Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Tesla is the fastest-growing automobile brand worldwide, and it’s the leading electric vehicle brand. Tesla’s Model 3 is the world’s best-selling plug-in electric vehicle model, advancing their mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Tesla does many things right—but their paint isn’t at the top of that list. From my personal experience, I’ve known Tesla owners who report that the paint chips and pits easily and that micro-scratches especially on dark-colored cars can cause the paint to look grayish or milky. I’ve seen these issues on Teslas with only a few hundred miles on them. I’ve also seen that the paint on Teslas chips on obvious areas such as the bumper and the hood, but also in front of the rear wheels. Tesla has addressed this with a cold weather kit, which is essentially mud flaps. Tesla owners who drive in places with tough winters where they use salt and sand on the road (Pennsylvania and New Jersey, anyone?) report that the paint on the bottom of their Teslas degrades heartbreakingly fast.
Like many new cars, the paint on new Teslas can be thin. Thinner paints look better when new, and they’re also quicker and cheaper for manufacturers to apply. As an industrial engineer who’s coming from the automotive industry, I know that the paint application step is always the limiting factor in building cars. So, the more vehicles you can paint per day, the more vehicles you can build per day. If you can hasten the paint application, you can get that assembly line moving faster!
Another factor contributing to poor wear of Tesla paint is the geometry of the vehicle. They have a flat plane that pushes the air up and over the car, grabbing rocks and debris, dragging them over the plane, and creating unsightly paint chips. With today’s patience-challenged drivers all around you, careening past you on road shoulders and kicking stones up onto your Tesla, your vehicle is at greater risk for paint chips now more than ever.
Fortunately, you can protect your Tesla’s paint effectively and efficiently—with paint protection film (PPF), ceramic coating, and proper Tesla car-washing procedures.
Paint Protection Film
Do you protect your smartphone’s glass with a screen protector? Paint protection film is like a screen protector for your Tesla. It prevents flying rocks and road debris from chipping your paint.
PPF is best applied when a Tesla is brand new. However, you can apply it to a car you’ve been driving awhile. I help customers make this decision on a case-by-case basis. I’ve seen some vehicles with 8,000 miles that are still a great candidate for PPF. But you can only protect a new-car finish if you have a new-car finish.
PPF is a clear polyurethane film; it’s virtually invisible. PPF is engineered to be removable years after application—revealing the brand-new, factory-finish paint that’s been protected below. (However, I don’t recommend removing PPF before selling or trading in your vehicle because if you do so, the dealership is likely to think your vehicle was in an accident and repainted, which tanks the value. Let the new buyer remove the PPF to enjoy the brand-new paint.)
PPF is composed of several layers: a release liner, then a layer of adhesive. Then there’s a thermal plastic impact layer, a layer of clear coat that offers UV protection, and a hydrophobic top coat. Finally, all of those layers are topped off by a gloss enhancer. The clear coat is self-healing, which means your vehicle will always look freshly polished!
Can’t I buy a PPF kit and apply it myself?
Sure, you can YouTube it, but it’s not a DIY project. Much like you can YouTube “cardiac surgery,” but you shouldn’t perform it, and you can YouTube 737 piloting, but you shouldn’t try to land a jet, PPF installation is a job best left to the professionals. More personally, I could YouTube “hair coloring,” but I’d never suggest to my wife that I could save her money by dyeing her hair. Consider this: Only 1 percent of trained PPF installers work in the profession after a year or two. It’s that hard to get it right and do it well.
Questions to Ask a PPF Installer
How long have you been installing PPF? Installing PPF is an art; look for an installer with many years—not months—of experience.
What brand of PPF do you use? Recommended brands include STEK, Premium Shield, 3M, Suntek, and XPEL. (Check the company’s website for authorized installers; if the installer you’re considering isn’t listed on the company’s website, consider that a red flag.)
Do you use a plotter to cut a pattern or do you cut the PPF custom? A PPF plotter costs $10,000+; it’s a large capital investment, so an installer who has one is likely to be more experienced. My company uses our plotter to cut out patterns in the PPF, and then we carefully wrap the film around every possible edge of your Tesla. Firms that don’t use patterns cut each piece of PPF custom. They cut the film on your vehicle! To do custom work, many parts, such as headlights, must be removed. (If you’re okay with your brand-new Tesla being disassembled, fine! I don’t see any value added by taking a Tesla apart to apply PPF.)
How long is your warranty? The warranty is actually provided by the manufacturer—not the installer. Look for a 5- to 10-year warranty. 10-year films have an increased top coat, which means they will look better, longer. Some films have a lifetime warranty, but remember that’s a warranty, not a guarantee.
A ceramic coating, also sometimes called quartz, applied to your car gives it amazing shine. It also makes your car easier to wash—saving you time and money. You won’t have to wash your Tesla as often, and when you do, it’ll be easier to clean. Ceramic coating also protects your Tesla against UV damage.
Professionally applied ceramic coatings last for years. At Immaculate Paint Protection, we offer ceramic coatings with multiple-year warranties, with no special maintenance or servicing required. Compare that with a wax or sealant that might protect your Tesla for a few months.
The coating is a silica dioxide (SiO2)–based material that’s carried in solvent and applied onto the vehicle. The coating cross-links, or chemically bonds, to the porous clear coat, filling in the microscopic pores.
Ceramic coatings are especially beneficial for Tesla’s Full Self-Driving. With a coating, the sensors stay cleaner, longer.
To apply ceramic coatings, first we thoroughly wash your Tesla—twice. We do a mechanical decontamination clay bar process to remove any bonded-on contaminants, and we do a second chemical decontamination process to remove iron that settles down into the paint. Then we buff and polish it to a mirror-like gleam. My team wears gloves throughout this entire process to prevent any oil or contaminants from interfering with the ceramic coating bonding. We wash it again and wipe it with a special degreasing agent to make it “surgically” clean.
If necessary, we can do color correcting. Then we apply the ceramic coat. The number of coats varies by manufacturer. In most cases, more coats do not provide more protection. (Some installers use this sales tactic.) After applying the ceramic coating, we keep your Tesla dry and in our shop for at least 24 hours before you pick it up.
After having a ceramic coating applied, keep your Tesla dry for 14 to 21 days, ideally in the garage, to allow the coating plenty of time to cure. Sunlight helps too.
Can’t I buy a ceramic coating kit and apply it myself?
I don’t recommend it. A DIY spray coating might last for a few months, compared with years for a professionally applied coating. We have a very meticulous, specific procedure we follow and expensive supplies and equipment—which is unlikely to be duplicated at home. Applying ceramic coating is an art; it isn’t a job for unskilled amateurs.
If you really want to apply a coating yourself, make sure you know how to operate a machine polisher. If you make a coating mistake, you will need to machine polish the coating off and start the entire process over again.
Questions to Ask a Ceramic Coating Installer
How long have you been installing ceramic coating? Installing ceramic coating is an art and science; look for an installer with many years—not months—of experience.
Is your shop climate controlled? For professional results, a ceramic coating must be applied in less humid, temperate environments. I just spent $20,000 on air-conditioning for my shop to control our installation environment.
How much paint correction will you have to do to my Tesla?
How many coats of ceramic do you apply? Are you applying multiple coats because that’s best for the car, or is it easier for the installer to sell the ceramic coating if they promise they’re applying more coats?
Paint Protection Film + Ceramic Coating
If PPF is good and ceramic coating is good, are they exponentially better together? Sometimes.
A special, more flexible type of ceramic coating can be applied on top of PPF, giving you the ultimate paint protection available by us in our shop, and saving you the hassle of running around to multiple shops.
One of the features of our SunTek Reaction Paint Protection film is that it has ceramic coating infused into the top coat, which means you get PPF and ceramic coating at the same time. Our PPF offering SunTek Ultra does not have a ceramic coating on it; however, you can put a ceramic coating on top.
Should you have ceramic coating installed to protect your PPF?
I believe that PPF on its own is fine for your Tesla. (Adding ceramic coating on top of PPF is quite frankly an easy upgrade or upsell for an installer.) However, if you would like to make washing your Tesla easier, then consider adding a ceramic coating.
Washing Your Tesla’s Paint
How do you wash your Tesla? Very carefully!
Even if you protect your Tesla with PPF and ceramic coating, it can still scratch with dirty sponges, snow brushes, and other paint hazards. The best rule of thumb: Anything that touches your Tesla could scratch it. Most important: Don’t use anything that’s been in your kitchen sink on your Tesla—no scrub pads or scratch rags, ever.
Don’t take your car to an automatic car wash (except possibly a touchless one), and never allow your service center to wash it. We give our customers a card to hang on their rearview mirror when their Teslas are at the service center that says, “Do not wash! You will be liable for repairs.”
If you take your Tesla through a touchless car wash, don’t apply any of their sealants because you already have a coating on your Tesla and these car washing sealants will mask or override the benefits of the ceramic coating. (If you’ve done this in the past, a decontamination wash will remove those.)
Instead, wash your Tesla yourself, using the two-bucket method. This is universally accepted as the best method to wash your vehicle. You use one bucket with soapy solution and one with clean water to rinse the wash mitt.
At Immaculate Paint Protection, we educate Tesla owners on how to wash their cars from the beginning of the process to the end—a $150 value. We also give each car a complimentary wash.
To wash your Tesla right, invest in the correct supplies:
Fill one bucket with soapy solution.
Fill the other with clean water to rinse the wash mitt.
Grit guards: Place these plastic disks inside the buckets. They keep any grit off of your mitt and car.
Microfiber towels: You could buy colored towels and use a color code system:
Black towels for rims and door jams
White or purple large towels for drying
Red for interior
Purple for vegan leather
Blue for glass
Two wash mitts
One for the body
One for rocker panels and underneath
High-quality car wash soap, as recommended by your installer. Avoid wash/wax combinations because they don’t leave the Tesla really clean. (Trying to do two things at the same time often means you’re doing two things badly.)
Drying aid/detailing spray, such as Gyeon Ceramic Detailer.
Bug and grime remover, such as Gyeon Bug and Grime: Follow the directions on the label for safe use.
Use the least amount of pressure possible to wash and dry your car. Drag the wash mitt and towel across the Tesla, using the weight of the towel to dry; don’t press. If you find yourself rubbing to get rid of something like a bug or tar, stop! You are going to scratch the paint. You need a special cleaning agent, such as Gyeon Tar, for whatever it is you’re trying to rub off.
If you ever drop a wash mitt or towel on the ground, STOP, set the towel aside, and go get a clean one. Never use a dropped mitt or towel on your car.
If you use these tips to wash your Tesla, it will look better than 95 percent of other vehicles on the road.
About the author: Bill Fetter’s passion for cars started at an early age, as he loved anything with wheels. Through his childhood, Bill observed his dad’s work as a mechanical engineer turned marketing manager and proud lifelong employee of General Motors. During high school, Bill honed his passion for cars by hand-washing and detailing his neighbors’ vehicles. Knowing he wanted to be in the automotive industry, Bill earned a degree in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University in Flint, Michigan. He’s worked as an engineer in the automotive manufacturing, medical device, steel industry, and pharmaceutical manufacturing fields.