Lets face it, ceramic coatings can be on the expensive side and can take multiple days to complete the process and ensure your vehicle looks great and everything has bonded properly. To the uninitiated this may leave you wondering what exactly takes place and why it takes so long, and that's exactly what we are going to dive into for you today so you are armed with the information necessary to understand the entire process from start to finish.
Step 1: Clean and decontaminate the surface. Est time 1-2 hours
This first step while simple is extremely important to ensuring the rest of the process goes smoothly. During this step your installer should start with a complete exterior wash in order to ensure your vehicle is clean and all loose dirt and debris has been removed from the surface. A good installer will use multiple chemicals during the cleaning process to help remove any leftover waxes or sealants from the surface and leverage those chemicals to remove as much dirt as possible before doing the “contact” portion of the wash, this ensures that the wash process doesn’t add any new swirls or marring. Once the vehicle has been washed it isn’t really clean yet, there will still be a ton of contamination within the paint that needs to be removed.
Decontamination is a 2 part process; chemical and mechanical decontamination. For chemical decontamination we generally use 3 chemicals; a water spot remover we also call this our acid wash stage, this will remove any mineral deposits and hard water. Chemical number two is a bug and tar remover, as the name implies this is to remove any leftover bug guts and road tar. Lastly we use an iron remover to remove any brake dust or any other ferrous material that may be embedded into the paint. For the mechanical decontamination phase we use a clay bar to remove any bits of contamination that may not have been removed by the chemicals we used earlier. Now that everything is washed and decontaminated the car will be thoroughly dried with both a high quality drying towel as well as compressed air to ensure no water is trapped in those hard to reach cracks and crevices.
Step 2: Paint Correction. Est time 6-16 hours
Now that everything is clean, decontaminated and dried we can begin the longest part of the process; paint correction. The paint correction process also has the most variability in time required depending on your needs as well as your vehicle's condition. Generally a paint correction is going to come in two flavors, either a single stage correction or a multi stage correction. While the general idea remains the same between these two is the same the end result is very, very different. A single stage correction generally requires far less time as your installer is using a single polishing liquid and a single pad to remove as many defects as possible in a single pass. A single stage correction generally ranges from 6-8 hours of labor by itself.
A multi stage correction is going to be by far more in depth than a single stage correction offering the absolute best boost in gloss and quality but taking a significantly larger amount of work to do. As opposed to using a single liquid, pad, and pass to remove as much as possible a multi stage process uses a dedicated compound and pad to cut out and remove as many defects as possible and a second stage to refine the paint and ensure that the surface looks as flat and glassy as possible. You can expect a multi stage paint correction to take anywhere from 12-16 hours on its own and with this increase in time comes a massive increase in quality.
Step 3: Final Inspection and Surface Prep. Est time 1-2 hours
So far we have cleaned and corrected your paint and spent anywhere from 7-18 hours, now it's time to get the surface prepared to accept your ceramic coating of choice. We are almost ready to apply the coating but if we don't ensure the paint is perfectly clean that coating is completely, and utterly useless. “So what's next?” you may ask; well simply put we are going to use an isopropyl alcohol solution to remove any last little bits of oils from fingers, or polishes, and make sure we have a dust free surface. Then before we move forward we want to do one last inspection using special color matching flashlights as well as natural sunlight to make 100% sure the desired level of correction has been achieved so we can ensure quality in each and every coating put out. Lastly we put the vehicle back inside and do one last wipe down with that isopropyl alcohol solution just to be sure there is no possibility of anything inhibiting the surface.
Step 4: Apply the Coating. Est time 1-2 hours
Okay, after a long 8-20 hours of work your car is finally ready to have the coating applied. Generally we are going to move around the car working on an 18in x 18in section at a time ensuring proper coverage over the entirety of your vehicle’s surface. Each section only takes about 2 minutes but even on a small vehicle like a miata we are breaking it up into roughly 30-35 sections to ensure complete and proper coverage.
Step 5: Let the Ceramic Coating Cure. Time 4 hours
This is a step that will change from installer to installer depending on their process as well as the coating they use. Some installers may not even keep the coating to cure and will allow you to take the car home as soon as it's been completely placed while others will require that the coating cures based on manufacturer recommendations. For us at A to Z we follow manufacturer recommendations to allow the coating to cure for at least 4 hours prior to it being safe to get wet and hit the road.
Step 6: Delivery
Now its probably been about 2-3 working days and you're ready to pick up and enjoy your newly ceramic coated vehicle and now it is finally ready. Most installers will want to do a walk around of the vehicle with you to make sure that you are 100% happy before you take the keys and leave. All thats left to do is take your vehicle home and enjoy the shine and protection that ceramic coating left you with.