Is Dealer Applied Paint Protection Worth the Money?


Who wouldn’t want to keep their car looking like this?

When you buy a new vehicle from a dealership you’ll usually be offered a number of additional add-on products, and one of them is likely to be paint protection, but is dealer applied paint protection worth the money they charge you for it?

Paint protection is definitely worth having for a lot of buyers, but it’s certainly not worth the money some dealers will try and charge you for it. There are lots of different types and brands of paint protection around, and they all do some level of protecting the paintwork of a new car, but don’t be talked into paying too much for it.

  • What exactly is paint protection?
  • Different types of paint protection products
  • How much do dealers charge for applying paint protection?
  • What does it actually cost to buy and apply?
  • Can I buy the product and apply it myself?
  • Do you need dealer paint protection?

What exactly is paint protection?

Paint protection products do pretty much exactly what the name suggests, which is to protect your new vehicle’s paint from dirt and other contaminants that could mark it or fade the color. They do this with a coating that’s applied by the dealership to cover the paint, which prevents it from being attacked by things like tree sap and bird droppings. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a lot of sunshine throughout the year, some of these products claim to protect your paint color from fading.

There’s little doubt that paint protection can do a useful job in certain circumstances, but just how much protection it offers, and whether some of the claims made by those who manufacture and sell these products stand up to scrutiny is another matter entirely. Paint protection will not prevent stone chips and other forms of physical impact damage from damaging your bodywork, no matter what the salesperson tells you.

Different types of paint protection product   

There are currently four main types of paint protection being offered, which are

  • Wax
  • Synthetic sealants
  • Ceramic or glass coatings
  • Films

Wax

Wax is the oldest, and still one of the most common forms of paint protection, but it’s not the sort of thing we’re talking about when it comes to the paint protection products that can sometimes be a very expensive add-on when you buy a vehicle from a dealership.

Most of the waxes used for polishing vehicle bodywork come from palm trees, which produce the natural substance to protect their leaves. As you probably know, automotive wax products can be found everywhere that sells car stuff, and it can cost from as little as a few bucks to as much as $1,000 for a pot of high-end, bespoke wax.

The difference in price is normally governed by the percentage of carnauba the wax contains. Good quality waxes will start at around 70% and go up from there. The higher the amount of carnauba the wax contains, the more enduring the finish will be. However, even the most expensive waxes with the highest levels of carnauba only offer limited protection. A very hot summer day or a trip through a car wash can quite easily degrade any protection the wax offers.

These days wax is more often used for the impressive finish it gives a car’s paintwork, and it’s still the preferred choice for making cars in showrooms or at auto shows look their very best.

Synthetic paint sealants

The next step up from waxes is a synthetic paint sealant, which unlike wax, and as the name suggests, is a man-made substance developed in a laboratory. This is the kind of thing a dealership is likely to offer. A number of different base compounds are used by different manufacturers, with a polymer being the most common, although other substances such as Teflon are also used.

Because they are designed with protection as their main attribute, these synthetic products hold up a lot better than a wax finish will do. They have higher melting points than waxes, and they hold up better against UV rays and chemicals too.

When they were in their infancy, synthetic sealants could be difficult and therefore costly to apply, and they didn’t give the same kind of shiny, sparkling finish people like for their vehicles. But that’s not the case anymore. The technology has moved on significantly these days, and sealants can now come in spray form for easy application, and the protection they offer can last for up to six months before a new application is required.

Ceramic or glass coatings

Ceramic or glass coatings are the latest and greatest form of paint protection. They get their name from their chemical base as the majority of them are made from SI02 or (Silica Dioxide), which is the ceramic quartz found in glass. These types of protection products have a high solid content, which means when they are applied they create a kind of shell on your finish, instead of the light film on the surface you get from waxes or sealants. This shell actually creates a measurable barrier similar to the depth of the paint itself between the elements and your vehicles finish.

When it comes to holding up against road grime, tar, salt, de-icing agents, acids, bird droppings, tree sap, and the sun’s rays, ceramic or glass coatings are a big improvement over synthetic sealants. Because they form this barrier, these coatings take all the abuse instead of your vehicle’s paintwork. If properly applied when the vehicle is new and the paintwork is pristine, ceramic and glass coatings are the best form of paint protection and well worth considering.

However, although they are indeed very good, it’s not unusual for their effectiveness to be grossly overstated by some people. If you hear claims about them making your vehicle scratch proof, or that you’ll never have to wash your car again, don’t be taken in. They’re good, but they’re not that good.

In 2014, Nissan was testing an innovative nano-paint technology called Ultra-Ever Dry, which Nissan billed at the time as delivering the “world’s first self-cleaning car.” All these years later we still don’t have self-cleaning cars, and this type of technology was very different from anything your dealer has to offer you. Don’t be fooled the paint protection product a dealership is pushing is anything other than a ceramic or glass coating.

Films

Paint Protection Films, which can also be known as PPF or Clear Bra, are a thick film that’s applied to your vehicle primarily to protect against rock chips and impacts. In the early days, the adhesive that stuck the film to the paintwork used to yellow and harden, but today’s products have overcome those problems now. These films are good for high-impact areas like front bumpers, hoods and mirrors, but they can also be applied to the whole vehicle and are almost impossible to see.

It’s unlikely you will be offered this type of product by a dealer, and it’s often recommended that a further protection product is used to protect the film itself and prolong its life.

Don’t expect paint protection to work miracles

How much do dealers charge for applying paint protection?

When you read my articles I hope you’ll get the message that despite what a lot of people think, car dealers are not the rip-off merchants they’re often made out to be, but add-on products like paint protection are an area where caution needs to be used by customers.

I used to work for a seriously big dealer group who had franchises covering every brand from Ford and Chevy to Aston Martin and Ferrari. The brand I was working with at the time used to sell the paint protection product the group endorsed for around $250, although we would discount it considerably to get a sale if we needed to. One day, I was at a meeting that included some guys from Aston Martin dealerships and they told me they sold exactly the same product to their customers for more than a thousand dollars a time. You know why? It was simply because they could.

The price a dealership charges for a paint protection product will vary depending on the actual product they are using and how long it takes to apply. It stands to reason that it won’t take as long or as much product to protect a Chevy Spark as it will do to cover an Escalade or an F-250. I’d say anywhere between $100 and $300 is an acceptable price to pay for a really good ceramic or glass coating to be applied, especially if a fabric protection product is included as part of the package if you have a cloth interior.

What does it actually cost to buy and apply?

This is the bit you’re probably not going to like, but it’s something you probably ought to know. The paint protection product I used to sell that I mentioned earlier did include a fabric protection product as part of the package, but it still only cost the dealers about $35 to buy. To be fair, the group had hundreds of dealerships so it will have got a really sweet bulk-buy deal from the manufacturer.

It would then take the detailer around an hour to apply, possibly an hour and a half if it was a particularly big vehicle. Even so, it gives you an idea of how much profit there is to be had with this type of add-on sale and shows why dealers are so keen to sell these additional products.

Can I buy the product and apply it myself?

I kind of wish I could say these products are so specialized, and the application process is so strict that it needs to be carried out by trained professionals in a controlled environment, but I can’t. There are endless paint protection products you can buy from auto parts stores and online, and if you can polish a car then you can probably apply paint protection with no more than a little time, patience and effort.

One of many products available on the market

Do you need dealer paint protection?

If you park your vehicle under cover at home, you probably don’t need to even consider paying for a paint protection product, but if you park in the open near trees and birds it might be worth thinking about. Even so, you can protect your paintwork just as well by regular washing and by using a cheap wax product each time, but that can be time-consuming and a bit of a hassle.

Of course, you don’t have to bother at all if you don’t want to, and some people probably shouldn’t anyway. If you have a pickup truck as a working vehicle that’s often in harsh conditions like construction sites, it’s probably going to get a lot of abuse, so all the paint protection in the world isn’t going to help.

If you lease your vehicle and it’s going to go back to the lease company at the end of your agreement, a high-quality paint protection product could actually save you money. When the vehicle goes back it will be inspected in considerable detail. If there are problems with the paintwork, such as damage from tree sap or bird droppings, you’ll be getting a bill for putting it right, and that could be expensive.

I’d say that if you are proud of your vehicle and you want to keep it looking as close to how it looked in the showroom for as long as possible, agreeing to paint protection from the dealership isn’t a bad idea, but only if it’s a ceramic or glass coating that’s going to last. Some coatings will even come with a guarantee from the dealer, and that’s not something you’re going to get with a product from an auto store you apply yourself.

Even so, don’t over-pay for it. Be prepared to haggle and negotiate over the price, and if you still think the dealer wants too much, you could always go to a specialist vehicle detailer who might offer something as good or better for less.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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