How to Choose the Right Windshield Protection Film
Most of us are all too familiar with that sinking feeling (and the outburst of profanity) that comes right after a rock hits your windshield.
Replacing your windshield is just flat out annoying. You have to spend time finding the right vendor, take hours out of your day to get it replaced, and at the end of it all, end up spending hundreds or thousands on a windshield that can just as easily break again.
If you're here looking for a way to protect your windshield, you can probably relate to at least one of the following:
1. Your passion is your car. When you love something you take care of it. You may already be protecting the body with paint protection film, and now you want to do the same for your windshield.
2. You’re tired of replacing your windshield (we’re looking at you, Jeep owners). Flat windshields like the ones on your Jeep are basically rock-chip magnets and regularly replacing your windshield is expensive and honestly just annoying.
3. Your vehicle has advanced driver assistance features. The sensors powering these systems sit directly behind the windshield and need to be recalibrated when the windshield is replaced (which is usually an expensive and time consuming process). In fact, AAA recently found that the average person can now expect to pay $1500 or more to replace their windshield.
Over the past 5 years, windshield protection films have become a popular and reliable way to protect your windshield.
What is Windshield Protection Film?
A windshield protection film is a thin film designed to stop rock chips by absorbing the force of impact from rocks, gravel, or other debris. It is applied to the outside of the windshield, and when done right, should be completely invisible. It's like a giant phone screen protector for your windshield.
How it Works
Glass windshields have an inherent problem – they break easily. Since glass is naturally brittle, it's pretty bad at absorbing impact from things like stones that come flying at it while you're driving.
A windshield protection film works because it’s made of a material that is softer than glass. This means that it does a much better job of absorbing the impact from incoming objects and distributing that force to stop the glass from breaking (within reason of course– a windshield protection film will NOT stop a giant boulder from smashing through your windshield...).
Windshield protection films are usually made up of three layers:
How to Install Windshield Protection Film:
Unless you’re a trained windshield protection film installer, you won’t want to tackle the installation on your own. If you try to do it yourself you risk burning the film (it needs heat to mould perfectly to the windshield) or worse – scratching or cracking your windshield. Better to leave this one to the experts.
In 2020, most reputable windshield protection films are sold exclusively through certified installers who have been trained to install it perfectly on your vehicle without damaging your windshield or the film.
Here's a list of installers we trust.
Choosing the Right Windshield Protection Film
It’s important to think carefully about anything that you’re putting on your windshield since the wrong choice can affect you (and your family's) safety. Low quality films that have poor optical clarity will reduce your visibility (putting you at risk of an accident) and could impact how the sensors behind your windshield perform.
As windshield protection film becomes more popular with drivers, it can be tough to choose from the growing list of options out there. Not only are there multiple brands to choose from, but these brands also use different types of technology which can make it hard to compare.
We want to help you make the best decision to suit your lifestyle. Keep reading for a breakdown of the most common types of windshield protection film.
Scratch Resistant vs Self-healing Films
Most windshield protection films on the market are classified as either scratch-resistant or self-healing films.
Scratch Resistant Films
Scratch resistant films use PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which acts as a soft, shock-absorbing layer. PET is extremely chemically stable and tends to last a long time. The PET is protected by a scratch-resistant topcoat (you might hear it called a 'hardcoat') that stops it from being scratched, prevents UV damage, and adds chemical resistance. A good hardcoat is designed to have what’s called high ‘hardness’ – which means that it won’t easily be scratched, and keeps the film (and your windshield) looking like new for a long time.
Pros of Scratch Resistant Films
- The topcoat of a high quality scratch resistant film creates a very 'hard' surface that makes it extremely resistant to scratches without significantly wearing out over time.
- The PET used in scratch-resistant films is more chemically durable, and will last a lot longer than softer polymers (like the TPU used in self-healing films), giving you a much longer usable lifetime.
Cons of Scratch Resistant Films
- PET is known to degrade when exposed to UV for long periods of time. Fortunately, decades of research has gone into fixing this! Now, the topcoat for most scratch-resistant films includes molecules that absorb the UV radiation before it has a chance to reach the PET layer (make sure to look for this when comparing different brands).
- In some extreme environments, the bond between the topcoat and PET layers can start to weaken, causing the layers of the film to start to separate from each other over time. This is an issue that you'll see with any layered film, and lots of work has gone into finding a solution.
Should you buy a scratch resistant windshield protection film?
Scratch resistant films are extremely durable, making them the most popular choice for windshield protection. Since they first came on the market several years ago, PET-based films have come a long way to get to what they are today, and the technology is still continuing to improve.
A scratch resistant film is right for you if:
- You drive regularly and don't store your car in a garage
- You're doing any off-roading
- You're not washing your car regularly (once a week or more)
- You live in a cold climate
- You expect to face poor road conditions (construction zones, dirt roads, etc.)
Self-healing films use TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) as the soft, shock-absorbing layer, which is used to make paint protection film (PPF). The TPU layer is covered by what's known as a ‘self-healing’ topcoat. Unlike the topcoat used in scratch-resistant films, the self-healing coating is actually very soft and scratches easily. But it's this softness that gives the coating its self-healing property – when there is a small scratch in the surface, the molecules in the coating will rearrange themselves to fill in the scratch, and the surface of the film looks like new.
It's only recently that self-healing technology has been borrowed from PPF to be used on the windshield and there hasn't been much real-world evidence yet to prove that it can survive the tough environment of the windshield.
Pros of Self-healing Films
- Any minor scratches in the film will be ‘healed’ pretty quickly, and you shouldn’t notice any difference in the film once it has healed itself.
- The self-healing coating bonds really well with TPU because they are made up of similar molecules. Although the layers will eventually separate over time, this strong bond between the topcoat and TPU should reduce the rate of separation.
Cons of Self-healing Films
- Unlike scratch resistant films, self-healing films offer no protection against deep scratches that can be caused by sand trapped in your wiper blades. Any significant scratches in the film's surface will be permanent.
- The self-healing feature will wear out over time, and eventually even minor scratches will be easily visible on the surface. While this is ok for paint protection film where you don't have to worry about wiper blades scratching the surface, you could risk compromising your visibility when it's on the windshield.
- TPU is not as chemically durable as PET. Common glass cleaners and washer fluids can cause the film to discolour or can even weaken the bond between the topcoat and TPU which causes the layers to separate.
Should you buy a self-healing windshield protection film?
Although self-healing technology has been around for PPF for a while, it is just still in the early stages of testing on the windshield. Depending on your driving habits and lifestyle, this may not be a risk you want to take.
A self-healing film is a good option for you if:
- You expect to drive your car only a few times a year
- Your vehicle is stored in a garage year-round
Which technology do we use at ExoShield?
You should be able to rely on your windshield protection film, and we believe that the durability and longer lifespan of scratch resistant films make it the best choice for most vehicles.
This is why we chose to build ExoShield using scratch resistant film technology and spent over 4 years developing our industry-leading nanoceramic hardcoat that protects a layer of shock-absorbing PET. We also use a high-clarity, automotive-grade adhesive that has high strength but can be cleanly removed without leaving any residue on the windshield.
Where to Buy your Windshield Protection Film
Once you choose the windshield protection film that’s right for you, it’s important to find an installer that you can trust to take care of your vehicle. Look for installers who are 'certified' or have done a training course specifically for windshield protection film. We also suggest asking to see examples of work they’ve done in the past – most installers will post photos of their work on instagram – for extra peace of mind.
We certify every single one of our ExoShield installers by putting them through our training program before including them on our reseller map - you can check it out to see if there’s an installer in your area.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, choosing the right windshield protection film really depends on your driving habits, lifestyle, and expectations.
If you want to protect your exotic car for the few times a year that you drive it, you’ll be happy with either a self-healing or scratch-resistant film. Both will stop minor scratches and will offer you the impact protection you need.
If you’re going to be driving more regularly and don't want to worry about a lot of maintenance, you’ll want to choose the more durable, scratch-resistant film for the extra longevity.
Now that you know a little bit more about the different technology on the market, you’re ready to make the decision that works for you!
Where to Find Windshield Protection Near MeINSTALLER LOCATOR
Looking for the right installer for your windshield protection film? Click here for a map of certified installers.
Looking for a windshield protection film installer?
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