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Paint protection from rock chips and other road debris.

September 14, 2014

Paint protection film

By Hugh A. Casiano

 

A while back I participated in an exotic car road rally that featured a tour through the Arizona desert. I was accompanied by about 20 other enthusiastic dentists and doctors who were playing formula one driver for the day. Nose to bumper we skillfully maneuvered through winding roads while enjoying the gorgeous landscape. It was a fun and carefree ride... or so I thought.

 

As we stopped for lunch and I walked around stretching my legs, I discovered the horror of what I had done to my beautiful car. The front end was riddled with small chips and scratches from the debris kicked up during the rally. Adding to my devastation, I found out later that the damage was not repairable and would require thousands of dollars in repainting. It was then that I understood the value of paint protection films.  

 

Image: Installer sprays installation fluid underneath material to help align seam.

 

How it works…

Like a clear mask, paint protection films are designed to invisibly keep rocks and road debris from damaging your paint. A micro-thin layer of polyester is laminated over a spongy coating of urethane and adhesive. It is applied over a smooth, painted surface and cushions projectiles upon impact.  Initially, it became popular during the Gulf War where it was used to protect helicopters blades from metal erosion. As knowledge of the product grew, car manufacturers began using this material in places where premature wear and abuse could potentially harm the paint’s finish. Although the product and the benefits seem simple on the surface, choosing the right brand and installer can require a deeper understanding of this quickly evolving technology. 

 

Image: Breakdown of ‘self healing’ paint protection material construction.            www.Xpel.com    

 

What to look out for…

In just a few years, this product and the installation methods have drastically changed. The materials have become resistant to discoloring, scratching and user friendly for installers. The price point has also become more palatable and subsequently the industry is experiencing rapid growth. When considering a protective film for your car, there are a few things you should know.

 

Firstly, decide the type of protection your driving habits dictate? Modest versus maximum protection can drastically change your budget.

 

Secondly, the material is going to have to endure the same challenges as paint. Some products can discolor and harden, causing damages that could be worse than the rock chips it was designed to protect you from.

 

Thirdly, precut patterns are used to avoid manual 'trimming' on the car. Even though they inherently leave small, slightly detectable gaps and lines, the compromise far outweighs the risk of razor cuts in your paint.

 

Lastly, the product is designed to protect your paint, not replace it. Try not to get attached, this means at some point it needs to be removed.           

 

Image: Installer touches up the installation, paying attention to the slightest detail.

 

The new stuff…

Originally, the product was designed to be a buffer between your paint and potentially damaging debris. The coating was a sacrificial layer and required replacement after being scratched. However, recent improvements now allow the option for the material to independently heal or repair itself. ‘Self healing’ material has an 'elastomeric-like' top coat that is resilient and allows the moderately scratched areas to bond back together over time. Although there are limitations to the product’s self healing capabilities, it still may be a viable choice for drivers who require extended longevity from their protective treatment. This option is commonly offered as an upgrade to standard or older technology and usually costs approximately 30% more.

 

Image: Product failure, crystallized polyurethane and adhesive.

 

Choose works best for you…

A product’s endurance directly relates to the vehicle’s unique environment and exposure to the elements. What you spend has little to do with getting the best value for your individual requirements. Purchasing a more expensive product where only modest protection is required can result in needless overspending. On the contrary, inadequate protection can result in costly consequences and expensive repairs. Weigh your options carefully, consider your parking habits, (garaged, covered or uncovered), your length of ownership, (long term purchase or short term lease), car washing habits, (manual or automated). Underperforming or overexposed products can often crystallize the urethane adhesive layers and cause the material to crack and discolor. Once this happens, removal is difficult and repainting is usually the only alternative. Be sure your choice reflects a combination of your specific needs and budget.

 

Image: Computer cut patterns consistently follow the lines of the vehicle.

 

The importance of precut patterns…

From an extensive library that includes almost every make and model vehicle in production today, a computer generates a pattern that is designed to match each car’s individual contours, curves and seams. This pattern is then cut out using a diamond hard, microscopic blade on a large commercial plotter.  This equipment can be expensive and the quality of the pattern program is as important as the product itself and the installer. The drawback to a precut pattern is that that it can leave small, slightly visible gaps along the edges and corners. However, a pattern is a good way to save time and money while providing a safe and consistent installation. Without a pattern, an installer will need to trim the material directly on the car, which can result in costly paint damage.

 

Image: Paint protection film can have a slightly noticeable difference in texture.

 

It’s not paint…

Finally, paint protection products like these are not designed to replace paint. They are a protective, removable coating that can help prevent damage and keep a car looking new. Although there are several products that boast ‘paint-like’ qualities, this technology is still unfolding and is not there yet. My best advice is to try to manage your expectations and be realistic. Expect minuscule particles, small gaps and relief cuts, these are very common and will not affect the products performance. If you are installing it on a car that already has rock chips, keep in mind that it will not make them disappear. The product will only keep things from getting worse. Respectfully, if you are looking for an exact match to ‘paint’, you may need to consider ‘paint’. Otherwise, relax and enjoy the benefits of having a car that is free of rock chips and other road wear damage. Take comfort in knowing that when the product is removed, the paint underneath will still be in showroom condition.

 

But wait, there’s more…

I hope this information gives you a little more insight and helps with your search. Just remember, if you choose to have paint protection film applied, you are trusting someone with one of your car’s most visible features. Take some time and research your choices. Visit more than one location and ask questions. If possible, ask to see an example of the installer’s work. You should feel comfortable with every aspect of this experience. As a service provider, I always make time to personally talk to our customers, they are the boss and without them I wouldn’t have a business.

 

Hugh A. Casiano is the owner of 1 One Armor, Inc. (dba One Armor) and TintNet, Inc. which are providers of wholesale window tinting and paint protection products & programs to the New Car Automotive Dealership Industry.

Contact information: Hugh A. Casiano PO Box 13422 Scottsdale, AZ 85267 Tel. (602)399-4844   

 

 

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