More and more car guys are becoming interested in ceramic coatings without truly understanding them. Hiring a professional to apply a coating to your vehicle is expensive (and there’s a reason for that), so many have turned to these cheaper DIY ceramic coatings.
Many cheap DIY ceramic coatings come from companies that shouldn’t be trusted. They don’t have any actual detailing experience and are simply repackaging a Chinese coating. It isn’t worth the risk when there are better and more affordable options available.
There’s nothing wrong with saving some money and doing it yourself. But as any new industry grows, certain people will want a piece of the pie without earning it. Easy money. It’s all over the internet – and now it’s happening with ceramic coatings.
Now, I’m not writing this to bash anyone. I won’t be naming any names of the cheap companies. My hope is that after reading this, you’ll be able to spot them yourself and make your own decision. That’s what Canadian Gearhead is all about, after all.
Why it’s important to choose a good ceramic coating over a cheap one
It’s easy to underestimate the risk when dealing with ceramic coatings because we’ve been told that they have taken the place of traditional car waxes. Those waxes were very simple and easy to use. Anyone could apply them without the fear of causing damage. In the event that something went wrong, those waxes would easily wash off with the right chemicals. This is not the case with ceramic coatings.
These are semi-permanent products. “Semi-permanent” is great if everything goes right. But if you’ve made mistakes or the product isn’t working properly, the word “permanent” is the last thing you want to hear!
There is a lot more at stake now that we’re dealing with coatings that will last upwards of 3 years. Remember, the paint on your car is essentially its skin. Would you put an untested and unknown Chinese product all over your own skin without knowing what kind of reactions or side effects it might cause? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t put an unproven semi-permanent coating on my car’s paint either.
That’s the main problem with these cheap ceramic coatings. They’re unproven. The companies will spend plenty of money on advertising, to the point where they become annoying – and yet there are very few actual car owners and detailers out there vetting the product. Sure, the company will tell you their coating is amazing. But if nobody else is saying the same thing, that should really tell you something.
My suspicion is that most of these companies, sellers, and marketers have very little to no experience with their own product or even with detailing as a whole. It’s all about sourcing the cheapest coating, marking it up, creating ads that contain all the catchphrases people want to hear, and selling as many units as possible. Get in and get out.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for Chinese made products in the North American market. For example, I use Chinese LED light bars on my 4runner. I have realistic expectations though. I know that unlike a company such as Rigid or Baja Designs, I won’t be getting any support from the online seller if and when one of these lights fail.
I’m fine with that because there isn’t much at stake if I run into a failure. The light simply won’t work anymore – I’ll just have to unplug it and install a new one. Applying a semi-permanent coating directly onto your vehicle’s paint is a completely different story though.
If the only thing praising a ceramic coating is an Instagram ad by the company itself (more than likely throwing a bucket of muddy water on a car), this should raise a red flag for you. Keep in mind that in the event you need to remove a ceramic coating, it’s not as simple as washing your car with a strong soap. The best case is that you’ll need to compound and polish it off. The worst case is that it will require heavy sanding or even cause irreparable damage to your paint.
What’s at stake when a cheap ceramic coating fails
Keep in mind that your car only has so much paint to work with. The fact is, every time you compound or polish your paint, you’re technically removing some of your clear coat. I don’t mean to scare you, but… it’s never going to grow back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. When removing a ceramic coating, there’s no way to be 100% sure when the coating has disappeared and you’ve begun working on the clear coat underneath.
It’s worth noting that despite what many coating companies claim, the thickness of a ceramic coating is very rarely enough to even register on a paint depth gauge. You’re forced to work blind. So you’ll likely be removing at least some clear coat in the event that you need to remove a ceramic coating prematurely. It’s not as simple as thinking “if it doesn’t work, I’ll just remove it and try something else“. Not if you care about the long term life of your car’s paint.
This is serious stuff. I don’t know if you’ve priced out an OEM quality paint job recently, but there’s a lot of money on the line if things go really bad. This is why it’s important to go with a ceramic coating company you can trust. Stick with a company that is well known and respected in the detailing industry. One that thousands of people have tested and loved. They’re not hard to find, and they might even be cheaper!
Good ceramic coatings vs. cheap ceramic coatings – the difference
Before you can choose which ceramic coating company to go with, you need to weed out the junk. After receiving the email from, let’s call them, Coating Company X, I began researching their product just like any potential buyer should.
What turned up was a generic website full of the usual catchphrases, generic photos/videos and a ton of retargeted Facebook/Instagram ads. Nothing about what went into developing and testing their coating, other companies they’ve worked with, or anyone vouching for them aside from their own review section (which of course wouldn’t be biased, right?)
Coating Company X has worked with a few well-known Youtubers in the automotive world. Normally it’s a good sign if 3rd parties are recommending their product, right? Here’s what caught my attention right away: all of the Youtube channels they chose to work with had little to no experience with detailing cars.
They’re the “I bought the cheapest _____ in the USA and here’s everything that’s wrong with it” channels. I have nothing against them and as a matter of fact, I enjoy a lot of those videos. These aren’t the type of guys that are overly concerned about the condition of their paint though.
The advice given in one of these videos was absolutely horrid. Again, I’m a fan of this person’s channel. But he was so badly misinformed and inexperienced when it came to detailing, that he had no business taking a polisher to his paint let alone teaching others how to do it.
I watched in horror as he polished a car that was covered in dirt, created tons of new scratches from the machine, and then tried to apply the coating with a microfiber towel instead of an applicator. Step. Away. From. The. Car.
We all start somewhere though so we shouldn’t give him a hard time. My only problem was that he was giving people advice on a subject he clearly knew nothing about. This got me thinking: why aren’t any actual detailers, even the DIY type, promoting this product?
The company’s answer was because the average car guy can relate more to those people. I get that. But when you’re trying to sell a detailing product while clearly avoiding working with any actual detailers, that looks suspicious. The truth is, us detailers know too much. We can see what the real business model is and we don’t want to take part in it.
How to spot a cheap ceramic coating company
Coating Company X ended up being no different than any other low end Chinese ceramic coating rebranded in their own package. Despite trying to look like a large, successful detailing company, it doesn’t seem to be anything more than an online drop shipping business. I’ll explain what those are later in this article.
Here are a few things to keep an eye out for when researching a company:
The use of generic “stock” photos rather than images of their employees using their specific product.
The company in question actually has a video at the top of their site that shows someone using a different bottle than the one their product is sold in. It also looks like the same footage all the other cheap companies use in their ads (can’t forget that muddy water shot!)
Spelling and grammar mistakes
This is a tell-tale sign of a foreign company using a translator to convert their sales copy into English. The good coating companies don’t make these kinds of mistakes.
Many of these companies use before/after photos to advertise their coating. The before shot shows a scratched car and the after shows one perfectly polished. None of the good ceramic coating companies will pull a shady stunt like this. These results have NOTHING to do with ceramic coatings.
These are the results of a paint correction – machine polishing with compounds and polishes to remove scratches. This is a necessary step before applying ANY ceramic coating. The paint can be completely bare of any waxes, sealants or ceramic coatings after this process and look like the after shot.
No ceramic coating will fill those in or remove them. Oddly enough, a much cheaper wax or sealant is more likely to fill in those scratches temporarily, making it more likely to provide the “after” results (although not in a proper way).
Coating Company X was actually called out in the comments of their social media posts about this, and they later added a disclaimer to their ads saying that the photos showed the results of a paint correction and not their coating. I guess it’s only considered unethical if you get caught.
Lack of real contact info
Any reputable manufacturer will have at least one physical address posted for their headquarters including a street address, phone number, email etc. If the company lists nothing more than an email address or a basic contact box, you’ve probably just found a dropshipping business.
Money back guarantee
Although the leading ceramic coating companies stand behind their products confidently (and offer warranties on their professional coatings), they don’t offer 100% Money back guarantees.
If a website is offering to give your money back if you simply aren’t happy, that’s typically an empty promise from a dropshipping business. They’re banking on the fact that the majority of customers won’t do that. They’ll likely use “improper application” as an excuse to avoid paying anyone that does try to go down this road. Don’t believe me? Try getting all of your money back.
Very little activity on social media
Successful ceramic coating companies are constantly updating their social media with original content. They’ll give updates on what’s new with their company and what they’re working on. They’ll tag and repost interesting jobs done by their accredited detailers. They give shoutouts to their distributors, installers, customers and other people in their network.
The cheap coating companies have ads running all over Facebook and Instagram. Their actual accounts however, have much less activity. They might show the water beading on Jimmy’s Camaro… but who is Jimmy? Did he actually use their product? Does Jimmy even own a Camaro? Did they steal the photo from a random user on a car forum sharing what his Mother’s wax looks like in the rain? They have very little credibility.
Read their blog
Many companies will include a blog on their website. The good ceramic coating companies will use their blog as more of a newsletter to share info and updates with potential customers. They might talk about upcoming products, partnerships or awards they’ve won recently.
The cheap coating companies use their blog as a way of ranking higher up on Google search results. These blogs are filled with generic “how-to” posts and articles comparing their coating with waxes and sealants.
Do you really think a company that sells strictly ceramic coatings really wants to help you learn how to apply a carnauba wax? They’re just trying to get their sales pitch in front of as many eyes on the internet as possible.
Coating Company X’s blog contains some pretty laughable detailing advice. Again, further proof that these people have no experience with detailing cars. Restoring headlights with toothpaste? Really? They also took some of the myths from one of my other ceramic coating articles and changed them just enough to avoid plagiarism. This blog is filled with regurgitated info from other websites. These people are far from the experts you should be learning from.
Find out if they’re private labeling a Chinese coating
Although there are tons of these cheap ceramic coating sellers around, there are probably only a handful of different Chinese coatings that are being sold. A quick image search for the name of Coating Company X revealed a photo of their exact bottle and packaging with a different name on it. That’s the funny thing with these Chinese sellers. There’s no honor among thieves – everyone is stealing from everyone.
Check on Aliexpress.com for the most popular ceramic coatings that have been sold. If the bottle, brand name, or packaging is the same as the one you’re seeing elsewhere, chances are it’s the same product. And if you’re still willing to take the gamble on an unproven coating, you might as well save yourself $50+ and order it directly from China yourself!
What’s included in the DIY kit
Another thing to look at is the items the company includes in its ceramic coating kit. This is where a lot of these companies are faking the funk in an attempt to look like they know what they’re doing.
Anyone who understands coatings and the process of applying them can see that the things they’re including are incorrect. It might seem as though they’re giving you these bonus items to sweeten the deal but the truth is, it’s all junk.
The microfiber towel they give you to level the coating isn’t going to cut it. This is usually a single parts store quality towel, sometimes with the company’s logo screen printed on one side (what a weird way to scratch your paint!). You’ll need at least a few towels to properly coat a vehicle. This one is useless. Throw it in the trash.
Another hilarious attempt at looking like the real deal is the applicator they include. We’ve all seen the high-quality ceramic coatings applied with a suede applicator on a foam block. It’s very common. The cheap companies give you a cloth that you would normally use to clean your sunglasses because it looks similar to the one you should be using. This one is useless. Throw it in the trash.
After unboxing your DIY coating and getting rid of these wonderful bonus items, you’re now left with a shiny bottle of an unknown Chinese coating and nothing more.
So what happens if you apply a cheap ceramic coating on your car?
Honestly, I don’t know. That’s the whole point of this article. These coatings haven’t been publicly tested both short and long term within the detailing community. I’ll be the first to admit that they might work the way they’re supposed to. They might last as long as the company claims.
Heck, they might even be as scratch resistant and hydrophobic as advertised. It’s also possible that they won’t perform at all or even cause damage to your paint. The bottom line is that we just don’t know.
I’m all for giving new products and new manufacturers a chance. But they need to be trustworthy companies. Risking your entire paint job in an effort to save a few dollars (if that) just isn’t worth it. That brings us to the next question:
Are you actually saving money by purchasing a cheap DIY ceramic coating?
Of course, any ceramic coating that you apply yourself will be much cheaper than paying a professional detailer to do it for you. It comes down to man hours and expertise. No offense, but the pro is more than likely going to do a much better job than you will.
That’s why they’re given access to the professional line of coatings from these companies and you aren’t. These are the ones that need to be sanded off if they’re applied incorrectly.
In order to become an accredited detailer with most of these companies, you need to be able to prove that you know what you’re doing. This means that a) mistakes are less likely to happen in the first place and b) when they happen, you’re able to fix them.
Here’s the thing though. Most, if not all of the high-end ceramic coating companies offer a line of prosumer coatings like these that you can apply yourself. These are just as easy to apply as the DIY coatings you see all over Instagram. The difference is that they live up to the hype and have a strong, respectable company standing behind them. Oh, by the way – they also might be CHEAPER.
Most coatings are sold in 30ml bottles. This is sort of the standard size across the industry, although some of the high-end companies also offer 50ml bottles. But for comparison’s sake, we’ll stick to the small size for this example.
While researching Coating Company X, I found that one of their 30ml bottles is recommended only for a motorcycle or small car. For a mid-sized sedan, they state that you’ll need at least 2 bottles. Let’s break the cost of coating a mid-sized sedan down:
Coating Company X
2 bottles – ~$165 CAD
Gtechniq Crystal Serum Light + Exo
1 bottle is more than enough (can almost do 2 complete applications actually) – ~$155 CAD
That’s $10 cheaper, with nearly enough leftover for another whole application. You can do a search online and find TONS of praise for Gtechniq products by both customers and professionals. Once you actually crunch the numbers, there is absolutely no reason to gamble on the “cheap” DIY coating. Here are the prices of a few other high-quality DIY coatings:
Gyeon Q2 Mohs
1 bottle for a mid-sized sedan – ~$120 CAD
Carpro Cquartz UK
1 bottle does 2 applications – ~$85 CAD
Carpro, Gtechniq, and Gyeon are all fantastic companies that know what they’re doing. These are all readily available to the general public. There is no reason to gamble with an unknown Chinese coating!
What is a dropshipping business and how does it work?
Dropshipping businesses have become a very popular way for people to make money online. There are countless stories of people both young and old getting rich from these “side hustles”.
Every day there seems to be a new course being offered by some guru that will teach you how to build your own dropshipping business. The reality is, anyone can do it with a little know-how and some spare time. It’s the same recipe whether you’re selling ceramic coatings, dog toys, or toilet brushes. Here’s how they do it:
- Find a niche product that already has a large demand
- Source a cheap version of the product on a Chinese site like Aliexpress.com
- Build a Shopify website/store using a simple template and stock images
- Mark the product up (let’s say you’re selling a $3 item for $10)
- Spend some money on Facebook and Instagram retargeting ads that point to your website
- When an order is placed for $10, you purchase the product on Aliexpress for $3 – but have it shipped to the customer’s address rather than your own
- Pocket that $7 profit and move on to the next
The website can be taken down and the company can disappear in a matter of minutes if they choose to. These drop shipping businesses might appear to be the same as large companies at first glance, when in reality they’re being run by a college student in their dorm room.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with purchasing something from a small dropshipping business. You just need to understand what you’re getting into and how it works before giving away your hard earned money. Some might offer great customer support while others, not so much.
As you can see now, we have nothing to gain by purchasing these low-end ceramic coatings. It’s absolutely fine to save money by applying a coating yourself as long as you take the time to teach yourself the ins and outs of detailing, paint correction, and applying products like these.
Just make sure you go with a DIY ceramic coating from one of the reputable companies. If nothing else, you’ll be supporting the people that are pushing the detailing industry forward rather than those who are piggybacking off of others’ past success.
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: