Offering full value and complete customer satisfaction are the top ideals my business. For this reason, I wanted to take the time to offer up some information about Paint Protection Film (PPF) which many consumers aren’t frequently given by some installers– either by the withholding of information, by deliberate misinformation, or from improper training.
I decided to take on this controversial and challenging article about PPF, because of my extreme passion for it as a great protection measure and my experience with it. My company, Signature Detailing of northern New Jersey, performs hundreds of PPF installations a year. I can honestly say I love it from a vehicle protection standpoint, and know it offers the best protection possible for vehicle surfaces from; chips and damages, road debris impacts, other potential topical contaminants, as well as adding additional UV protection. Many of our clients truly receive a great protective benefit from PPF, especially with the many types of terrain, roads, and extreme weather conditions faced in the north eastern US. For this reason, it is a core and featured service we offer our clients.
The secondary reason I chose to write this article is because I know within this industry there is a lot of purposeful mysticism surrounding PPF. This is done to keep the quality ‘secrets’ between a select few installers or to make it seem much more complicated than it is in order to keep installation costs higher than what the free market fair price would normally bear. I will say that to become a top tier professional of installing PPF it takes time, often years to become very good. To become great is something that requires knowledge, experience, feel, and an out of the box mentality approach. Full disclosure: I have been installing PPF for over 6 years, and have been trained and work closely with an installer that has 20+ years PPF experience. For these reasons, I felt compelled to write this article since we have come across many issues arise that hurt vehicle owners over and over again. I, as an informed consumer myself, habitually gather as much information and facts as possible before making a big money purchase. Therefore, I figure it’s only natural and fair if I provide the facts and information about the products and services I provide to my own my business clients.
Most commonly known as Clear bra, Paint Protection Film (a.k.a. PPF) has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past 4-5 years. It has great gloss, awesome clarity, and much less texture than previous film offerings. However, it should be noted that It does have its installation limitations. This is where the craftsmanship of a skilled installer comes into place. By design the material is thick and doesn’t like to be “overworked,” which can lead to a variety of installation induced issues down the line.
The physical limitations of PPF and common misleading marketing/customer statements and claims made by many PPF installers is the true focus of this article.
Common Marketing Claim #1: A ‘Custom’ Install Means a Superior Install.
I want to be completely clear and say that ‘custom installs’ are not necessarily better installs. Many installers will claim they only offer custom installs. Translation: they take a piece of film lay it over the panel, squeegee it out to semi match the panel, and start cutting the film directly on the painted panel. Often times these installers are unable to afford, or do not have space to house a plotter (a machine that precisely cuts the PPF) or don’t want to pay monthly for a program to cut patterns which are exact to factory specifications.
Frequently these installers state that patterned film is inferior because it leaves visible edges. While this used to be true, patterned film has evolved leaps and bounds, and quality craftsman have the ability modify the patterns within the plotter software in order to customize patterns however necessary from full edge wrapping to customize patters requested by the client. This super precise system eliminates the unnecessary dangers of cutting through PPF on the vehicle and accidentally cutting clear coat. Sometimes patterns still require small trimming, but entire panels aren’t necessary in this day and age. We are able to wrap most every edge possible by modifying a pattern. This overcomes the need to cut on a car, without removing body panels. We will touch upon this later.
Many of these installers also claim they are ‘expert’ at custom bulk PPF installs, promise they would never cut paint; stating they average 10 installations a week, therefore their knife sound/feel is ‘perfect.’ Well, no matter how good someone is, and there are VERY few with this skill to cut a few mils only and avoid hitting anything else, why would you chance it? It only takes a millisecond of distraction for a panel to be potentially ruined. So, for the preservation of the vehicle, I believe it is preferable not to cut on any vehicle when it isn’t necessary, let alone a $100,000+ car, ensuring the safety integrity of all vehicle surfaces.
Can areas that don’t get covered with a pattern be installed? Yes, of course. But is it worth the risk? Well it depends on the areas in question, the rarity of the vehicle, and the type of finished surface in question. In most cases, we are typically referring to areas which have a low to almost no impact probability and therefore have no real advantage to being wrapped. They are simply sold to unassuming customers to pump up the PPF ticket price.
The dangers in custom installing PPF to areas that don’t necessarily need it are not always seen immediately. I have come across these issues all too often in my shop many MANY times and have had to be the bearer of bad news to the vehicle owner. IT usually works this way: the installer has finished and proclaims you have an incredible custom cut PPF installation. It looks good, nice, and professional mostly, maybe a wavy line or two here and there, but overall a good value for a relatively low end bid. Fast forward two years. A quarter sized rock slung from an 18 wheeler penetrates your film, or your kid gouges the film with the exposed metal on their bike. So, the film is either: penetrated, flapping off on an edge, is compromising the protection of an area, or is now an eyesore. The solution, it requires removal a reapplication. When you call the number to schedule a fix, you find out the installer is out of business or has moved. After a bit of research finally found someone to fix the single panel, however when the old material is removed cuts in your paint along all of the edges of film are revealed. The film edge has hidden these cuts, and you couldn’t see them until the film was removed. Now you have to pay for a re-paint on that panel or multiple panels or live with the unsightly cuts and the potential of rusting. Furthermore, your mind races with worry and wonder as you contemplate: “are these cuts on every panel of my car?”
This Audi R8 Received an Xpel Stealth PPF full wrap. Other than the hood, all pieces were cut using a plotter, ensuring perfect cuts and precision edges.
Common Marketing Claim #2: Corners, A Professional Must Fully Wrap All Corners!
This is a marketing and selling point used by many installers to either leverage themselves as experts or other installers as inferior. The cold hard truth of Paint Protection Film is that not all corners with PPF can be wrapped perfectly. Sure, many can, but if forced expect the possibility of some corners not completely adhering and lifting up over time. The alternative to this is can be using an “edge prep” product to keep edges intact. The major downside is that this product that can negatively affect and possibly ruin many types of paint. The main takeaway here is that; due to its thickness, Paint Protection Film cannot wrap every corner clean without bunching up around the edge. It’s not super thin like vinyl. In the end, forced bunching of film can cause lifting and possibly eventual trim removal to fix.
Common Marketing Claim #3: All Edges Must Be Tucked for a Top Tier Installation
When edges are tucked with a couple mm’s (millimeters) or more of film, they will either eventually lift come up, or just collect dirt. So, beware when an installer says they tuck film under some trim, because PPF adhesive needs something flat and solid to hold onto. If the area isn’t large enough the adhesive can’t stick and it can lift, collecting dirt, and looking like a long solid dirt line. Then the installer will trim it and if they aren’t totally proficient and experienced with free hand cutting they have a high likelihood of cutting directly into your paint. Better than trying to get PPF to tuck, install it as it should be and leave the line below trim on the flat surface. If done properly the line will be aligned with the panel gaps and will be barely noticeable, if at all.
Important Advice: Paint Protection Film is a Temporary Protective Measure. So, is it Necessary and Prudent to Remove Panels?
At the end of the day, remember that PPF is a temporary protective fixture on your vehicle. It is not meant to be a permanent addition. The main reason for this is mainly related to the lifespan of the adhesive. So, if it is not removed in the proper window of years, a super bond can form. When removing PPF after the adhesive has passed its optimal period and the super bond has started to take hold it is entirely possible to lift paint off with the film. Also, PPF can prematurely wear out for a number of reasons, including taking repeated beatings to extreme conditions, constant UV exposure or from an improperly prepped install.
I want to emphasize the temporary nature of PPF because removing body panels to install film is pretty much unnecessary unless it’s an extreme show car, but nothing on those is practical. That being said, one day all PPF will need to be removed. Therefore, if the initial installer removed panels to place film in impossible to reach areas, those same panels will have to come off and then and be reinstalled a second time when either replacing or removing the original PPF. Not only does this add a tremendous amount to labor costs, but it greatly increases the potential to break a mounting clip. Most installers don’t have factory clips on hand, so if they break during installation that clip probably isn’t going to be fixed. If we (as installers) removed every panel and made all edges seamless then PPF install costs would have to more than double. This is clearly not practical for daily drivers and most weekend fun vehicles. Also, if you do happen to damage the film and it does need replacing then that panel needs to be removed again. This is all supreme aesthetic overkill for a technology meant to practically protect the factory finishes.
I see A LOT of PPF installers claiming professional only means: corners wrapped, everything tucked, and no seams. It’s just not worth the cost of the install nor is it worth the costs of time, effort, and money later down the line to fix if the installer creates a potential problem in any step along the way.
PPF Customer Satisfaction Ultimately Relies on the Quality of the Craftsman
In closing, I find PPF client satisfaction is very similar to many other consumer products and services. Do your homework on the type of film you want for a balance of looks and protection. Additionally, feel free to ask many different types of questions to potential installers about their experience, working procedures, and how they typically handle things if installs are difficult. Often, I have found that most subpar installs are done by those who are new to PPF and haven’t put in the thousands of hours necessary to encounter and successfully overcome the many challenges that arise with varied panels or surfaces or by those who just try to speed through the processes. In the end, film installation quality and satisfaction is only as good as the experience level and care of the craftsman who installs it and stands behind their work. So, while you may pay a bit more for someone who has experience; you will have more assurance and peace of mind in their experience, they have the proper tools for any vehicle, knowing they won’t be prone to cutting corners, and their pride in their work governs the quality of their finished product — which is a moving business card.