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3 Easy Ways for How to Protect Your Car Paint

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​Driving around town in a shiny car makes any vehicle owner feel good. However, investing the time, money, and resources to keep your car paint protected goes much further than simple aesthetic appeal. In fact, being proactive about protecting your car paint can reduce exposure to damaging contaminants, keep the paint in good condition, which ultimately increases the resale value.

Consumers have several ways of keeping the exterior of their cars protected; but with so many options, where do you start? To help you understand all of the options, we’ve compiled this complete guide for how to protect your car paint.

In the information below, we’ll explain three of the most common methods and materials that consumers use to enhance the luster and extend the lifespan of automotive paint. We’ll also outline the pros and cons of each and offer a few tips for choosing the most cost-effective options.

Why is it Important to Protect Your Car Paint?

Generally, car, truck, and SUV owners use paint protectant products to reduce damage to the vehicle’s exterior surface from a few common sources:

  • ​Protecting your car paint from fading
  • ​Protecting your car paint in winter
  • ​Protect the car paint from the sun
  • Protecting the car paint from scratches

2016 study completed by the Tempe, Arizona based IHS Markit firm suggested that average lifespan of a modern consumer vehicle is 11.6 years.

Ruined car exterior

It was also determined that the average car owner keeps their daily driver for 6.5 years before the vehicle is sold or traded-in. Since the exterior condition of a vehicle is critical component to assigning the resale value, keeping it in good shape is a smart financial decision.

3 Popular Ways of Protecting Car Paint

Vehicle owners understand the important role that routine service and maintenance has on the longevity and efficient operation of a motor vehicle. But the paint is often overlooked, mainly because of misconceptions about automotive clear coats.

Modern cars, trucks and SUV’s arrive to a dealership with several layers of paint and clear coat protectants, that act as a shield to reduce damage to the paint surface. However, frequent exposure to the elements, contaminants, and even the ways we wash our cars, can lead to premature wear and tear of that important clear coat.

To reduce this from occurring, automotive enthusiasts usually select one or a combination of these three products:

  1. Car Wax and Polishes (including paint sealants)
  2. Paint Protection Film (also known as PPF)
  3. Ceramic Coatings

Each of these products are designed to provide a thin layer of protection onto the clear coat. Basically, it’s like wearing a jacket when it’s cold outside. The car wax, PPF, and ceramic coatings applied by professional automotive detailing companies or the consumer, provide protection from exposure to potentially harmful elements that prematurely damage clear coats including:

  • ​UV sunlight rays
  • ​Road grime
  • ​Acids produced by bug splatters and bird droppings
  • Chemicals (including cleaning materials)
  • Ice and snow
  • Blowing sand
  • ..and much more

Car Wax & Paint Sealants

According to the IBIS World Industry Report, vehicle owners across the globe spend more than $10 Billion annually on exterior car care products. Among the most popular include car wax and paint sealant products.

The most common wax used for automotive applications is Carnauba wax, which is a combination of a natural substance derived from Brazilian palm tree leaves, combined with beeswax and solvents. When it’s applied, it provides a hard shell of protection, similar to an M&M outer candy shell. Carnauba wax, when correctly applied, tends to last about six weeks.

Man applying wax onto car exterior

Paint sealants are synthetic enhancements of car wax and polish. They are applied similar to car wax and have a life expectancy ranging from six months to a year in some cases.

Pros and Cons of Using Car Wax & Paint Sealants

Here are some of the advantages of using car wax:

  • ​Carnauba wax is a natural product and environmentally-conscious
  • ​It does not require a tremendous amount of prep work
  • ​Fairly easy to apply by a novice automotive enthusiast
  • It is heat resistant
  • Makes the body shine and holds up to water well

While there are many advantages of using car wax and paint sealants, there are a few cons to consider:

  • ​Car wax and sealant require constant maintenance and reapplication. Car wax (every six weeks) and paint sealants (every 6 months on the average).
  • ​It’s a physically taxing job. Applying car wax and paint sealants requires stripping old product and reapplying. Typically, this is a 3 to 5 hours task each time.
  • ​Can be cost prohibited. If you decide to have a professional auto detailer complete this for you, expect to pay up to $100 each time. Paint sealant applications can cost as much as $300 per application or more.

Paint Protection Film & Vinyl

A leading source of paint damage is chipping, caused mainly by rocks and small pebbles that strike the surface of the car. To protect cars from rocks and debris, many performance car enthusiasts use a paint protection film (PPF) or vinyl wrap. The original PPF was developed by the 3M corporation, used primarily for military applications to protect helicopter blades in the Vietnam War.

Today’s automotive PPF materials are made from high-quality thermoplastic urethane film that is installed onto paint surfaces. It is offered in clear or colored versions and is available in several thickness levels. Most car, truck, and SUV owners install PPF on the front hood, bumpers, and side-view mirrors (or areas at higher risk to exposure to rocks and debris).

One off the best attributes of PPF protection is that the substance is self-healing. When small scratches occur, the elastomeric polymer surface fuses together to remove the damage.

A vinyl wrap on the other hand is a much thicker and heavier layer of protection. This material is stronger, more durable, and can last for several years. Vinyl wraps are not very clear but can be custom-colored and decorated to the owner’s visual preference.

Blue car with a clear plastic coat

Automotive detail and autobody specialists install each of these two products; as it requires advanced prep work, installation equipment and techniques for successful application.

Generally, both PPF and good vinyl wrap materials can last between 5 to 10 years (with correct prep work, installation and maintenance).

Pros and Cons of Using Paint Protection Film

PPF and vinyl wraps are exceptional and long-lasting ways to protect the surface of your vehicle. However, there are a few advantages and disadvantages that should be carefully considered before making the investment.

Here are a few advantages of the protection film:

  • Offers exceptional protection against rocks, UV rays, bird droppings, chemicals, and other contaminants
  • ​Self-healing properties (similar to thermoplastic polyurethane)
  • Has a lifespan up to 10 years in some cases

Like everything, there are a few disadvantages to consider:

  • ​Reduced hydrophobic properties (tends to water spot easily)
  • ​Can be costly – on the average, from $800 to $3,000 installed
  • Can be costly – on the average, from $800 to $3,000 installed
  • Requires full replacement if damaged

Ceramic Coatings

If you like the protection of paint protection film, and the visually aesthetic appeal of car wax and polishes, ceramic coatings are worth a serious look. An automotive ceramic coating utilizes nanotechnology to infuse onto the vehicle’s clear coat. It’s derived from quartz and is among the hardest substances on earth once cured.

When it is installed, it fills all of the imperfections in paint, leaving a completely smooth and flat surface that is highly resistant to water, scratches, UV light, chemicals, road grime, extreme weather, animal waste and more. This would be perfect to go with your freshly cleaned car seats for an overall slick look.

There are two types of ceramic coatings offered to consumers:

  1. Commercial or Professionally Installed Ceramic Coatings: This version is designed to be installed by professionally trained autobody and detailing experts. It requires significant prep work, advanced techniques for application, and takes a few days to cure. The professionally installed ceramic coating products can last up to 5 years and cost as much as $3,000 for a complete car application.
  2. DIY Nano-Ceramic Coating: The DIY Nano-Ceramic Coating is a similar product but has been redeveloped for consumer applications. This product requires slightly less preparation, cures quicker, and is easier to install; making it an honest do-it-yourself car care solution. A DIY Ceramic Coating can last from 2 to 5 years, depending on the product quality, preparation work, paint clear coat condition, and the installation. The cost ranges from $30 to $150 depending on the size of the vehicle and quality of the product.
Shiny black car

Pros and Cons of Using Ceramic Coatings

The main advantage that ceramic coatings offer (whether it’s professionally installed or a DIY Nano-Ceramic Coating) is the continual shine and luster it produces. It’s also the best car care product for enhanced hydrophobic properties (meaning it repels water and dirt – keeping the vehicle cleaner for extended periods). However, there are some pros and cons to consider before investing in this type of product.

Here are the advantages of ceramic coating:

  • DIY Ceramic Coatings are easier to apply than professional grade products – and produce similar results.
  • ​They offer exceptional hydrophobic protection.
  • Superior scratch protection, and protection against contaminants, including human excretion.
  • ​Maintains an elegant shine – without having to wax or polish frequently.
  • ​Acts like a non-stick cooking pan – as it’s highly heat resistant and reduces sticking of materials including bug splatters and bird droppings.
  • ​Easier to clean the vehicle​ and maintain the vehicle’s paint surface.
  • Can last up to 5 years.

And, a few disadvantages:

  • ​Inconsistency of DIY ceramic coating kits quality. Some are made from inferior materials and low quartz percentage.
  • ​Professionally installed ceramic coatings are a significant financial investment.
  • ​It requires some significant prep work for superior results.  

The Smarter Investment – Car Waxing vs PPF vs Ceramic Coating

Ultimately, like any other consumer purchase, you’ll have to determine which paint protection product is best for your individual application. When you ask most consumers about their number one objection – it usually breaks down to cost.

Driving in a red shiny car

So – let’s assign a true cost and investment amount of each type of product.

  • Car Wax & Polish: Requires application every six weeks, or (8) times per year. The average price for each application is $100. When you multiply $100 times 8 times per year, your COST is $800 per year. Factor that most vehicle owners keep their cars for up to 6 years, and your total estimated investment is $4,200 for the life of the vehicle.
  • Paint Sealants: Requires application every six months. The average price for each service is $200 or $400 per year. Multiply the cost per year times six years, and your total estimated investment is $2,400.
  • PPF & Vinyl: Is a one-time installation, costing anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 – and can last the lifespan of your vehicle.Total estimated investment is roughly $1,500 to $3,000.
  • Professionally Installed Ceramic Coatings: Similar to PPF and Vinyl as it’s a one-time application, however, if you keep the vehicle for six years or longer, a second service may be needed. The average price is similar to PPF and Vinyl – so we’ll assume the total estimated investment would range from $2,000 to $6,000 for two applications in six years.
  • DIY Nano Ceramic Coating: Is a do-it-yourself version of the professional ceramic coating. Is a one-time installation that can last between two to five years. The average price ranges from $30 to $150 per vehicle. Assuming you require two coatings or applications in six years, your total estimated investment would range from $60 to $300.


The important item to remember is that each of the car paint care products listed above has their own benefits. Some are easier to apply, and others last longer and produce a superior shine. The key is to complete due diligence to find the solution that make sense to you, that fits within your budget, and is convenient for you.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.