I’ve been thinking about this article for a while now and finally got around to it. This is not at all some “end-all-be-all” coating article as that really doesn’t exist in my opinion, which in fact is the main point of this article.
Zach wrote a great article that explains a lot about coatings here… .. The Benefits of a Paint Coating. My article will be a bit simpler and focus on coatings in general, but there is a lot of text so bear with me. The point of my article is to try and simplify a lot of the things professionals, weekend warriors and clients think/talk about and hopefully make it a bit easier for those new to coatings to understand the pros/cons.
There are three things I wanted to touch on here…
Durability & Performance
The first thing everyone ever talks about when it comes to protecting the paint is “how long it will last” and “will it protect against X, Y and Z”. Whether it’s waxes, sealants or coatings people, in general, obsess over it lasting a certain amount of time and protecting against certain elements. If someone has issues with bird droppings, they will focus mainly on that. Another person may have issues with bugs, a third with sap, and so on. Coatings are definitely great and much better than wax and sealant both in terms of protecting the paint and durability. However, they’re not some magical product that will protect against everything. From years of experience (I’d say going on 8-9+ years) with coatings and MANY different vehicles that have been used in MANY different ways, I’ve come across a few conclusions. The main thing is that just like waxes/sealants there are a ton of options now and it’s very hard to choose what to use.
From my experience, most consumer coatings will last anywhere from 8-12 months on the short end and upwards of 2-3 years on the high end. Any claims of longevity and warranty are usually a bit exaggerated and may hold true in some ideal conditions. That said, properly maintained vehicles with some sealant thrown into the mix a couple times yearly will surely get the most out of coatings. I’ve seen pro-only coatings that have 2-3 yr warranties last only 1-1.5 years due to poor maintenance and I’ve seen the consumer 1-1.5 year coatings last 2-2.5 years due to proper/meticulous maintenance. The big point here is do your research as much as possible as opposed to just reading bullet points from a manufacturers website. Also, keep in mind that durability can have different meanings depending on who you ask. To me it means when the beading is diminishing and you don’t have the ease of maintenance anymore. The coating is still on the paint after the great beading goes away, so a manufacturer telling you something will last 3 years may only bead for 1.5-2 years.
The value of a coating has two meanings to me… 1. Is it worth using it over a simple wax/sealant, which is cheaper (both to do yourself and to pay a professional) and 2. Are some expensive and/or pro-only coatings more valuable than the cheaper and/or consumer products?
For meaning #1, my simple answer is Yes. There are many variables to discuss here such as wax/sealant is cheaper, coatings protect better, etc. Overall, the protection coatings provide and the fact that it needs to be done only every 1.5+ years on properly maintained cars to me makes them more valuable than wax or sealant.
Meaning #2 is a bit harder to say yes or no, but still fairly simple. This is a huge topic of discussion and one that probably has no “right” answer. To make it simpler for the sake of this article and those reading, I will simply repeat what was said above… Do EXTENSIVE research on products you wish to have applied to your car and make a decision. Most pro-only coatings will definitely outperform the consumer products as they’re either better overall in terms of durability/protection or involve multiple layers, or both. Again, I’ll mention a couple of products below, but products aside here’s one huge thing I always like to explain regarding coatings… Most people completely forget the fact that paint will get swirl marks, coated or not. Most of my clients come every 1.5-2 years for some level of polishing and then a coating. Thus, most of our clients are recommended the 2+ year coating and why we don’t offer any of the REALLY expensive options out there. If you’re going to coat your car (or pay to have it coated) every 2 years, why in the world would you pay for a 5, 7, 10-year coating? I wouldn’t and I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my clients. Similarly, if the 2+ year coating is applied to a car that sees 2-3000 miles yearly and only a few washes, I can just about guarantee it will last 3+ years.
Obviously, there are some special cars and special people, so putting 10 layers of something on a garage queen or show car once and calling it done is surely an option. I’m not knocking that whatsoever and it’s by no means “wrong”. However it just doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about the value that’s all.
Long story short and again repeating myself, don’t just look at bullet points vs $ cost of a coating and make a decision. Do a bit of research and see what those who own the same car (preferably same color paint), live in a similar area and drive the same way are using then confirm their results. Make your choice based on that or of course the recommendation of a professional you really trust.
This is obviously geared toward the do-it-yourselfer here and it consists of a few tips to make sure you get not only an easy application but as much durability as possible out of your product. Coating applications have too many variables to be 100% consistent. Paint, temperature, humidity, applicator used, the amount applied, the way it’s applied, etc can all affect the results. All of this can lead to a negative opinion on a product that performs VERY well when applied properly. In other words, if a 2-year coating is applied wrong (removed before it bonds properly) it might last only 6-8 months and obviously leave a very bad taste for the person who applied it.
In theory, it’s very easy to apply the product properly… put it on the paint and remove it at the “perfect” time. This perfect time is where the product has bonded to the paint 100% and you only have to remove the “residue”. However, most coatings are applied and removed within a few minutes, which means even a few seconds can alter this “perfect” timing. For example, wiping off a coating from some panel after 3 minutes and 3.5 minutes might just mean you lost/gained months of durability. If that wasn’t enough, some coatings really BOND and waiting an extra 30 seconds can lead to a really hard time removing it. What should be a 30 second wipedown can turn into 5 minutes of blood, sweat and tears. It can also turn into a 10-15 minute re-polishing of the hood to properly remove everything and start over.
What can you do? As simple as it sounds the easiest thing is to follow the old saying “test on a small, inconspicuous area”. My recommendation is to choose a panel that is simple to polish in case you really screw up and need to re-do everything. Top of the trunk is usually a great place because it’s flat and you can split it into 2-3 sections to find the right application method. The goal is to wait as long as possible after applying a coating so that it bonds as best as possible before you remove the remaining residue. The timing is given by most manufacturer’s instructions so that will always be a good guide, but keep in mind that those instructions were written based on testing in a certain environment that may be close to yours or completely off. It would be great if we can get this info from manufacturers but that is rare as a lot of testing is done in some lab, etc. Most manufacturers will give a time span of a few minutes, say 3-5.
My recommendation is to apply the coating to half the trunk (or 1/3rd is even better), wait the 3 minutes and wipe off. See how easy it is to wipe off and if there is not a ton of resistance you can try the next section at 4 or 5 minutes and keep going. You should be able to fairly easily wipe off the residue on most coatings with very slight resistance. If you’re getting a ton of halos/smearing marks and/or if it’s very difficult and sticky to remove, you waited too long. Adjust accordingly.
Tips and Recommendations
One other HUGE thing I’ve seen both pros and amateurs alike do wrong… consistent application around the whole vehicle. I hope I explain this properly below as it can be a bit confusing, but it will make sense if you read it slowly or twice.
To make sure everything is consistent you MUST have a timer unless you have a lot of experience applying coatings to a lot of different cars. Here’s why…
Let’s assume we’re dealing with a coating that takes 2 minutes to “dry” before you need to remove residue. This means that we will start the timer and apply the coating to the paint for about 1 minute and 50 seconds. I like to reserve the 10 seconds to put down the coating bottle and applicator, pick up a microfiber towel and then start removing residue. Now, let’s assume we are applying this coating to a fender of a car starting by the headlight. Also let’s assume we are able to coat the full fender in that 1:50 time frame. This means that as we were applying the coating to the dead center of the fender, moving from headlight to doorjamb, our timer was at roughly 55 seconds. Once we’re all done applying, the timer hits 1:50 and we start leveling at that starting point on the fender at 2:00.
This is where the issue of inconsistency comes up. During application, we’re making smooth, slow movements and applying more product from the bottle to the pad. However, when wiping off or “leveling” as some call it, we’re simply wiping any coating residue. This means we are moving much quicker and also using a towel that covers a lot more surface area than the smaller applicator pad. Knowing that, removing a coating may only take us 20 seconds to be at dead center of that fender, which means the timer is now at 2:20. This means that while the starting point of our application area (tip of the fender) had the full 2 minutes to dry before leveling (2:00-0:00), the center point was only at about 1 minute and 25 seconds (2:20-0:55). This means we didn’t give the coating a full 2 minutes to dry on the fender, which will result in decreased durability. Going with this example, the ending point on the fender (where we stopped applying at 1:50 initially) would only have 50 seconds drying time (2:40-1:50), which isn’t even half of the required 2 minutes.
Point being, when removing coating residue and/or leveling, keep your eye on the timer and make sure you give each section enough time to properly dry/cure before wiping it off. In other words, you need to move as slow during removal as you did during application in order to remove the entire fender consistently.
As far as recommendations go, I’m going to keep it very simple. I’ve used a lot of products and 22ple is by far the easiest to use offering great performance. In particular, 22ple HPC is very easy to use and can easily last 2.5-3 years even on daily drivers that are properly/regularly washed, etc. It’s a bit more pricey than some other consumer products with similar durability etc, but the performance and ease of use is well worth the extra money.
I know this was a long wall of text but I really hope it helps some new to coatings!