After buying my TTRS with only 20k on the clock I knew I had the chance to really preserve the paint quality of the car if I was careful. I started with a professional clear bra installation of the entire front clip along with a mild paint correction when I first bought the car, but I knew I’d eventually want to try out a ceramic coating like CQuartz that is all of the rage these days. If you’ve never heard of ceramic coatings, think of a layer of glass that goes on top of your paint that protects it and makes it completely hydrophobic for up to 3-4 years, maybe even longer; it’s like a permanent wax, but on steroids. I shopped around a few local detailers to get a price quote for a professional paint correction and CQuartz install, with prices ranging anywhere from $800-1500 for a “basic” install. That was a tough pill to swallow, so I figured I’d try it out myself – how hard could it be? It turns out installing CQuartz itself is quite easy, but the paint correction leading up to it can be both very tricky and time consuming, which is why professional installations are so expensive. Simply put it takes a ton of time to get it right, as it’s imperative to get your paint perfect (or as close to perfect as possible) before you install a coating since it will last several years and you’ll be stuck with any imperfections beneath during that time.
DIY or Professional Install?
I spent close to 10 hours start to finish on this install, and even then I felt like I could have spent more time on it if I weren’t so exhausted and tired of the rather tedious buffing process. When deciding between DIY and Professional installation definitely take into account the opportunity cost of your time in addition to the cost of the products you’ll need. The product itself can be picked up for $50-70 on Amazon, and they even have kits where you can get a bottle of Reload for free which you can use to extend the life of the coating even longer by applying every 3-6 months. Professional installers do have access to CQuartz Finest (and CQuartz Reserve) which is a higher end product not available to the end consumer, so be aware that although the product may seem cheaper than what your professional detailer quotes, they’re not the same thing. You’ll also need CarPro Eraser, a good buffer, several compounds and pads, tons of microfiber cloths, a good LED light to check for swirls, a clay bar, and so-on, so depending on how many of these products and tools you have in your arsenal you may need to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies. It’s also important to note that professional detailers will be far more effective at removing every swirl mark and imperfections than even an experienced amateur, and pros are a lot less likely to make mistakes – so use your best judgement on rather a DIY or professional install is the right choice for you; it shouldn’t be only about money, and detailing (done poorly) can be damaging to your paint, car, and/or self. Personally I chose to DIY because I actually enjoy the detailing process, had the right tools to get it done (a good buffer alone can set you back a few hundred or more), and had a long weekend to kill where my wife was out of town, so I went for it. Despite the sore back and tired legs, it felt very gratifying to get it all done and I learned a few things in the process, which I’ll share with you throughout the rest of the post.
Start with the prep work, which will take about 1.5 hours if done right. You can do this the night before if you don’t plan to drive your car anywhere before starting the paint correction process, which will help break this process up a little. Start with a very thorough wash of everything; I like to use my electric foam lance setup to make this step fast and easy. Next break out your clay bar (or better yet Nanoscrub Clay Mitt) and thoroughly clay the entire car. Last but not least, dry everything off and let sit, as you’ll want the car completely dry before you start buffing.
Next up is the time consuming part, paint correction. Start to finish, this process took a good 5-6 hours all said and done. Find somewhere that is completely shaded (but well lit!) and comfortable to work in, you’re going to be at this for a while. It’s helpful to start in a small and easy to view area that has some marring or swirls and test different cutting compounds and pads to figure out how deep you need to cut, and how many steps you’ll need to take. For me, I started with the 3M “Perfect-It” line-up which is generally a three step process. Since my paint was already in very good shape and I had done a round of polishing when I first got the car, I found I could skip the #1 heavy cut rubbing compound for most of the car, and skip straight to the #2 compound and pad which is meant to take out more medium to light imperfections. On the hood, pillars, and trunk lid I still used the heaviest compound and pad, since these areas had more swirl marks than the rest of the car…but by reducing the rest of the car to a two-step process, it saved a ton of time. You can also experiment with doing a heavier cutting pad with a lighter cutting compound, or vice versa, if you’re trying to bring it down to two steps. The heaviest compound, while very effective, is also very dusty and requires a lot of clean-up afterwards. If you have a bunch of pads and compounds already in your detailing arsenal then just play around until you find the least heavy pad/compound combination that will still get the job done, and then finish with a finishing compound to get out any light marks left by the compounding itself. Note that if you have a clear bra, you do not need to do any buffing of these areas – doing so may actually damage the clear bra, so you can simply clay bar then wipe off with Eraser and be done with it. Last but not least, wipe the car off with CarPro Eraser (or similar product) to remove any dust, oils, or polish left behind so that you have a clean slate for the CQuartz coating to bond to.
Finally! You’ve made it. The hard part is over, and now on to the finishing touches. If you have the time, I’d suggest walking away for a while and giving yourself a mental and physical break before applying CQuartz – while it is easy, it’s important to be very detail oriented on this step of the game. If you miss wiping off a spot, or get any product on the windows or trim, you’ll have a very hard time removing it down the road. Remember this is a “permanent” coating meant to last several years, once it has cured the only way to remove the product is with a buffer. To apply, wrap the orange cloth around the supplied brick applicator and work in small areas at a time. Allow to dry for 2-3 minutes (some argue to let it sit longer, so consider this more of a minimum than a maximum time) then wipe off with the supplied cloth. You’ll notice in this DIY I used CQuartz UK – the main difference being that the UK formula cures at a lower temperature, since it stays rather chilly in the UK all year round. If you live in a warmer climate, you may want to go with regular CQuartz to give yourself a little more time before it starts to dry and becomes difficult to remove. You can use the CQuartz on pretty much any surface including wheels, carbon fiber, aluminum & steel body panels, and even the headlights & tail lights. I would avoid your windshield or glass, and they make a separate product for leather & interior applications so stick to the exterior unless you bought a product specifically for interiors. It’s important that after you finish applying the product to let the car sit for 24 hours to allow the product to fully cure before driving it anywhere. You’ve spent far too much time applying the product to skip this step, so please make sure you can let your car sit for at least 24 hours once you’re done.
There are a few reasons why these coatings are so popular, but the main one is that they’re completely hydrophobic – any water beads up and rolls right off the car. Above is a completely unedited photo from iPhone showing what I mean – it’s simply incredible. If you get caught in a rain, your car will still be relatively clean afterwards since the dirty water doesn’t get absorbed into your paint but instead mostly rolls off, especially if you drive before it dries. It’s like having a fresh coat of wax, but it lasts 2-3 years (or more!). This same property also makes washing the car super easy, as dirty and containments do not stick to the car…even brake dust goes away with little to no scrubbing. These pictures were taken at the beginning of a wash nearly 6 months after installing the product, which gives you an idea of not only how effective it is but how long lasting, too:
Equally important is the depth and shine it produces. The coating is a lot like a thin coat of glass that goes over your paint. It adds a sacrificial layer of protection, but also an extra layer of shine. Not only is my car nearly “waterproof” but it looks like it was just detailed every time I wash it:
For a car that is 5 years old and inching up on 30k miles on the clock, it looks better than showroom new. It’s actually crazy how many brand new, fresh off the lot cars need deep paint correcting, so one could argue it actually looks better than new save for a few rock chips and door dings here and there. I even added the CQuartz to my headlights and taillights, which will keep them protected and glossy for years to come, as well as the carbon fiber front & rear diffusers and mirrors as an extra coat of protection.
In the end, it was well worth the time, money, sweat, and sore back to get it all done. While it was a lot of work at the time, I won’t really need to polish or even wax my car for the next few years if I maintain it well. I picked up the CQuartz reload which I use from time to time to keep the coating nice and thick, and of course I’m meticulous about washing and drying to avoid causing any swirl marks or damage to the coating over time. Based on how it’s aged in the last few months, my driving habits, and the benefit of living in Southern California where the car is exposed from winter elements (or even much rain, really), I doubt I’ll need to do much heavy detailing again for the next 3-4 years. The time I saved detailing the car in the future, as well as making regular washes quicker and easier, made this all well worth it. Check out this video of me washing my car yesterday to see just how effective this stuff really is:
A big shout-out goes to my friend Rodger at Bright Motorcars for letting me use his shop, giving me lots of pointers along the way, and perhaps most helpful providing camaraderie (and falafel wraps!) along the way.