A few weeks ago, we talked about preparing your vehicle for summer, including protecting your paint job from the sun’s damaging rays (you can view that article here).  Let’s go into more specifics on two of the options we discussed – paint protection film and ceramic coatings.  Both options are invisible to the naked eye and protect your paint from UV damage, chemical stains and oxidation – but what are the differences between them and what is the better option for you?

Paint Protection Film

Paint protection film, PPF, is a clear urethane film that can be applied to any exterior painted surface.  You might hear some people refer to PPF as “helicopter tape”.  It was originally designed for military use by 3M during the Vietnam War to protect helicopter blades from damage caused by debris kicked up on takeoff and landings.  It was next used during Operation Desert Storm to protect helicopter blades and military vehicles from the harsh desert environment.  Once the war ended, 3M didn’t want their product to go to waste and started marketing it towards race car drivers to protect their vehicles.  Eventually, it made its way to the consumer market and quickly became one of the most common add-ons for new car purchases.

PPF will protect your vehicle from:

  • Chips and scratches
  • Bug splatters
  • Hard water spots
  • Chemical stains
  • Swirl marks
  • Oxidation
  • UV rays

The film can be self-healing, which means that some scratches will actually go away over time on their own, or with the help of heat.  In addition to cars, the film is used on motorcycles, airplanes, RVs, cell phones, screens and other electronics.  It is available in a variety of thicknesses, though 8 mil is the industry standard, and colors, depending on the brand you choose.

Ceramic Coating

The next step in vehicle finish protection, ceramic coatings hit the market in the early 2000’s.  These liquid polymers actually chemically bond to the surface of your paint and have a hydrophobic effect that repels water and other contaminants.  While it doesn’t protect your vehicle from chips, it will protect it from:



  • Minor scratches
  • Chemical stains
  • Chemical etch marks
  • Oxidation
  • UV rays

Ceramic coatings will enhance your vehicle’s finish and appearance, and can also be applied to older vehicles to restore them to their original shine and near-factory quality.

PPF vs. Ceramic Coatings

Both options will keep your vehicles looking newer longer and protect against chemicals, oxidation and UV rays.  It is worth noting that PPF is a more comprehensive form of vehicle protection. Thicker than ceramic coatings, PPF protects against chips and deeper scratches and has that self-healing property.  It also prevents swirl marks and hard water spots.  That said, PPF can have the opposite effect on your paint’s finish in that it can reduce your vehicle’s shine. Ceramic coating will increase luster and make your vehicle easier to clean.

One of the biggest differences between these two options is their lifespan.  Professionally installed ceramic coatings are permanent. PPF’s lifespan is 5-10 years and will need to be removed to make way for a new film installation.

While both options can be costly, paint protection film is more expensive, especially when you consider that it needs to be removed and reinstalled once it loses its effectiveness, yellows, or if there is major damage to the vehicle.  PPF can also damage the paint underneath when removed, which is something to consider when making your decision.  That said, PPF does offer a higher level of protection.

Make your Choice

What’s the best option?  Well, that’s entirely up to you.  It depends on your environment, your budget, and what is most important to you.  If you live in an area with a lot of dirt roads, you may prefer PPF to protect against chips and deeper scratches from debris kicked up at your vehicle. If you live in an area with a lot of rain, a ceramic coating may be your preferred form of protection.

It is worth noting that you don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other.  You can opt to have a ceramic coating installed on your vehicle under a layer or paint protection film for the ultimate in protection.

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