Waxes and Sealants and Coatings, oh my!

Chicago Auto Pros

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Feb 16, 2016
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Glenview, IL / Glen Ellyn, IL
Protecting your vehicle’s finish is the single most important maintenance task to protect your investment. There are several ways to protect a vehicle’s finish, each with varying degrees of cost, performance and quality. Protectants commonly fall into three broad categories and since we get a lot of questions about them we will take some time here to explain the differences.

WAX (2-3 month of protection)
It’s been said that the first thing primitive man did after he invented the wheel was to make another one and then race it. I suspect the second thing he did was wax it! Wax has been around since the early days of automotive finishes. It’s still the choice of many enthusiasts who grew up using it and like the warm gloss.

Carnauba Wax from Brazil is by far the most durable of the natural waxes. The more carnauba in a product the better it will protect. Unfortunately, even the best wax is not that durable. Wax sits on top of the paint as opposed to bonding with it at a molecular level. Wax has a low melting point which means it can get tacky on a hot day and will not stand up to most detergents, especially the ones used in automatic car washes.
Wax is recommended for enthusiasts who enjoy the process of waxing, older vehicles without clear coat finishes and occasional-use vehicles.

SEALANTS (up to 6 months of Protection)
Paint sealants evolved with the advent of clear coat finishes in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They are made of a polymer (plastic) that bonds with the clear coat forming a strong bond that is very durable, can withstand high-heat and is resistant to chemical detergents.

They are commonly applied in paste form like a wax or, more recently, as liquids that can be sprayed-on and wiped-off after washing. You can even get reasonable protection and shine from online protectants commonly used at car washes for just a few dollars and without requiring any time! This makes them a great choice as a low cost, easy to apply protectant for most consumers. The spray on ones are generally less durable than the paste applications. Expect a few months up to six months of protection for your vehicle, depending on use.

COATINGS (2 + years of protection)

The most recent development in paint protection are products commonly referred to as glass coatings or ceramic coatings. They are made from materials that are more durable than the polymers found in sealants giving them very long-lasting protection. They cost more than other protectants and are often difficult to apply or only available from authorized installers.
In addition to forming a very strong bond with the clear coat finish on most automobiles, a coating is generally much thicker than a wax or sealant, creating a sacrificial layer that can absorb damage and better protect the paint underneath. The thickness gives it a great depth of gloss that’s hard to achieve with other products. Most coatings will easily give years of protection when properly applied and can also be polished to improve their shine without impacting their effectiveness.

A common misconception is that coatings are scratch-proof. While they are often more durable than most clear coats, they can still scratch. Be sure to use good washing techniques to maintain the gloss of your paint finish.
A coating is recommended for enthusiasts who insist on the best quality finish for their vehicle or the consumer who wants an easy, one-time application that will protect their investment for years. Coatings are especially cost-effective when compared with the time and money associated with frequent re-applications required by waxes.


Please go back to eating crayons
Aug 4, 2007
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Cedar Lake, IN
Great little write up. I am a huge detail freak and I am always looking for something new to try and I want to use a coating on my car this spring.

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