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  • Writer's pictureAutowash

Protecting Your Investment - Understanding Protective Products for Your Cars Exterior

For most people, their car is a significant investment, but for people who truly love their cars the desire to keep them looking their best goes beyond just the financial commitment. Protecting their vehicle's appearance means preserving or enhancing the finish to prolong that new look and feel for as long as possible. If you’re already an Autowash customer, you know that preventing damage is job one! Choosing cleaning processes that don’t touch the paint to prevent scratches and using only non-corrosive soaps to avoid fading are cornerstones of what we do and why customers choose Autowash. The next level of this understanding comes in the form of prevention through protection, but what sort of protection should you be choosing? Moreover, what is with all the different types of protection out there, and which one is right for you? Can a car wash really apply a protective layer on your paint? The world of chemicals used to protect and enhance vehicle finishes is complex and littered with unrealistic performance claims, buzzwords, and snake oil. Let's dive into all things paint protection and preservation!

Blue Audi being washed at Autowash

Why Should You Maintain a Layer of Protection?

For as long as there have been cars there have been products applied to the exterior to preserve their appearance and integrity. Before the development of dedicated car care chemicals, products such as stove polish and floor waxes were repurposed into automotive applications as some of the earliest options for protecting the vehicle's surfaces. Later specialty products would be developed, primarily wax-based, that did a better job dealing with the unique surfaces of automobiles. For many decades waxes reigned supreme until modern chemistry introduced polymer-based sealants and other synthetic materials. Most recently the addition of nano-coatings, both ceramic and graphene in nature, has become the new standard for automotive protection. Regardless of which type of product you choose to apply to your vehicle, the reason you need a layer of something on your paint is to serve as a sacrificial barrier between your paint and whatever it encounters.

In addition to serving as that sacrificial layer of protection, a wax, sealant, or nano-coating will provide some degree of enhancement to the overall appearance of the paint. They can both mask (partially hide) minor imperfections and defects as well as enhance reflectivity and shine to a degree. Ultimately, the condition of the underlying paint when the product is applied determines the quality of the reflection and shine, but that is a topic for another article.

Lastly, these products will also allow your vehicle surface to shed contamination much more easily. This makes the paint easier to maintain, plus reduces the effort needed to clean and dry after washing. While some categories of products, like nano-coatings, are the most effective at creating a hydrophobic, "self-cleaning" effect, all paint protection products enhance the ability of the paint to prevent contamination from sticking.

Whether you choose to use a product for its aesthetic enhancement to your vehicle's paint, for its protective properties, to improve ease of cleaning, or a combination of all three aspects the most important factor is that you use something as an additional layer on your paint. Some products are more effective than others, but all of them are more effective than nothing!

Which Type of Product is Right for Your Paint?

Just like anything else in this world, there are varying degrees of quality and performance within each category. You can get a hamburger in a lot of places and some might be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten, and others may barely pass as edible. The variance in performance within all product categories for vehicle paint care is no different, but we’ll discuss some of the general characteristics of each type of product here with the understanding that within each category there will be a spectrum of performance and quality in each.

WAX-BASED PROTECTION: With the original vehicle protection, carnauba wax, we see some of the best enhancements for vehicle appearance. Many enthusiasts and professionals will describe the appearance generated from a quality wax product as “warm” or “rich”. Blends of various types of waxes including carnauba, montan, and even bees wax have been used for nearly as long as the automobile has been around. The drawback of natural waxes is the lack of durability. With low resistance to heat, abrasion, and chemical exposure most waxes require the user to apply them frequently. A hot summer day, with the sun shining directly on a dark vehicle, will generate temperatures approaching almost 300 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface. With the average melting point of most car waxes in the range of 160-180 degrees, it isn’t long until your wax layer is gone. Once the thin layer of wax reaches those temperatures it easily evaporates from the surface, leaving your paint unprotected. Some manufacturers have attempted to address the durability issue by fusing synthetic polymers into their products and while this may help keep your wax around longer, in general, it is to a very small degree. The longevity of most wax-based products is measured in days or weeks for the typical car.

Car being detailed

💡HIGHLIGHTS: Easy to apply and provides excellent appearance enhancement, but does not withstand exposure to the elements for very long.

SYNTHETIC SEALANTS: On the next stop along the evolution of car care protection, we find a massive category known as paint sealants. These man-made synthetic products, in general, sacrificed some of the aesthetic enhancements wax had become known for and replaced them with more durable layers of protection. Over the years this category has seen the use of predominantly acrylics or polymers in varying concentrations. Some claimed to harness the non-stick capabilities of Teflon®️, while others invented new buzzwords to differentiate their product from the crowd. Ultimately, paint sealants represented a huge step forward in protection for automotive paint by addressing the lack of durability of carnauba, however still were not impervious to the degradation from heat, abrasion, and chemical exposure. While the lifespan of most waxes was being measured in days or weeks, sealants could boast longevity that was measured in months. Most are easier to apply than their wax-based counterparts as well, which made synthetic sealants the preferred option for paint protection for many automotive enthusiasts who drove their cars more regularly. Wax maintained a firm grip on car owners who could keep their vehicles garaged and didn’t need to expose them to the elements every day.

White car being detailed with wax spray

💡HIGHLIGHTS: Even easier to apply with longer lasting results vs. wax-based products, but sacrificed some of the aesthetic enhancements.

CERAMIC COATINGS: For a very long span, waxes and sealants continued to be the exclusive options for car owners to protect their paint. Some professionals and enthusiasts would even experiment with the idea of layering products to achieve “the best of both worlds” on their vehicles, but then a technology that had largely been restricted to industrial manufacturing for corrosion resistance began to make its way into the consumer market – Ceramic coatings. These products leveraged modern nano-chemistry with advanced resins and microscopic particles of silicon dioxide (SiO2), commonly found in nature as quartz, to create hardened exterior layers that offered unheard-of levels of longevity. With superior resistance to environmental and chemical exposure, and even abrasion resistance, the earliest forms of these products were exceptionally difficult to apply and sometimes available exclusively through authorized installers who were trained in their application. As the chemistry evolved, more consumer-friendly versions of the products found their way into the market allowing automotive enthusiasts the opportunity to apply these products to their vehicles and realize significant enhancements in appearance as well as durability measured in years! As the chemistry has continued to evolve delivery methods for applying ceramic coatings have spawned entire sub-categories including spray-and-wipe products and others that are simply hosed on and rinsed off. Best of all, ceramic coatings produced extreme amounts of hydrophobic water behavior. Simply put, these coatings would cause the surface to shed water and any other contamination to an unprecedented level, thus making cleaning/maintenance of vehicle paint easier. Often a high-quality ceramic can make drying a vehicle possible without the use of towels due to its ability to shed water so easily.

Black car being detailed with ceramic coating

💡HIGHLIGHTS: A quantum leap forward in durability, hydrophobicity, and without sacrificing the gloss or reflectivity. Early formulas were difficult to apply, but as the chemistry has continued to evolve there are several consumer-friendly products on the market today.

GRAPHENE COATINGS: Advancements in chemistry have continued to accelerate the development of new and exciting chemicals to protect automotive surfaces. While ceramic coatings continue to evolve and branch off into new sub-categories one development has spawned yet another entirely new type of surface protection known as graphene. Introduced into the consumer car care industry in 2020 graphene is still very early in its adaption to exterior surface protection, but boasts some truly unbelievable characteristics including higher durability than ceramic coatings. Graphene-based products have been tested to higher degrees of abrasion resistance due to increased flexibility in the structure of the molecules. Graphene also is more resistant to UV and heat degradation due to its higher heat dissipation characteristics. Some research also suggests that the manufacturing of graphene nano-particles is less energy and resource-dependent than ceramic nano-particles, translating to a potentially lower environmental impact, which is always good! As with any new technology, graphene products come at a generally higher cost as well, but considering the other-worldly levels of performance it can be easy to justify the added expense if you want the ultimate in protection and longevity.

Graphene in a laboratory

💡HIGHLIGHTS: The latest advancement in surface protection. All the benefits of a ceramic-based coating with increased resistance to heat, abrasion, chemicals, and water spotting. Often carries a higher cost but offers the highest levels of performance possible.

So, back to our original question: which of these products is right for your paint? The answer comes in the form of a question – how do you use your vehicle and what aspects of a protective layer appeal to you most? It becomes hard to argue against the benefits of ceramic or graphene-based products for your vehicle if you drive it daily, especially in environments where the environment can be hard on cars. Extreme sun or heat in the summer months, bug guts in the spring, or freezing temps, snow, and road de-icers in the winter will quickly remove a wax or polymer sealant from a surface, where a ceramic or graphene product can potentially make it through several years of seasonal change without failing. Conversely, if your vehicle is used only in fair weather and spared exposure to harsh conditions wax or synthetic sealant may be all you need. The ease of application, lower cost, and potential for enhanced gloss and reflectivity can be perfect when extreme durability isn’t needed. There may even be a reality when a combination of multiple products can make sense, so long as you fully understand and research the compatibility between them.

Beading water off of a detailed car

Can A Car Wash Really Apply These Products To My Car?

To this point we’ve been focused on what the products are, and not much about how they’re applied. Certainly, there is no shortage of products on the shelf at the local store, available online, or that can be added to a package at a detail shop. But what about all the car washes out there claiming they have the latest chemistry in their tunnel and simply driving through a wall of foam and some flashing lights can apply a meaningful layer of these chemically advanced products to your paint? The reality is that many car washes are leveraging buzzwords and the promises of professionally applied products to market their wash packages. The limits of chemistry today dictate that many of these extremely durable surface coatings like ceramic or graphene require time to cure (dry) to reach their full potential. However, curing a surface coating is virtually impossible to achieve in an environment like a car wash where water is constantly present. The reality is that in many car washes the presence of something like ceramic is true, but a significant percentage of what you pay for is scrubbed off by brushes or simply rinsed down the drain before it has a chance to adhere to your vehicle.

At Autowash we’re taking a different approach, embracing the latest chemistry in a realistic, honest way that provides true value for our customers. We’ve taken the time to understand the chemistry, and more importantly, the limitations of the chemistry to develop formulas and application processes that maximize the performance possible in a car wash without making false or lofty promises to you. That is why Autowash is excited and proud to introduce our latest formulas featuring ceramic and graphene-infused protection. The additives in our formulas are designed to do the most they can do in the car wash environment, depositing the product onto the exterior of your vehicle to deliver a temporary enhancement and protection to your paint. Our specialized protection-infused chemistry provides a short-term and visually noticeable boost to your vehicle's appearance and water-beading performance to last you to your next wash. Already have a base layer of protection? We’ve extensively tested all our formulas to ensure compatibility with everything from wax to coatings to enhance those layers with additional hydrophobic performance and gloss so regardless of what you’re using to protect your paint now you can wash with confidence knowing our unique process enhances what you’ve already applied. Be skeptical if you see a car wash advertising that it will provide long-lasting protection in the wash process. The reality is the chemical may be present in what they spray on your car, but it is not properly bonding with your paint and providing any long-term solution. The conditions inside of a car wash simply are not conducive to that sort of protection.

Blue Audi at Autowash Skylake

Conclusion: Embracing the Future of Automotive Care with Confidence.

Navigating the terrain of automotive paint protection can feel like stepping into a complex world filled with evolving technology and a multitude of options. What doesn’t help is marketing gimmicks and exaggerated performance claims that in many cases aren’t much more than an attempt to get you to spend more money. But after sifting through the nonsense and finding the right products for you, it is not just about preserving the aesthetics of your vehicle anymore; it's about embracing the best option to safeguard one of your most important investments. An option that provides a mix of performance, convenience, and enhancement at a price that makes sense for you. The simple fact is that to maximize the performance of any of these protective products the application has to be more than a simple spray-on-rinse-off. While the materials in detailer-applied graphene coating or one applied in a car wash may be the same, the manner and environment in which they are applied play a significant role in the material’s ability to do what it does to its full potential. The application method being the same, the hierarchy of performance outlined above applies, however, the manner of application has significant implications, and that is something that most car washes are not going to tell you. Our slogan “Because you love your car” is more than just a tagline. It is a pledge to uphold the integrity of your vehicle's finish against the elements and the test of time. We understand that your relationship with your car is more than mere utility and taps into an emotional level full of memories and pride of ownership. This understanding is the driving force behind our never-ending pursuit of excellence in automotive care and our commitment to always provide honest, fact-based information to the customers who trust us to help them maintain their cars.

The introduction of our ceramic and graphene-infused protection products provides yet another level of temporary protection and enhancement. Whether you choose to make frequent visits to Autowash to keep those protective layers intact, or apply a more substantial base layer of protection and allow our protection-infused chemistry to provide a boost, rest assured that Autowash will always operate in an open, transparent, and honest manner. So, as the automotive world continues to evolve, Autowash stands at the forefront, ready to adapt and introduce breakthroughs that redefine the standards of care and protection. We invite you to be part of this journey, experiencing firsthand the fusion of innovation, value, and car care passion. With Autowash, you don't just drive away with a cleaner car; you drive into a future where your vehicle continues to mirror the pride you feel in maintaining its scratch-free shiny appearance!


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