, , ,

I have a lot going on and I don’t have a lot of time to wash my cars plus it’s just not really that interesting to me and i’d do a lousy job of it. I’d like the car to hold up well and not to have to worry so much if I haven’t kept up on washing it, or how I wash it or where. I did some research over the last week on what the long term options for protecting the outside of the car and it comes down to two main categories:

  1. Paint Sealant/Coating
  2. Paint Protection Film (PPF)

Paint Sealant/Coating

The leading product in this category appears to be Opti-coat pro. Its a permanent ceramic clear coat that goes over the paint. If applied by an auto dealer prior to delivery they provide a lifetime warranty on the coating. If its applied after delivery by a 3rd party you can pay for a 5 year warranty. Regardless of the warranty, the coating is permanent and doesn’t need to be re-applied. Once on, it has several benefits

OptiCoat has several advantages:

  • Makes the car easier to clean. Water beads right off, and a quick rinse will usually get rid of any dirt on the car.
  • It prevents damage to your car. When cured, OptiCoat has a Mohr hardness of 9 (most metals are hardness 6, cubic zirconia is 7, diamond is 10). It provides a lot of protection from road debris, dirt scratches, etc. Relevant to the Paint Protection Film piece below.
  • Keeps your paint pristine for as long as you own the car. No swirl marks from bad cleaning etc.
  • Provides that high gloss/just waxed look

It’s important that any imperfections in the paint etc are fixed before OptiCoat is applied since its not possible to fix them afterwards.

There are consumer (Opti-coat 2.0) and professional (Opti-coat pro/Opti-guard) versions of Opti-coat. Research strongly recommends that an experienced & certified installers be used. Pricing (up here in Massachusetts) on a fairly new car breaks down as follows:

  • Prep car for the coating. $150-$200. This cleans the paint up and preps it for Opti-coat. This can be very labor intensive. It can also vary depending on color and can be more if you’ve had your car longer before having it done.
  • Opti-Coat on all paint. $450. There appear to be different strategies for application — spraying versus hand application.
  • Opti-Coat on wheel faces ($100) or full wheels ($200-$250)
  • If you want the 5 year warranty, its an extra $100. But read the warranty and see if you’d follow the terms (I wouldn’t so its not for me).
  • The Opti guys offer other protection products and those are extras if you want them:
    • Opti-lens – prevents yellowing of headlights/tail lights. $75-$100.
    • Opti-glass – $100. Sort of like a more permanent version of Rain-X.

I’m considering getting everything except the full wheels so that comes in at about $850-$900. The prep/coating takes about 24 hours so plan on dropping off and picking up.

Paint Protection Film (PPF or Clear Bra)

This is essentially like a screen protector for your paint. Its plastic with special properties wrapping areas of your car. From my reading Xpel is the leading one right now. Tesla also offers this in what they call “Paint Armor”, but by all reports its a poor substitute for Xpel and roughly the same price. The main reason for PPF is to provide protection against stone chips. But a paint protection film will only protect the parts of your vehicle that are covered by the film. The film “self-heals” so a scratch or ding will be visible for a bit but will fade out given time. It won’t stop a true dent that can bend the underlying metal but can stop the chips and scratches and other things that happen.

You can pick which parts of your car get the treatment and they can use pre-cut sheets or full custom wrap. It is literally wrapping your car parts in plastic and when done right doesn’t show or peel or yellow etc. The main choice here (other than product) is how much of the car you get covered:

  • Partial front – not sure why anyone would do this but it covers part of the hood and fenders that get the most rock hits. It is less expensive but because it doesnt cover full body parts there is the possibility of seeing lines where the wrap starts/stops. This is about $750.
  • Full front – this is the full hood and front fenders/lenses and is about $1250.
  • Full car – this covers the entire car in plastic and prevents (some) against shopping cart dings, people keying the car etc. I didn’t price this out but from the forums its about $4,000 – $5,000.

I’ve put almost 200K miles on my MDX and i’ve never really noticed stone chips. I took a closer look and there are a few here and there but i’m not bugged by them. I also don’t like the idea of coating parts of the car in plastic, it sounds odd to me (and I don’t use a plastic film on my iOS devices either after much experimentation with them).

It is possible to do both the Opti-coat and the Xpel (there mixed signals on which you apply first) but i’m just going the Opti-coat route.

The professional detailers want you to bring the car in as soon as you take delivery to avoid any extra corrections that will be needed etc. I can’t see waiting months to get the car only to hand it off immediately to get the coating applied. I’m planning on driving it for a week or so and then taking it in.

I’ll provide an update in the future once i’ve had it done and my experience with it.