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The Paint Coating Triangle


Over the years the new car protection and detailing industry has seen a boom in paint coating applications. This has been wonderful for car owners because it’s the next evolution in hand-applied protection; up from waxes and sealants.  Modern paint coatings provide owners with a thicker and harder membrane that offers better protection, along with a glossier and more lustrous paint finish that is easier to maintain. Paint coating systems can last years versus weeks to months for waxes and sealants under normal driving conditions. And while some may overstate the scratch resistance of coatings, they do provide a measure of scratch resistance that is otherwise unavailable through the use of waxes or sealants.

Modern paint coatings can be found in an over-the-counter form or a more potent professional-only form. For some “do-it-yourself” types, these OTC coatings are wonderful because they can get their hands-on fix and maybe save some money. For ones that either do not care to get their hands tied up in what goes into coating a car or may seek out the abilities of an industry and product expert, they can know they are getting the best of the best along with wonderful support for years to come.

All in all modern paint coating systems really are wonderful for a large portion of car owners. The industry continues to improve by offering more product options as well as higher quality easy to consume information which empowers car owners to make the best choice possible for their needs.

As great as coatings are though there can be a darker side. For every so many stories of a pleased paint coating customer, you may read a horror story about failure or lack of advertised performance. Even though I believe the product line I carry at my shop is the best when stacked against other product lines. I recognize that the majority of coatings should still perform in a superior way to a wax or sealant. Certainly, a properly performed application should net a customer/car owner a satisfying feeling of knowing their money was well spent!

So where could someone go wrong with a coating and end up dissatisfied?

My first coating application was in 2010. In the years since I’ve coated many cars. It’s been a learning experience all along the way and I continue to learn and in this time I have observed common areas in which failure leads to customer dissatisfaction. This can be traced back to at least one of three things associated with the service. These three points will make or break a car owners satisfaction. Moving forward, I will refer to these three things as part of the Paint Coating Triangle.

The Paint Coating Triangle

paint coating triangle

The paint coating triangle is made up of three well-defined aspects: Expectations, Preparation/Application and Maintenance/Care. I am going to spent a few moments describing how each one of these three aspects must be present and complete for a car owner to be completely satisfied with their paint coating. If you remove just one of the three sides of the paint coating triangle, your customer, or you, as a DIY installer, will not be satisfied with your paint coating’s performance.

This triangle can be applied to most things in life and definitely all things in service industries. But I will make a direct application to paint coatings in this article.


This is where it all begins for most people. To be candid and to the point: if you believe everything you read or every video you watch, you will likely find yourself with unrealistic expectations for your paint coating. With that said I stand by my assessment that paint coatings are pretty awesome. I and many thousands of people absolutely adore them. But be aware that some companies are attempting to cash in on the relative hype by dishonestly advertising a coating’s performance. I will not pick on any product/company. But the bottom line is that there is false advertising that exists.

It’s a proven and quantifiable fact that, by and large, paint coatings are significantly more durable, can provide a superior luster and are easier to clean than more traditional paint protection. But does that mean a coating is actually better for you than the more traditional paint protection? The reality is that coatings are not the right fit for everyone’s needs. Before you can know if it’s right for you or not you do well to consider the validity of what you believe to be true of coatings.

Consider: You know how those videos claim that all you ever need to do is spray the coated paint with some water and it remains perfect? Well?? Is it true that you never have to wash the car safely/properly to get it clean and have the best looking paint?

Do the claims that coatings can sustain impacts of rocks or other hard objects result in a realistic expectation that it will protect your paint that way?

How about longevity…does a “lifetime warranty” really mean that the coating will last forever?

Can you rely on the claims that your paint will be completely protected from swirl marks or scratches?

Can you believe all the claims made such as those claiming their paint coating is stronger than kevlar? I mean, how would that claim even apply to automotive paint?? ***sssso yeah, if you’re reading this in Caracas you don’t have to answer that but I still think you’re gonna feel let down when you need it to actually perform…***

lucky paint coating

Here’s an absolute truth. Paint coatings have limitations. They are not invincible and they require ongoing care. Further, some claims being touted are completely unsubstantiated or impossible to practically quantify.

Just like everything else in the world, paint coatings are prone to wear and tear. So why do people think otherwise? This is due to unrealistic expectations. If you are working with a paint coating application professional, a candid discussion about what you understand about the coating and what is realistic should be had. To bypass this discussion is to flirt with you wasting your money or just being underwhelmed. A professional should take the time to answer your questions and also offer insight on what it means to take care of the coating, how it helps as well as any limitations the coating has. This gives you, their client, the opportunity to make an educated choice on the matter of having a paint coating applied or not. It also frames your expectations so that you have a good understanding of what to expect as well as what not to expect.

If a professional is making hard claims, ask for it in writing or ask for evidence. If you are told that a warranty guarantees you a type of protection, read the fine print! I’ve read coating warranty disclaimers that utilize doublespeak techniques but the proof will always be in the pudding. For instance, if a coating’s marketing claims to protect you from swirl marks but the printed disclaimer voids your warranty if you actually get swirl marks because “swirl marks are an indication of neglect or abuse”, how does that warranty present legitimate value? Funny enough, this reminds me of Tommy Boy explaining the real value of a guarantee “on the box”.

Probably the most important thing I tell a client in terms of what to expect long term is, “A paint coating rewards proper care with a finish that looks better for longer….it does not authorize neglect.”

For the DIY’er, do your research.  Do A LOT of reading. To perform a proper application of a paint coating is not necessarily a walk in the park. If you want the benefits of a great coating application, the prep and application will likely make or break your long term satisfaction. Take the time to learn what to expect in terms of the logistics of getting a coating on your car the right way. Many expect prep and application to be a fast, easy and painless process. This brings us to the next side of our paint coating triangle…


If expectations are inline with reality, the following step in your getting a car coated is the preparation of the surfaces of the car and the application of the product. This is so important because this is the basis for how well a product will bond with the paint. If the person applying the product has not addressed the surface defects (swirl marks, acid rain marks, bird bomb marks, marring, holograms, etc.) before installing the paint coating, you are essentially locking those defects into place and making them more labor-intensive to address later. At the core, applying a paint coating is about keeping a car looking wonderful for a long time with proper care. If it never starts off looking wonderful, hasn’t someone missed the mark? Address those defects in a practical way that will not lead to remorse overcutting that corner!

After correcting the paint-surface defects, but before applying a coating, there is an important area to consider which can lead to immediate failure of a coating. Has the paint been decontaminated thoroughly? By not thoroughly removing lubricants and oils(which all compounds and polishes have) that may or may not intentionally fill(filling here describes artificially improving how the surface looks), your coating would be applied over a foundation that is not sound. Coatings work because they bond to a proper substrate for a long term. Placing a paint coating over a surface with trace levels of lubricants or oils would be similar to building a house directly on a swamp. It just won’t last.

The application of the paint coating may be a simple process or it could be very involved. When paying a professional, get the best you can afford. An established professional will have more experience and a well trained eye to ensure you do not have high spots leftover, the coating was cured properly if required and no corners were cut for the sake of saving a little(or a lot) of time.

For the DIY’er, the subject of prep and application may be a bit more of a mystery because the devil’s in the details and there is a lot to be learned about ideal preparation of paint and the proper application of a paint coating. Again, the DIY’er needs to do a lot of reading before beginning. Finding a reliable source of accurate information may be difficult though. Reader beware that they may or may not be getting the right information. The good news is that you are reading this article right here on DetailedImage.com though! Be sure to use their AAP articles as your baseline for learning more about the do’s and the don’ts.

For the private owner that is paying a professional to apply a paint coating, it becomes more a matter of who is doing the work. A professional doing the job the ideal way will mean paying more and it taking longer. After all, aren’t you looking for the right fit and not just any fit?

You’ve done it! The paint has been prepared ideally, the paint coating is in place. It comes back to you and oh man it looks incredible!!! Here is where you step up and make sure you get the most. What’s better is that it’s the last side of the paint coating triangle!


“A paint coating rewards proper care with a finish that looks better for longer….it does not authorize neglect.” There is only one way to read that. Proper care is necessary to get the most out of your investment. This does not mean that you must treat your coating car like a garage queen. It means that you should use proper car care methods to wash and dry your paint, and, use the proper products for the coating. 

A good rule of thumb is to perform a 2-bucket wash method, use quality chemicals and dry the paint with either forced air or plush microfiber towels. Using DetailedImage.com and the Ask A Pro blog will lead you to some fine methods for safely washing your coated paint by just doing a quick search.

Most coatings will have a topper product made for the long term care of the coating. We won’t get into the differences among these products. But one should use a coating topper as it gives a coating another wear and tear layer that is A) very easy to use, and, B) very inexpensive to use.

Here is a short video I made highlighting coating maintenance and an area of concern some have had. I think it further sheds light on healthy care of a coating:

I know as car-guys(and gals), that some of us love tinkering. But in my humble opinion, you can’t go wrong using the topper designed specifically for your coating. You may have fine success using topper X with coating Y and that’s great. But it’s a no-brainer and the best bet to use topper X with coating X unless you are okay with the potential side effects.

To sum up the topic of maintenance and care, I think referring back to what a respected industry vet said says it all… “Any coating is only as good as the maintenance it gets after it’s installed.” -Scott Perkin of Scotty’s Shine Shop

Bringing it Home

In conclusion, whether you are a DIY’er or someone paying an industry expert to perform a paint coating installation, you should insist on having three full sides to your paint coating triangle: Your expectations framed, know that the preparation and application of the paint coating will be on-point with no cut corners, and, the ongoing maintenance and care is not lacking. 

For Do-It-Yourselfers, it’s all up to you. You have to handle the research, accuracy of research, the footwork of getting the surfaces prepped, the coating applied and the ongoing maintenance/care. You have a road ahead of you but it is possible with enough time and patience, a good eye for defects/high spots, as well as a strong lower back(well…..a strong back all over -hah!) to have a beautiful paint coating protecting your car.

For private owners hunting a professional, your best path to success is finding the best and most qualified to perform the work and give you ongoing support. I happen to know a guy in metro-Atlanta who is qualified…just sayin’.

I hope this information will be of value to you as a private car owner. Too, I hope that it helps professionals that apply paint coatings to see what it means to bring a valuable service to their clients and help our industry continue to improve.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my paint coating triangle concept. If you have any feedback on the topic be sure to toss it up in the comments section below.

Jean-Claude Corcoran
Jean-Claude Corcoran
Detailed Designs Auto Spa
Atlanta, GA

7 comments on The Paint Coating Triangle

  1. Eric Doner says:

    Jean-Claude: Well done! Glad to see another pro step up and tell the truth. Your triangle speaks volumes! I’m going to post it prominently in my shop!!

  2. Kim Newling says:

    Good article. I know coatings are the rage of the day, but some professionals are applying coatings to make a quick buck. That leaves folks very unhappy, and gives coatings a bad reputation. Let’s face it, most car owners do not properly care for their cars, and putting on a coating makes them think they can abuse their cars even more. Good article!

    • Hi Kim,

      In the simplest form I think it may boil down to 2 details: transparency for a private owner and a professional being paid for a complete job and not just being a “yes man” as a means to close deals.

      Thank you for the kind words and taking the time to leave feedback for me.

  3. Jean-Claude.

    May I have your permission to use this article to help educate my clients as well?

    Giving you full publishing credit of course.

    • Hi Scott,

      That’s fine with me my friend. But please also provide a backlink/credit to DetailedImage.com for being a sounding board for articles like this. Without DI, detailing articles would not reach near as many folks so they definitely deserve the support.

  4. ArmorThane says:

    This is a wonderful article. I am in the industrial coatings industry as well and am always looking for more information. This site has been wonderful for me!

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