By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare.com
Many automotive ceramic coating manufacturers feature claims of 8H, 9H, or even 10H Surface Hardness. Guess what—it’s all a pile of horse manure.
Most anyone, from vehicle owners seeking ceramic coating services, to detailing business owners, have come across advertised hardness (xH) ratings from automotive coating manufacturers.
Applied coating hardness marketing claims, both directly stated or heavily implied, have steadily gained frequency in the past 5-8 years. This is partially due to the increasing popularity and influence of short style copy, hashtags, and the formats of many popular social media platforms.
The applied hardness values of 8H, 9H, or 10H for ceramic coatings are not true, nor have they ever been.
How False Ceramic Coating Applied ‘Hardness’ Values Became Perceived ‘Reality’
At this point you may be wondering, “if these claims about ceramic coating hardness are false, then why does most of the auto detailing industry use and support these claims?“
The answer is a single word: Marketing.
On YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat OVER oversaturation is normalcy.
Additionally, in recent years, many advertising campaigns, and even individual online personas/reputations have built and positioned their ‘credibility’, ‘authority’ and ‘professional chops’ through social media posting and promotions.
The strategy relies on a relentless barrage of campaigns utilizing: catch phrases, slogans, hashtags, or ‘cool image promotion’ rather than offering actual facts, actionable content, and valuable information.
Essentially these methods are nothing more than attrition based ‘marketing strategies’. At the heart of the strategy is the belief:
If a phrase, slogan, or mantra is repeated enough–over a long enough timeline–eventually people will start to accept it as fact.
This is the basis of indoctrination through repetition. And it is eerily similar to the psychological concept called the “illusion of truth effect.”
People may recognize this concept from 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. Often, these claims are then reapplied as ‘scientific fact’ or ‘proof’ in other areas where they hold little to no weight.
Often the general public is skeptical 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 automotive ceramic coating absolute 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 traveling circus or carnival tricks, intended to quickly grab attention and generate a crowd. Yet, when the audience gathers to examine the attraction 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 simply marketing tools, used to perpetuate hype in hopes of boosting sales. And they have been effective as selling tools.
The problem is — Many of the false claims are now frequently believed, and marketed as fact!
The goal of this article is to:
- Explore simple information to educate detailers and the public how applied automotive ceramic coatings function to enhance paint.
- Demonstrate the true nature of automotive surfaces vs. the bogus marketing claims surrounding the claimed, or implied, absolute ceramic coating hardness values–using known detailing information and experiences.
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.
Considering a Ceramic Coating for Your Vehicle or Detailing Business?
If YES, then PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE BEFORE YOU DECIDE.
Because basing your decision on automotive coating manufacturer claims of absolute hardness ratings, and their associated protection, is a very dangerous proposition. And, its essentially totally false information.
If you want more information–read on. Don’t worry simple info and explanations will follow, so prior knowledge isn’t necessary.
Contextual Explanation of Substrate Hardness
A Substrate is defined as either the base material something is made from, or the material that something attaches to.
Within auto detailing, substrates for ceramic coating applications are mostly automotive clear coats (paint) and variations of exterior plastics.
To understand how substrate hardness works, let’s examine an example outside of detailing; construction. Let’s dive into how substrates play a critical role that is the basis for entire construction projects.
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?
- 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 to the inconsistent sandy land base. So any major trauma, or shift to a portion of the unstable earth–either directly beneath or immediately adjacent to reinforced areas–could possibly jeopardize any or all man made reinforcement?
The above Concept of Foundational Strength of Substrate seems logical and obvious when comparing the hardness of two vastly different land types to build a home on.
So why is this concept not as equally understood when comparing the vastly different starting strengths of Automotive Paint Systems (substrates) for Ceramic Coating Applications?
Because coating manufacturers don’t want to talk about the realities surrounding the vastly different physical characteristics of the many different automotive paint systems. Instead, they want to create the illusion that their product will give universal benefits and physical improvements to ALL paint system applications.
However, the reality is, automotive paint formulas (systems) have a very diverse spectrum of traits and characteristics just like exterior surfaces of homes.
A home in need of an exterior paint job needs to take the substrate into consideration for the a) type of paint to use and b) the method of painting used to effectively cover and protect the surface. The needs of wood, stucco, vinyl siding, synthetic stone, or brick are all drastically different.
The same is true of automotive paint systems. A high-solids ceramic clear coat from either Mercedes or Audi have completely different chemical composition and characteristics as opposed to GM or Tesla non metallic paint.
Therefore, to claim that a single coating formulation should be used and will offer the same benefits for all exterior paint systems and plastics is as ridiculous as a house painter who only uses one type of paint for both the interior and exterior.
Ceramic Coatings, applied to vehicle surfaces, DO NOT REPLACE the physical characteristics of substrates (mainly polyurethane clear coat paint) they adhere to.
True cross-linking coating chemistry, via covalent bonding, adheres to a substrate working together in harmony with the native characteristics of its 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 standard cotton t-shirt that’s bulletproof from handguns. It wouldn’t matter if it was constructed 2 inches or two feet thick.
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 easily 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:
Keeping the Cotton vs. Kevlar t-shirt analogy in mind…
QUESTION 1: How can a single automotive ceramic coating formulation transform ALL different paint systems—with greatly varying starting physical characteristics— to the same “X” hardness levels?
Easy: It cannot.
QUESTION 2: How can a ceramic coating manufacturer honestly claim “X” hardness levels on all current or past formulations of automotive paint?
Again, they cannot.
And proving these hyped up marketing claims, would be a near impossible task for ceramic coating manufacturers.
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 globally, 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 it would be incredibly expensive.
The company would have so much time, money, and dedicated labor tied up into testing that no financial institution, even one as big as Amazon, would ever green light such a test…due to the extreme cost.
Imagine the gigantic logistical challenge of trying to track down ALL different paint systems (OEM + Refinish Industries) developed for all vehicle manufacturers in North America alone. Then, include the rest of the world.
So yea, logistically alone, the task would seem near impossible to complete.
YET several automotive ceramic coating manufacturers–many of which sell their products globally–use these cluster bomb like marketing tactics. They market, to the general public and to the detailing industry, hardness claims as high as 8H, 9H or 10H achieved by their installed product. All of which factual un-biased scientific testing and data CANNOT PROVE.
WHY Ceramic Coating Claims of 8H, 9H, & 10H Hardness 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 pain of super ‘soft’ towel marring paint will understand the following statement:
Coatings only enhance surface hardness, offering limited resistance to fiction. They are NOT bulletproof barriers 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 Automotive Ceramic Coating Companies Claim Absolute Hardness Values to Applied Surfaces?
It’s simple, manufacturers pass product spec sheets onto marketing departments.
Marketers generally don’t know much conceptually or scientifically about products or auto detailing for that matter. A marketer’s single objective is to position products to be: understood, relatable, and desired by the target audiences or industry for immediate purchase. Typically, they use simplistic product details and bullet points to appeal to consumer wants, aspirations, and pain points.
There is often a huge disconnect between the realistic functionality of a product when speaking to a scientist vs. speaking to a marketer. When marketing campaigns for new products debut, the advertised functions, benefits, and realities of the product may greatly differ from the real life results. Often, other departments within the company view this advertisement wording as harmless ‘marketing speak.‘
It’s currently the second decade of the 21st century, so obviously the general public understands that marketing speak isn’t reality — or do they?
Here’s the rub. There really isn’t a mechanism, other than potential legal concerns or consequences, to prevent companies from claiming anything they want about products they market. Generally, company marketing agendas and beliefs are not publicly altered until false information or misleading claims are widely and publicly accepted or proven as false or misleading.
Sadly, some automotive coating companies use these false marketing claims and tactics. They do so because of the lack of knowledge of automotive paint within the general public and within the dealing industry.
Due to this missing 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 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 fully developed campaigns to market and sell 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, and the regulations that followed for marketing to the general 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 applied hardness value’ 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 Spaghetti Western because these marketing tactics are often achieved in a “wild-west-free-for-all” style.
HOW Ceramic Coating Companies Could Accurately Prove Applied 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 fully cure.
- D) COMPARE & DISPLAY a chart of all the coatings tested, displaying:
Starting Hardness Values of Virgin Paint Surfaces
The Hardness Values of the Surfaces Post Coating Application
By themselves, the raw displayed data of the original paint ‘hardness’ values 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 that 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. So, in a contemporary playing field of smoke and mirrors, 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 Potential Problems for Detailers Who Reinforce & Market False Ceramic Coating Product Claims
To conclude the article, it’s important to understand the dangers auto detailers face by perpetuating misleading ceramic coating marketing campaigns. False claims and information, even those born directly from manufacturers, are serious. They 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 they 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 ceramic coating 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 over 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 over a long period of time.
2) BUSINESS LIABILITY FOR FALSE ADVERTISING
It’s true, many detailing businesses simply follow the lead and repeat the manufacturer claims of a coating’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 originally 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 jobs when a “fix it job” of unsatisfied client vehicle is taking up space in the shop.
3) A NEGATIVE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF CERAMIC COATING TECHNOLOGY
Ultimately, the worst victims of false automotive ceramic coating marketing claims are vehicle owners–the general public.
Vehicle Owners are often sold on many outlandish and wild claims of extreme protection from absolute coating hardness values. Over time they find out that real world conditions not as kind to treated vehicle surfaces as many coating marketing information and 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 their negative experiences or beliefs on to their friends, family, or to other vehicle enthusiasts. Over time, 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. But those most affected are detailing businesses those within the immediate geographic areas of a few burned and vocal customers–since people tend to have the most influence over other local people.
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 clear coat substrate they adhere to.
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 automotive ceramic coatings when applied to paint: they work to enhance hardness, but their ultimate enhancement capabilities have limitations– completely dependent on the paint’s original characteristics.
“ALWAYS Keep Learning to Strengthen Your Passion & Your Business.”
© Christopher Brown – OCDCarCare Los Angeles
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