By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 28 May 2019
Many automotive ceramic coating manufacturers feature claims of 7H, 8H, 9H, or even 10H Surface Hardness. Guess what—it’s all a pile of horse manure.
Most anyone, from owners looking for ceramic coating vehicle services, to detailing business owners, have come across advertised hardness (xH) ratings from automotive coating manufacturers.
Installed coating hardness claims have steadily gained frequency in the past 5-8 years. This is partially due to the increasing popularity and influence of short style copy on popular social media platforms. On YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat OVER oversaturation is normalcy. Additionally, in recent years, many virtual advertising campaigns, and even some individual’s online persona or ‘credibility’, seem to be based more on a war of attrition of words and slogans than on valuable quantifying and qualifying factors.
Essentially these attrition based ‘marketing strategies’ or ‘authority building techniques’ boil down to this belief:
Repeat a phrase, slogan, or mantra enough times–over a long enough span of time–and eventually people will start to accept it as fact.
This is the basis of indoctrination through repetition. And it is errily similar to the psychological concept called the “illusion of truth effect.” Most people are familiar with this concept via the infamous phrase from the 20th century; “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”
It is WIDELY ACCEPTED that marketing “Statistics” and/or “Claims” are often narrow slivers of information ripped completely out of context. Additionally, these claims are deconstructed and then reapplied as ‘scientific fact or proof’ into other areas where they hold little to no weight. The general public is wise to the game when too many statistics are quoted in rapid fire succession to validate statements or arguments. Therefore, it shouldn’t shock anyone when unsupported manufacturer marketing campaigns, centered around ceramic coating absolute surface hardness values (e.g. “xH”, “9H”,”10H”), are challenged as factually hollow and false.
This article will not delve into the pointless use of the ‘pencil hardness’ test. Or even of the flawed and outright blatant misrepresentation of the the Mohs’ hardness (H) scale. Why? Because it doesn’t take a PhD material scientist to UNDERSTAND that no automotive ceramic coating is anywhere near as hard as a diamond.
Neither the pencil test, nor the Mohs’ Scale, have any bearing in measuring ceramic coating ‘hardness’ as applied to vehicle paint systems. They are merely carnival tricks, intended to quickly grab attention and generate a crowd. But, when the crowd draws in and examines things up close they realize there isn’t any actual substance to the commotion. Both these ‘tests’, or their associated claims, are no more useful or truthful than the endless claims spouted by greasy used-car salesmen. These outright false and completely misleading ‘scientific tests’ are no more than marketing tools to perpetuate false information.
The goal of this article is to explore simple and quantifiable information and reasoning to understand applied ceramic coating hardness values. These include known detailing experiences that will illustrate the true nature of automotive surfaces vs the bogus marketing claims surrounding the claimed or implied absolute ceramic coating surface hardness values. There will be no grey-area claims, smoke and mirrors, or slight of hand to distract attention from the topic at hand. And definitely no products will be mentioned by name or endorsed to allow bias to creep into the discussion.
WARNING: Are you considering ceramic a coating purchase for your vehicle or detailing business? If so, then PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE BEFORE YOU DECIDE. Because partially basing that decision on manufacturer claims of a hardness rating, and its associated protection, is a very dangerous proposition. Don’t worry simple and logical explanations will follow, so prior knowledge isn’t necessary.
Contextual Explanation of Substrate Hardness
Generally, the following statement about the ‘Concept of Foundational Strength of Substrates’ would seem unanimously true and universal:
“If building a house on the beach, the foundational structure – no matter how sturdily reinforced with pilings or substructures – could NEVER be as strong as the starting point of a home built on land base of solid bedrock.”
So, WHY would most people find this statement completely obvious and agreeable? Because…
- The density of bedrock (formed over thousands/millions of years) cannot effectively be recreated by man in a year or so?
- No matter what is done to the sandy, inconsistent, and uneven earth, its density and hardness may never compare to solid bedrock?
- Any and all reinforcement efforts would only act as a Band-Aid onto the inconsistent sandy land base. So any major trauma, or shift to a portion of the unstable earth–either beneath or immediately adjacent to the reinforced areas–could possibly jeopardize any or all gained strength through the man made engineered reinforcements areas?
The above Concept of Foundational Strength of Substrate seems logical and obvious when comparing the hardness of two vastly different land types to possibly build a home on. So why is this concept not as equally understandable and relatable when comparing the vastly different starting strengths of Automotive Paint Substrates for Ceramic Coating application?
Ceramic Coatings, applied to vehicle surfaces, DO NOT REPLACE the physical characteristics of substrates (mainly polyurethane paint) they adhere to. True cross-linking coating chemistry, attached via covalent bonding, adheres to a substrate working together in symbiosis with the substrate. Ceramic Coatings ONLY amplify or enhance the pre-existing physical characteristics of the substrate.
* Within the Context of Automotive Paint: Ceramic Coatings cannot replace the base characteristics (especially ‘hardness’) of the substrate they bond to—NO MATTER the Manufacturer’s Claimed Hardness Rating of a Coating.
Let’s examine this issue using another logical non-detailing analogy:
With current scientific technology, it is impossible for scientists to create a cotton t-shirt that’s bulletproof from handguns– no matter how thick it’s constructed. The cotton’s physical characteristics and the final material’s weave construction are not strong enough to withstand the force of a bullet fired at a modest rate of ~400-600meters/second.
Now, if scientists constructed a t-shirt of the same dimensions and thickness, using the super strong material and weave of Kevlar, they could make a t-shirt capable of withstanding handgun fire. Why is this? Because the unique physical characteristics of the Kevlar material make it possible.
. . . Now back to our regularly scheduled ceramic coating program:
With the above Cotton vs. Kevlar t-shirt analogy in mind… How can a single ceramic coating formulation transform ALL different paint systems—with greatly independent and varying physical characteristics— to the same “X” hardness levels?
Easy: It cannot.
Furthermore, how can a manufacturer honestly claim “X” hardness levels on all current or past formulations of automotive paint?
Again, they cannot. And proving so, from manufacturers who make these sweeping claims, would be an impossibly monumental task.
Imagine the cost of testing and formulating one coating, to obtain 8H, 9H or 10H (advertised or implied) hardness for use on EVERY automotive paint system, made in the last 10 years alone. That task would be so cost and time intensive that the company could never profitably fund the development. Furthermore, if a company honestly attempted to develop ONE single coating formulation to solve all automotive surface woes, they would have so much equity dumped into testing that no financial institution, even one as big as Amazon, would never allow such as test to happen due to the extreme cost. Next, examine the monumental task of trying to track down ALL different paint systems (OEM + Refinish Industries) developed for vehicle manufacturers in North America Alone. After that, add the rest of the world. Yea, logistically alone the task would seem near impossible to complete.
YET several ceramic coating manufacturers use cluster bomb like marketing tactics to convince the industry and general public of hardness claims as high as 9H or 10H achieved by their product — which factual scientific tests and data CANNOT PROVE.
HOW Coatings Claims of 8H, 9H, & 10H are False
Let’s expand upon the analogy used earlier of building a house on the sandy beach vs. building on a solid slab of bedrock. This will help illustrate to detailers how claimed absolute ceramic coatings hardness values are false.
For this example:
The Unstable Beach Land represents a low solids Japanese clear coat: say Lexus Jet Black.
The Solid Bedrock Land represents a high solids ceramic clear coat: say Mercedes Metallic Blue
No matter what ceramic coating applied to the low solids jet black Lexus paint, its final surface hardness characteristics will NEVER reach the starting point of the uncoated high solids ceramic Mercedes Paint. Just as a sandy beach will never be as stable as bedrock land to build a house on.
Detailers who have suffered the pains of super ‘soft’ towel marring paint will understand the following statement:
Coatings only enhance surface hardness, offering enhanced resistance to fiction. They are NOT a bulletproof barrier of protection.
Therefore, It’s pretty safe to say that almost NO EXPERIENCED DETAILER ALIVE would EVER Claim that a super ‘soft’ towel marring paint could be transformed (with a coating application) into a rock hard, difficult to polish, high-solids Mercedes ceramic paint.
However, coating manufacturers regularly state or imply that using their coatings will transform surface hardness into 7H, 8H, 9H, or even 10H on a daily basis!
Are you starting to see the trouble with marketing techniques that claim absolute surface hardness values on ALL paint systems and substrates yet?
WHY Do Some Coating Manufacturers Claim Absolute Hardness Values to Applied Surfaces?
It’s easy, manufacturers pass info onto marketing departments. Marketers generally don’t know much conceptually or scientifically about the product. Their job is to make products, understood, relatable, and wanted by the target audience. So they use product simplistic bullet points to exploit consumer wants and pain points.
There is often a huge disconnect between the functionality of a product when speaking to the scientist as opposed to a marketer. So, when marketing campaigns begin, often the rest of the manufacturing company views advertisement wording as harmless ‘marketing speak.‘
It’s currently 2019, so obviously the general public knows marketing speak isn’t reality — or do they?
Here’s the rub. There really isn’t a mechanism, other than legal concerns, to prevent companies from claiming anything they want. Generally, company agendas and beliefs are not publicly altered until false information or misleading claims are widely and publicly proven false.
Sadly, some coating companies are using these false marketing claims and tactics based on the lack of collective common knowledge of automotive paint within the dealing industry. Due to this missing industry knowledge, select companies have taken the opportunity to flood the market with endless marketing campaigns about claimed hardness ratings of their products. These unrelenting campaigns have taken place over many many years. So, what once started off as a marketing strategy has morphed into a ‘perceived reality’ for a large majority of the detailing culture and by direct influence—the general public.
Remember the “illusion of truth” effect, mentioned at the start of the article?
Here’s the gist of it: Repeat a phrase, belief, or slogan enough times, for long enough span of time, and it will become the accepted norm. THIS is the golden goose or ideal that all marketing slogans and campaigns chase over years or decades. It’s War of Attrition Marketing at its finest.
Cigarette manufacturers practiced very similar strategies for many years in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and into the early 60’s. Many companies used a variety of health and weight loss claims and full campaigns to market cigarettes. This went on for decades until Surgeon General Luther Terry published the first “Smoking and Health Report” In 1964. This first public safety report (and 32 subsequent reports over the past 50+ years) prompted warning label regulations to cigarettes and forever changed how they could be marketed to the public. Before this information was distributed to the public, cigarette companies were essentially free to market their products however they saw fit—even if they knew the info was false or misleading.
The current marketing history of automotive and marine ceramic coatings is on a similar trajectory as the cigarette industry of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Currently the public, including much of the detailing industry, is unaware of how coatings and automotive paint systems work on a scientific level. Therefore, companies exploit this market aspect and advertise many coatings with fixed hardness ratings. These advertising campaigns either explicitly mention, or strongly suggest, a coating’s ‘fixed hardness rating’ as a solve-all solution to vehicle surfaces.
The countless ways this advertising affects, misleads, or outright fools the detailing industry, and therefore the mass public perception, could be the subject of another dedicated article. And, frankly it should be written in the narrative of a Clint Eastwood or Spaghetti Western because these marketing tactics are often achieved in a “wild-west-free-for-all” style.
HOW Companies Could Accurately Portray Coating Hardness Gains
IF Ceramic Coating Manufacturers Wanted to ACCURATELY Report and Market the ACTUAL hardness gains of their products — WHEN APPLIED TO SURFACES — they could EASILY do so.
Before suggesting a fair test. Let’s first address WHO should perform the test while recording and reporting the results. In order to have a true scientific test, it should go without saying that such a test should be conducted by a well known independent third party with zero ties to the automotive industry. This would not allow any bias to creep into the process anywhere along the way.
A FAIR Applied Ceramic Coating Hardness Test for Manufacturers:
* * Select a few Widely KNOWN low or medium solids ‘Soft’ to ‘Agreeable’ Clear Coats. For example: Lexus jet black, GM jet black, Honda dark metallic blue, and Hyundai red metallic clear coats.
- A) Document the hardness of the virgin clear coat substrates on their own.
- B) Apply ONE LAYER of each of coating in the test and allow them to fully cure.
This would include a pre-established curing time frame that would allow all coatings within the test to reach FULL crosslink density. Because even after IR curing, most all coatings with varying chemistry types, require additional time to fully outgas before they are fully stable.
- C) Document the surface hardness values of the substrates after applied coatings have fully cured.
- D) COMPARE & DISPLAY the difference, in a chart of all the coatings tested, between:
Starting Hardness Values of Virgin Paint Surfaces
The Hardness Values of the Surfaces Post Coating Application
The empirical data of the original paint ‘hardness’ values alone would absolutely legitimize this test. Experienced detailers would instantly know which of the tested paint systems had tendencies toward being ‘soft’ and difficult to polish or agreeable to work with.
Secondly, the ‘hardness’ data of the coatings, once applied and fully cured, would show the true nature of the enhancement capability of each coating formulation. Of course the ‘softer’ the paint substrate at the onset, the more difficulty a coating would have toward improved hardness gains. Just as it is much more difficult to instantly improve the hardness of a stick of butter, left out overnight, than it is a soft piece of wood from the hardware store.
What would prove most interesting would be final values of “xH” ratings of paint systems after this controlled application, curing, and testing of coatings. It would prove almost impossible to find soft to agreeable clear coats that could be transformed into 7H with a single layer coating application… let alone 8-10H values.
The sad fact is, coating marketing departments don’t wanna play fair and show real data, as the above test would demonstrate. In today’s ‘created persona’ online world, often times perception is reality. And if not; the illusion of positive perception is reality — at least for a time. On this playing field, companies want to leverage any tactics they can to get ahead of competition in the marketplace. INCLUDING willingly marketing false data about the stated or implied hardness values gained from surface application of their products.
The Pitfalls of Reinforcing & Marketing False Coating Product Claims
To wind down the article, it’s important to understand the dangers of perpetuating misleading ceramic coating marketing campaigns. False claims, even those born directly from manufacturers, are serious and carry a huge potential liability to negatively impact both individual detailing businesses and the automotive detailing industry as a whole.
The following topics represent the tip of the iceberg of a larger discussion that needs to occur within the detailing community about ceramic coating hardness marketing:
1) DETAILER BUSINESS INTEGRITY & REPUTATION
Many detailers are unaware of the deep science behind automotive paint and have no way to validate coating manufacturer marketing claims of absolute coating hardness values. Because of this, many detailers blindly pass on marketing info from manufacturers along to their clients as truth. This could potentially cause a very negative effect on a business over time. Because real world conditions (climate, nature, and care habits) have the potential to quickly show vehicle owners how actual product performance compares to the bill of marketing goods they we sold.
If enough unsatisfied and remorseful clients speak up; they can wreak havoc locally or over social media about a business. They could even negatively influence an industry toward an entire a geographic area or market. This negative impact can be especially unkind to a small business operation and its reputation if that business repeated the false marketing claims from a coating manufacturer.
2) BUSINESS LIABILITY FOR FALSE ADVERTISING
It’s true, many detailing businesses simply follow the lead and repeat the manufacturer claims of a product’s hardness and the associated benefits of that hardness when applied to automotive surfaces. The problem with this approach is that the actual liability for a product’s marketing claims falls on the business which physically sells and applies the product.
A business is legally responsible to ensure products they install meet the claims and terms used to sell that product to the consumer. Therefore, if real world performance of the coating does not live up to the marketing hype – the client’s first action will almost ALWAYS involve seeking out the detailing company who applied the product for a fix or for recourse. Many unsatisfied customer claims could, over time, cost the detailing business a great deal of money in the form of out of pocket labor and product expenses. Additionally, the detailing business misses out on revenue for new vehicle jobs while a vehicle is being fixed or redone.
3) A NEGATIVE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF CERAMIC COATING TECHNOLOGY
Ultimately, the worst victims of false ceramic coating marketing claims are the general public. Vehicle Owners are often sold on many outlandish and wild claims of extreme protection from absolute coating hardness values, only to find out that reality is not as kind to treated vehicle surfaces as the coating marketing campaigns portray.
In the end, the entire detailing industry also suffers from false coating hardness marketing claims because many regretful consumers feel burned by the hollow promises of a few manufacturers. This leaves these consumers with a skewed long-term negative view of ALL ceramic coatings. Unhappy consumers are extremely likely to pass these experiences or beliefs on to their friends, family, or to other vehicle enthusiasts. Therefore, unhappy and regretful customers negatively influence the public perception of coatings as a technology. This, in turn, slows down the influx of the detailing coating economy as a whole. This affects all detailers in the immediate regional area of a few burned customers, since people tend to most influence people close to them geographically.
Final Thoughts on Absolute Ceramic Coating Hardness Values
To Close… Let’s Revisit One Fact and One Analogy About Ceramic Coating Hardness:
Ceramic Coatings CANNOT fully replace the base characteristics of the substrate they bond to. Instead, Ceramic Coatings ONLY amplify or enhance the pre-existing physical characteristics (including ‘hardness’) of the substrate.
Support pilings or substructures could never make sandy beach land as stable to build a house on than land made up of solid bedrock. Instead, these substructures work to make the sandy beach land more stable than its original starting point. It’s the same with coatings applied to paint: they work to enhance hardness, but their ultimate enhancement capabilities have limitations based upon the paint’s chemical formulation.
Keep on Buffin’
© Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 2019
For more auto detailing and car care related topics please browse: OCDCarCare Los Angeles’s – Auto Detailing Article Archive
His passion & dedication to car care lead him to writing in-depth articles about detailing in order to share with the car enthusiast & detailing communities. This lead to detailing training courses designed to develop skills, confidence, and results, enabling detailers to increase quality, efficiency, and profitability.
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