How Long Does Windshield Protection Film Last?
You’re driving down the highway on your way home from work, doing car-aoke to some Taylor Swift (no judgement - we’ve all been there), and out of nowhere, you hear a loud craaack!. Suddenly you’re scanning your windshield like the Terminator looking for damage. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you know exactly what we're talking about...
We’ve all been there, and it’s not fun. No one wants the hassle of having to replace, or even repair, a cracked windshield. And if your car is from 2018 or newer, you’re likely looking at a $1200+ bill just to replace the windshield!
The good news is that there is a way to prevent windshield damage. It’s called windshield protection film and it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular aftermarket products for anyone who lives in a high-risk area, does a lot of highway driving, or just wants to keep their windshield looking brand new. Since windshield protection film is still a relatively new product on the market, we’re helping you get more familiar with it by breaking down exactly what it is, how it works, and how long you can expect it to last on your windshield.
What is Windshield Protection Film and How Does it Work?
If you’re driving your car on a daily basis, your windshield ends up taking a bit of a beating - especially if you’re doing any highway driving, are regularly driving in construction zones or roads that are poorly maintained.
There are really only two ways to protect yourself from rock chips: option 1 - save your windshield with a windshield protection film; or option 2 - stop driving. Since #2 isn’t really an option for most of us, a windshield protection film is your best bet for avoiding rock chip damage. Although a windshield protection film isn’t completely invincible, it will make it significantly less likely to break or suffer significant damage when a rock hits your windshield - which can give you a lot of peace of mind.
"Think of it like a phone screen protector for your windshield"
A windshield protection film works by absorbing the force of any incoming rocks so that your windshield doesn’t break. It’s a thin, transparent film installed on the outside of your windshield to make the glass 6X less likely to break when a rock hits it. Think of it like a phone screen protector for your windshield.
A windshield protection film designed for daily driving is usually made up of 3 layers: a shock-absorbing polymer layer (this is what makes your windshield impact resistant), an optically clear ultra-strong adhesive (to stick the film to the windshield) and a protective topcoat (to prevent the soft, shock absorbing layer from being scratched by the wiper blades).
When the film is applied to the windshield surface, the force of impact from a rock or other debris is distributed across the film, which protects the windshield glass underneath from breaking.
The topcoat (or outer layer) of most windshield protection films acts as a protective barrier that prevents the shock-absorbing layer of the film from being scratched or damaged through everyday wear-and-tear. This topcoat layer is absolutely critical to the overall lifetime of the film, and is what usually causes the biggest difference between film brands.
How Long Should my Windshield Protection Last?
The longevity of your windshield protection film will depend on lots of factors like where you live, your driving habits, and your windshield protection of choice.
Generally, there are really only two ways that the lifetime of any windshield protection film gets reduced:
1. A Loss of Integrity
2. General Wear-and-Tear
1. Loss of Integrity
This can refer to any time that the layers of the film start to separate, are completely removed, or just stop performing as advertised. One of the most common ways that windshield protection films lose their integrity is through a process called ‘delamination’, which is just a fancy way of saying that the layers of the film start to peel apart over time.
Climates that are hot and humid or have high UV exposure are known to wreak havoc on all automotive films (windshield protection film, window tint, paint protection film, you name it) because the UV radiation will start to break down the bonds between layers in the film and cause it to degrade.
If you live in a climate that is at high risk for delamination, you might hear within the industry that film products have a really hard time lasting as long as they would in other climates.
How to Solve It:
Delamination has been an issue in the automotive film industry for many years, and this has been one of the biggest failure modes for windshield protection products universally. Luckily, as polymer technology has advanced, we’ve been able to make huge enhancements in product lifetime even in these harsh climates. At ExoShield, we recently released our latest generation product (ExoShield GT3) that was designed to last 10X longer in these harsh environments by specifically addressing the issue of delamination (more on how that works later).
Even if your film does not lose its structural integrity, the lifetime of your windshield protection film is finite - all good things come to an end eventually. This usually happens when the surface of the film gets worn out after everyday use of the wiper blades, sandblasting, and small impacts from rocks and road debris. The protective topcoat on the surface of the film will eventually wear out, and the film may not look ‘brand new’ anymore.
In this case, your driving habits can play a huge role. The more you drive, the more wear-and-tear your windshield protection film will see. And if you’re driving on dusty, or dirt-covered roads, those tiny sand and dirt particles may get stuck in the wiper blades and scratch the film’s surface.
How to Solve It:
Chances are that you aren’t going to change your driving habits (and really, you shouldn’t have to) but the other key factor in limiting wear-and-tear is the inherent durability of the topcoat. Not all windshield protection films are created equal, and in fact, different brands may use completely different types of materials in their product.
There are two “types” of windshield protection: nanoceramic (PET-based) and self-healing (TPU-based). A nanoceramic-based technology actually resists scratching by using tiny ceramic nanoparticles in the topcoat that have high hardness. In contrast, a self-healing film is super soft, so it scratches more easily, but is made up of a material that can ‘heal’ minor scratches when exposed to heat. We’re not going to get into comparing the two types of tech in this post, but for more about the two types of technology read this.
As far as wear-and-tear, nanoceramic films have been shown to have a much longer lifespan than TPU-based films, simply because the topcoat is designed to be ultra-durable and prevent any minor scratches in the surface. This is something we’ve tested in our lab, and is ultimately why at ExoShield we chose to use an ultra-durable nanoceramic topcoat for ExoShield GT3.
The Technology: How to Make a Long-Lasting Film
To get a truly long-lasting windshield protection film, it’s important to find a product to address both of the issues above: loss of integrity of the film (i.e. from delamination), and wear-and-tear (scratching).
To solve both of these common problems, we developed our Endurance Class Nanocoating, which massively reduces the chances of delamination by increasing the bond-strength between layers AND resisting abrasion to reduce wear-and-tear.
While ExoShield has always been known to have great resistance to scratches because of our proprietary nanoceramic topcoat, delamination has been an industry-wide issue for a long time. To create our new Endurance Class Nanocoating, we used some of the latest advances in polymer technology to increase the crosslinking density between layers, which helps to reduce delamination by at least 10X in harsh environments.
What is "Crosslinking"?
Generally, crosslinking refers to the process of linking two polymers together by a chemical bond. In the context of windshield protection film, we use inter-layer crosslinking density to describe how many bonds there are between two different layers of the film. A higher crosslinking density will mean a much stronger bond holding the layers together, making them much less likely to separate over time.
So How Long Will it Last?!
Because of the different technologies used by different manufacturers (PET vs TPU, different topcoat chemistry), and the effect that climate and driving habits can have on the film, the total lifespan can range from as little as 3 months for a low-end film to 3 years or more with a premium film. If longevity is what you’re looking for, make sure you’re choosing a film that maintains its structural integrity (i.e. anti-delamination) and will resist wear-and-tear (high abrasion resistance) in your climate.
We’ve tested most of the different windshield protection films on the market today, and as far as product lifetime, ExoShield GT3 comes out on top thanks to the durable nanoceramic coating to protect the film against scratching and the increased cross-linking effect to resist delamination.
It’s also important to remember that your driving habits are just as important though, including where and how often you drive. If you drive frequently (especially on highways or in high-risk areas), your film may not last as long, but you’re also much more likely to see rock chip damage.
How long your windshield protection film will last ultimately comes down to three factors: durability, environment, and care.
To get the most out of your investment, choose a windshield protection product that is designed to be durable and fits your lifestyle.
The lifespan of any windshield protection product will depend on where you live and the type of technology used by the manufacturer. Finding one that is designed to work in all climates is best, especially if you live somewhere hot, humid or at high elevation where the film will be more prone to UV damage.
Care & Maintenance:
Taking good care of your windshield protection film will make sure that you’re getting the most out of whatever product you choose. Things like using only recommended cleaning products, maintaining your wipers, and avoiding pressure washing your windshield will go a long way to extend the lifetime of any automotive film product. We have a set of detailed instructions for maintaining your windshield protection film here.
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