If you’ve been shopping for a new car recently, you more than likely have been offered some type of paint protection package from the dealership. These packages might be expensive, but who wouldn’t want to protect their new investment?
The sales team makes this decision sound like a no-brainer. A quick search on the internet will reveal many people with a very different opinion about the subject though. So are dealership paint protection packages a scam?
I wouldn’t necessarily call them a scam. These products might not be complete snake oil. It’s possible that they’ll technically do what they advertise. They won’t do it well though. And they also won’t last nearly as long as they claim. In my opinion, dealership paint protection packages aren’t really a scam but they ARE an absolute rip-off.
I’m familiar with these kinds of products and services offered by dealerships due to my years of detailing. It’s been a while since I’ve paid real attention to them though, so I decided to do some research before writing this article.
I’m all for giving people and businesses the benefit of the doubt. Who knows, they might have cleaned up their act over the years. I wanted to make sure that I still understood the situation, so I dug in.
What I found really annoyed me. Dealerships are upselling people with these hopes and dreams of lifelong protection for their vehicles, with absolutely no facts to back up their claims. These paint protection packages are offered by third-party companies that barely even exist on the internet.
A search for contact info for a lot of them reveals nothing more than a P.O. box and a 1-888 phone number. Don’t get me started on their sales videos. They’re usually cartoons that show no factual info regarding the product’s application or any evidence of it protecting your paint.
What is the product that dealerships apply to your paint?
These protection companies have spent more time perfecting their advertising lingo than their actual product. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the car detailing industry will laugh at these descriptions. They use terms like “Nano” and “Crystal” that are often used with expensive ceramic coatings. They also use words like Shield, Diamond, and Platinum.
Read a little further however, and they mention things like “breakthrough, cross-link polymer formulation” that will provide a permanent layer of defense for your vehicle’s paint. It sounds like rocket science to the average reader, so it must really work! To me, this looks like the work of a basic marketer that has flipped through a thesaurus.
Ladies and gentlemen, those terms above can be used to describe any enthusiast level paint sealant on the market. This kind of misleading advertising is absolutely ridiculous. When you factor in the price they’ll charge you for this paint sealant application, it becomes downright absurd.
Regular readers of this site will know that I’m a big fan of using polymer paint sealants. They might not be as exciting as ceramic coatings, but they definitely do the job they were intended to do. That job is not to provide permanent protection for your paint. Even the best and most expensive professional ceramic coatings won’t last a lifetime. In my opinion, even 10 years is a bit extreme for them.
Polymer paint sealants are intended to provide a sacrificial layer of protection for a few months, maybe up to a year. They are far from a one-time application type product. In reality, they’ll need to be applied once or twice per year at a minimum.
They’re also meant to be removed if a vehicle gets really dirty or needs to be polished, then reapplied. Knowing how these products work and how they perform makes the claims these protection companies make very hard to swallow. What they’re saying just doesn’t make sense.
How much SHOULD a paint sealant application cost?
Polymer paint sealants are essentially a synthetic (or man-made) version of car wax. They’re designed by chemists to bond to your vehicle’s paint and leave the surface slick and hydrophobic. Because they were specifically designed for this duty, they last longer than a re-purposed natural product like carnauba wax.
Paint sealants are applied exactly the same as a wax. They’re wiped onto the surface with an applicator and once they flash or turn to a haze, they can be buffed off with a towel.
Once a vehicle is properly cleaned and decontaminated, a professional can apply a paint sealant in 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size and intricate details of the vehicle. Many detailers will include a paint sealant application in their mid-level detailing packages for anywhere from $50-$250.
Doing the job yourself is much cheaper than that. A typical bottle of high-quality paint sealant like this one will cost $40 or so and last you for as long as you own the vehicle. You’ll be able to reapply it many times on every vehicle you own before you ever run out.
It’s also one of the most basic detailing-related tasks you can do. Some people even find it relaxing. If I could find people that were willing to pay me to do this for $900 per car, I’d be laughing straight to the bank.
And that’s exactly what the dealerships are doing. This is the easiest, most profitable upsell they can offer you. Don’t think they’re making a ton of money from these packages? Try pushing them a little harder and you’ll be surprised at how much they’re willing to negotiate. If it actually cost as much as they say it does, they’d have a lot less wiggle room in the price.
Dealerships know that protection packages are a huge money maker
Believe it or not, dealerships don’t make a lot of profit selling new cars. There isn’t as much of a margin there as you might think. A lot of their money comes from parts, service, and upselling you on silly things you don’t need.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t good at selling. As a matter of fact, they’re experts at it. Dealerships use sales tactics to play off any fears you might have in order to sell you warranties and protection packages. You might have heard your salesman make one or more of these statements:
“90% of my customers go for this”
This triggers your need to fit in or makes you think others know something that you don’t.
“Your car will be damaged if you don’t buy this”
Again, they’re playing off your fear of your shiny new car getting hurt.
“You’ve already spent $xx,xxx, what’s another thousand to protect your investment?”
They know you have money because you’re buying a new car. It’s their job to get as much of it from you as possible.
“This can only be done when the car is new, so you need to make your mind up now”
Ahhh, the classic “limited time” offer. This is meant to steer you toward making the purchase due to your fear of missing out. By the way, a paint sealant can be applied to any vehicle at any point in its life.
Your “brand new” car has already ridden on trains and sat outside in parking lots in all types of weather… for weeks. It’s already been washed at least once and is likely even covered in swirl marks because of it. Cars are only brand new when they initially drive out of the factory.
You’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars on a new car. Now they’re telling you that the car they just said was so amazing is actually really weak. Your paint will fade, your seats will stain, and your underbody will rust unless you pay for protection. It’s a scary world and you need to pay them for protection. That’s a mob-style hustle if I’ve ever seen one.
Dealer options to avoid
These three options are often grouped into a general protection package for an astronomical price. Rather than break that cost down into monthly payments, here are some much wiser ways to spend your money:
Dealerships have basically taken a wax or paint sealant and added the claims from some of the highest quality ceramic coatings on the market. Simply put, this isn’t real. It just doesn’t add up.
The Smart Alternative:
Buy a bottle of paint sealant for less than 10% of the cost and do it yourself. You’ll have everything you need to be able to reapply it as needed for the entire time you own the car.
Another option they’ll offer you is some kind of fabric guard to protect your seats and carpet. Much like their paint protection, this is just an every day detailing product with a massive markup.
The Smart Alternative:
I understand that some car buyers just want their vehicle protected and don’t want to do it themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. All you have do is hire the right person for the job.
Bring your vehicle to a professional detailer for what’s known as a New Car Prep. Detailers offer this package for their clients who want to get the most out of their new car experience.
They’ll give it a thorough cleaning, remove all the rail dust from the train that stuck to the paint, protect the leather, fabric, and carpet of your interior and even polish out the swirl marks and scratches the dealership put in your paint (you’d be amazed at how common that one is, even on luxury cars).
All of this will likely cost the same as the dealership paint protection alone, maybe less. You can even opt for a legitimate ceramic coating if you like. You’ll have the peace of mind knowing it was done by an experienced professional using high-quality products.
They can also set you up with a maintenance plan if you would like them to continue cleaning and caring for your car on a regular basis. That is the best way to keep your car looking and feeling new for as long as possible.
You’re probably starting to notice a theme with all of these dealership protection products. This one is no different. Dealership undercoating offers mediocre performance at a high price. They’ll spray thick goop all over your undercarriage and in your engine bay in an attempt to prevent rust from forming.
In many cases, it does the opposite. As you drive, rocks will fling up and chip off parts of the coating. This allows moisture to creep in between the coating and the metal, and can actually cause rust.
Many dealerships also offer electronic rust modules. These actually are a scam, because they don’t do what they advertise at all. These modules were originally used on metal bridges and ships that are constantly submerged in salt water. Your car is made up of many different materials, including rubber and plastic bushings that separate them. It also isn’t submerged in water (hopefully!). These do not work at all.
The Smart Alternative:
Yearly oil spraying from a rust prevention specialist will do a much better job. It’ll also cost a fraction of the price. It’s also important to keep your vehicle as clean as possible during the winter months and make an effort to keep the road salt off your car. You can read more about rust prevention, oil spraying, and electronic modules in this article.
Dealerships will provide a good argument as to why you should buy these packages. They might even offer a warranty for these products, but make sure you look into that. In order for the warranty to be valid in most cases, your vehicle might need to be seen and topped up every year. I’m sure they’ll be happy to charge you a service fee for those visits too.
Detailing at the dealership
I don’t want to offend any dealership employees, but even they know where they stand in the detailing world. Comparing the level of quality a dealership will give you to that of a professional detailer is like comparing your kid’s T-ball league to Major League Baseball. They aren’t in the same ballpark.
As a matter of fact, it’s common for professional detailers to fix the damage from all the mistakes the dealership detailers made on a car.
The people that work in the detailing department of a dealership are usually young and inexperienced. We all have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, they have very little knowledge of high end detailing products and techniques. To put it harshly, these aren’t the people you want to trust to protect your vehicle for it’s “lifetime”. They barely know how to wash a car properly.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, a friend of mine used to work at a dealership. He purchased a brand new top of the line pickup truck, and the detailer applied a fabric guard to his quilted leather seats. Fabric guard. On leather.
Anyone with basic detailing knowledge knows that fabric guards and leather conditioners are not interchangeable products. In this case, it ended up permanently staining the leather. The last I heard, they weren’t even willing to fix the problem. Remember, this truck was purchased by their own employee.
Hiring a professional detailer who’s passionate about what they do will make a night and day difference. For more on how to find and hire the right detailer, check out this article.
In the end, there’s no replacement for preventative maintenance on your car. I’ve said this many times on this site: there is no magic product that will build a protective force field around your car. Not even the most expensive ceramic coating.
Caring for it by keeping it clean and protecting it with high quality detailing products on a regular basis is the key to making your new car last as long as possible. If you don’t want to do it yourself, that’s fine. Leave these detailing tasks to the professionals that are properly trained and experienced to do them. It’ll also save you a ton of money.
Feel free to read some of the dealership paint protection horror stories online for yourself. They appear to be endless. Make sure you educate yourself on what they’re trying to sell you and don’t give in to their pressure. If their product was so great, it would sell itself. The moment they start using your emotions to convince you to buy should throw up a big red flag.
Don’t get bullied into buying something you don’t want or need. Instead, call up a reputable detailer or start learning yourself. Who knows, detailing might just be your new favorite hobby.
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: