn’t touch that car with ANY wax product for 7 years…just washed it! I always got compliments and was asked many times “How do you like your new Jag?”…this was in 2004 to 2011 then sold the car. I had the car a total of 11 years. The secret was in the prep, he told me that. Did everything to take out the spider webbing, scratches etc. Took about a solid week of absolute elbow grease but it was worth it. I’m 67 now and I’m not sure I could do that much work again? Putting on the protectant(s) was the easy part. It took me only an hour.

  8. Gregg says:

    At the outset, the authors of this artcle should have defined the term “coatings.” Absent a definition, the article is confusing. Are coatings distinct from sealants and waxes? Based on the title of the article and its introduction, the term “coating” includes waxes, sealants and every other product currently available to consumers that can be applied onto an automobile’s painted, clear-coated finish. However, having read this part of the 4-part series, I am not sure.

  9. Bob B says:

    WOW, now what are we going to do?, I am one of those amateurs that read a lot about detailing, new products and their application, even at my age I do a very good job on my cars, thanks to the professional detailers that publish articles and videos concerning detailing. According to what I read, the greatest majority of professional detailers use these coatings because they work, and in the majority of the cases produce a wonderful finish to some beautiful cars such as the ones that I have seen at Pebble Beach. I just do not know where are you going with this, I hope I can learn something by reading the rest of this disturbing article.

    • Terry O. says:

      Bob, I have been to Pebble Beach every year for the past 8 years and have detailed many, many cars for Pebble Beach and I have to say, I have seen VERY few cars at that show with coatings applied to them. A coating won’t stand a chance against a high quality wax as far as looks are concerned. Nothing disturbing about and article like this, it seem your just another confused amateur.

      • Different scenario from the one of someone who drives their car. These are cars that spend their life inside climate controlled garages and rarely ever see a road. They are not concerned with filler that would otherwise wash out after x amount of washes. Beyond that, a lot of those cars have finishes that could use a lot more than some wax.

        Get the paint right, then compare the two differently coated surfaces. A person will be giving a guesstimate at best as to which has wax and which has a coating(depending on which coating).

      • Jim F says:

        What makes a surface appear to shine is a smooth, reflective surface and a small light source. Surface irregularities diffuse the light, making it less shiny. The purpose of polishing is to make a surface smooth, and therefore polishing is primarily what makes a surface shine. Wax is primarily designed to protect, and it theoretically has no ability to add shine to a perfectly smooth surface; however, on an imperfect surface, wax may temporarily fill in surface irregularities, and thereby improve shine.

  10. Jason Burris says:

    Hello great articles! My question. I have a black 2007 mustang GT. When I bought it I had a tephlone (sp) coating put on at the dealer. They told me the process but I forgot. They said they have to heat it to 300 degrees to apply it. I may be wrong on that cause my memory is poor. They told me it was guaranteed for 5 years. Have you heard of this? And do you think it will last that long? Thanks

  11. benzw205 says:

    People really have time to waste if they like to wax their car every few months. Coating is so much easier !

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