Scratch resistance is one of the characteristics that people boast about when promoting a ceramic coating. All of us car enthusiasts would love to live in a world where we no longer need to worry about our cars being scratched. Do these products actually provide that kind of protection though?
A ceramic coating is scratch resistant, not scratch proof. While it will offer some protection against finer scratches, swirl marks, and wash marring, it will not eliminate the risk of your paint being scratched. Your vehicle can and will be scratched by many of the same objects even if it’s coated.
Can a 9h ceramic coating actually protect against scratches?
One of the most common misconceptions regarding ceramic coatings is that they protect your paint because of their 9h hardness. The truth is, a coating will not make your paint rock hard. All the claims that mention glass, quartz, and diamond are simply referring to the fact that the product contains silica dioxide (Si02). It will not make your paint as hard as glass.
Silica dioxide can be found in things like rocks, plants, and even sand. The funny thing is that it’s also found in water, vegetables, and some health supplements. If it made everything rock hard, I don’t think you’d be ingesting it as regularly as you do.
The 9h hardness rating refers to how the coating performs on the pencil hardness scale. This means very little when it comes to how it will perform on your car’s paint. This is mainly a marketing term. For more on the truth about these hardness ratings, make sure to check out this post.
The moral of the story here is that applying an Si-02 based coating will not magically make your paint as hard as the earth’s crust.
Are ceramic coated cars just as easy to scratch as non coated cars?
Ceramic coatings do provide some scratch resistance – it just isn’t because of their hardness like many people believe. It’s quite likely that wiping dirt or dust off a coated surface will result in fewer scratches than one that isn’t coated at all.
But that isn’t because it makes the paint harder. It’s all about deflection. In many cases (like improper washing or wiping down with detail spray) scratches are caused by dirt and contaminants sticking to the surface and then being scrubbed off. The abrasiveness of the dirt digs into the paint and creates a scratch.
A ceramic coated surface is different. First of all, less dirt will stick to it. Simply rinsing a coated vehicle down with a pressure washer will remove a lot of the contaminants before you even have to physically touch it. That will reduce scratching in itself.
The other big characteristic of a ceramic coating is slickness. Any dirt that does end up sticking to the surface will slide off with far less effort than an uncoated surface. Less scrubbing means less friction and less friction means less scratching.
This is why coatings do a decent job of preventing minor scratches, swirl marks, and marring. When it comes to the bigger impacts like a tree branch or key, they aren’t going to help much at all. That’s where other forms of protection come in.
Ceramic coatings vs. paint protection film
If you want the best protection against scratches on your car, stop looking for the right ceramic coating and start shopping for paint protection film. Each option has its intended use and while coatings are great for easy cleaning and maintenance, paint protection film will be your best defense against scratches.
PPF has come a very long way in recent years. It used to be only used as a “clear bra” on the front of the car. These older films also turned yellow eventually and were difficult to remove. Fast forward to the current era and these films have really improved.
Self-healing paint protection film started out as a high end luxury item but it’s now a lot more common. Products from Stek, Xpel, and others have become very popular among many car owners from regular daily drivers to exotic supercars that are completely covered in it.
Not only are these films thick enough to absorb the impact of most rock chips or items that threaten to scratch the paint, they’re also self-healing. They don’t just sacrifice themselves to save your paint, then need to be replaced immediately.
In many cases, a scratch in the film can be healed by heating it up with a heat gun carefully. As long as it didn’t dig right through the film, it’s possible to remove it in a matter of minutes.
Ceramic coatings can’t do this and were never intended to. They aren’t thick or cushy enough to absorb an impact from a rock. Some coatings (like Feynlab) claim to be self-healing but that’s for very mild situations. No coating can do what paint protection film can do – not even close.
The downside is that PPF is a lot more expensive to have applied to your vehicle. There are other trade offs as well, such as a different texture, visible edges or even the chance of edges getting dirty or peeling up. It really depends on how important scratch prevention is to you.
Does ceramic coating fill in scratches and swirl marks?
Technically, anything you wipe on your paint has the potential to fill in minor scratches and swirl marks. This doesn’t happen often with most ceramic coatings though. Waxes, sealants, and especially glazes are much more likely to fill in minor imperfections in your paint. This is a temporary fix though as it won’t last very long.
How do you get scratches out of a ceramic coating?
I’ve had people ask me if I think a scratch or defect is “just in the coating” quite a few times. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it very rarely is. Remember, a ceramic coating is so thin it usually can’t even be measured with a paint depth gauge (although a select few coatings out there are a bit thicker).
In nearly every case, if you can see it – it’s in your paint, not your coating. There just isn’t enough product on the surface to make a measurable difference.
Can you polish a ceramic coating?
You can polish a ceramic coating in a select few cases. It really depends on what coating you have and how old it is. A coating that has been recently applied will be much stronger and able to withstand some light abrasives. An older, weaker coating will likely be removed as soon as you begin polishing.
One example is Crystal Serum Light. Gtechniq states that as long as it’s in healthy condition, it can actually be very lightly polished. Once again, this isn’t to remove scratches in the coating. Crystal Serum Light is rated for 5+ years while Exo (the topcoat) is only rated for 2. That means that at some point, you’ll need to reapply Exo onto the aged Crystal Serum coating.
In order to make sure you’ve removed all of the expired Exo layer, a very quick polish can help. This can be a tedious task because you don’t want to wear out the Crystal Serum layer underneath. When done right, a quick polish can freshen up the surface and allow the new layer of Exo to last as long as possible.
This post is part of our series on the truth behind ceramic coatings.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: