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New Coatings Promise Cleaner Car Infotainment Screens

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 2/21/2019 Rich Ceppos
a close up of a car: PPG Industries has developed a coating to make fingerprints almost disappear, and we tried it.© Car and Driver PPG Industries has developed a coating to make fingerprints almost disappear, and we tried it.
  • New high-tech coatings like those used to reduce fingerprinting on the latest cellphones are coming to cars, trucks, and SUVs in the near future-possibly in some 2020 models.
  • Automakers could use them to reduce fingerprinting not only on infotainment touchscreens, but also on easily smudged piano black trim used in so many of today's new vehicles.
  • We tested a prototype of one such coating from PPG Industries against an iPhone X and a 2019 Volvo XC60's infotainment screen for its resistance to fingerprint smudging and ease of cleanup.

If you have a newish phone and a newish car, you know that your phone suffers far fewer fingerprints and smudges than your vehicle's infotainment screen and its shiny piano black trim. The fingerprints that do build up on your phone's screen wipe off easily and quickly. Your car's screen or glossy black trim? Not so much.

Research

Help is on the way, however. Car companies are looking to adapt the coatings used on the latest cellphones to vehicle screens and shiny black interior trim. The aim of this new coating tech is to both reduce how often you need to neaten up your car's reflective interior surfaces and to make the job much quicker to accomplish. 

Smudge-Testing the New Coating

We recently had a chance to try one of the new screen coatings courtesy of manufacturing giant PPG Industries. The company provided us with a sample of its anti-fingerprint coating on a glass plate, which we pitted against the screen coatings used on an iPhone X and on our 2019 Volvo XC60 long-term test vehicle's infotainment screen. The PPG product is different from most other coatings in that it's sprayed onto the screen rather than being a film applied over the screen, but its intent is the same.

The test consisted of pressing a thumbprint onto the PPG sample and onto the clean iPhone screen-the Volvo's screen was already so badly smudged with dozens of our fingerprints that adding more wasn't necessary-and observing how prominent the prints were and how easy they were to wipe off. We used a fresh microfiber towel to clean the screens.

The results of this less than scientific test couldn't have been more conclusive, though. Both the PPG sample and iPhone screen performed identically: the fingerprints registered so faintly that a police expert would have had trouble pulling a set, and both wiped off what little smudging there was with a single, light swipe. The Volvo screen took a minute or more of determined wiping to get it smear-free again. So the new coating delivers a major-and welcome-improvement, and it should work just as well on piano black trim, we are told.

In the next few years, we can expect more and more vehicles to adopt this next generation of smudge-resistant coatings. PPG says that its new coating, which a spokesperson told us is probably going to be called Crystal Clear, is already slated to be on a production model in the very near future. You will know if your new car has it, or something like it, the very first time you swipe a cloth across your vehicle's infotainment screen.

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