For any car owner, keeping a car's paint pristine is always a challenge. The go-to solution has always been the tried and tested application of automotive wax from day one of purchase. Periodic applications (sometimes frequent reapplication) of the same is needed to maintain the wax coat, as it is slowly removed via exposure to the elements.
Times are changing, however, and so has finishing and refinishing technology. Automotive paint nowadays is a bit different. Instead of piling layer upon layer of color pigment to produce a deep shine, a somewhat 'sacrificial' clear topcoat is now applied to give the paint luster. Wax, of course, is still the go-to, as is its frequent reapplication.
Recently, a newer solution has been making its mark on the auto scene. It's sold under many brand names, but is generally referred to as ceramic coating. This has been common since the '90s as a method of improving engine performance, but its application in paint protection is relatively new.
Like that used for enhancing engine efficiency, ceramic coatings are bonded to a substrate (in this case paint) on a microscopic level to protect it from the effects of its environment. In the case of car paint, this is constant pelting by minute dust at speed, exposure to smog, rain, bird droppings and the occasional scuffing against jeans or other objects.
The most common method of coating requires that the paint surface be cleaned and as free of contaminants as possible. This may require removal of old wax, claying, and the application of other cleaning agents. Application is via a microfiber applicator.
It is applied sparingly compared to traditional paste or liquid wax, with surfaces measuring 60cm x 60cm in size quoted as requiring only 10 drops or less of the coating. Using more isn't beneficial, and can possibly be detrimental as you may end up with an unnatural, uneven finish. It's also recommended that application of the coating be done indoors.
While the coating itself is only a few to several microns thick, every step that can be taken to ensure a better result is always welcome. Finishing up requires nothing more than wiping off the excess with a microfiber cloth and leaving the surfaces alone to cure for the next 24 hours for most brands. Afterwards, you will be left with a water-repelling hydrophobic surface that's much easier to clean, and keep clean. For most brands, the resulting finish is also typically rated 9H on the pencil hardness scale.
Some brands are manufactured for enthusiasts, while others are made for application by experienced and trained professionals. Expect the former to be more affordable—this may require periodic infrequent reapplication, too. The latter will cost more, with the outlet doing the application possibly being able to offer a warranty on the result as long as certain care procedures are followed. This will include periodic washings and removal of tree sap and other droppings as soon as possible.
In either case, just because your vehicle has undergone the process or treatment it doesn't mean you no longer need to dust, wash or remove bird droppings. You still do. The difference is that maintaining your paint will require less elbow grease.
Is it a good investment? Done right, by a reputable shop, you bet it is.