The Pros and Cons of Paint Protection Film
Tips & Tricks| 8 min read
Published: March 7, 2023
Maybe you just bought a brand new car and are horrified at the thought of having to drive it off the lot and expose it to the dirt-covered, construction-ridden roads of your city.
Or maybe you’ve recently noticed those first few scratches in the paint and want to avoid more at all costs. Either way, most of us have had to face the fact that the second we drive our unprotected cars out on the road, we’re exposing them to all sorts of risks. The good thing is that in recent years paint protection film (PPF) has grown in popularity, and chances are there’s a shop near you that can install it on all or parts of your vehicle. But is PPF really all it’s cracked up to be? And for something that is definitely not cheap, is it really worth the money?
To help you make sense of all the information you’ve probably read in forums, on social media, and heard from friends, we’re going to take you through the real pros and cons of PPF.
PPF, sometimes called clear bra or clear paint film, is most commonly made of a layer of thermoplastic polyurethane used to cover all or partial areas of a vehicle., The primary purpose of PPF is not to alter the look of your car, or make the surface super hydrophobic - rather it’s meant to protect your vehicle’s paint from the everyday wear and tear that occurs from stones, scratching from dust, tar marks, bumping into a barrier/object, or other debris that can damage with the vehicle during driving.
After modifications to the original design, the material is ideally very thin, easy to apply, and near-invisible. Some PPF products are created to be hydrophobic (averse to water) and translucent. They are also made to be durable and won’t obscure the original paint on the car.Today, PPF is applied by carefully laying down the film onto a wetted surface of the paint, and using a squeegee to apply enough pressure to mount the film to the paint. The back of the film has a strong adhesive layer which will adhere to your paint.
Although there are some DIY products on the market, there is a huge benefit to having it installed professionally. Chances are that if you care enough about the look of your car to get it protected in the first place, a low-quality PPF job is likely the last thing you want to have to look at every day. A professional installer will not only be able to advise you on the best brands and different technologies available to you, but they’ll also be able to make it look nearly seamless (depending on the skill level of the installer).
Like with many modern-day innovations in technology, PPF was originally used by the military to protect helicopter rotor blades from damage. It wasn’t until quite a bit later in the early 2000s that the technology was picked up by the racing industry, and it was officially introduced to the mainstream auto industry shortly after.
Over the years, the technology that has gone into PPF has improved significantly. With older versions of PPFs, creases, bubbles, and fold-overs were major threats to the appearance of one’s vehicle. Additionally, yellowing over time with exposure to UVA and UVB rays was extremely common, and is actually still a prevailing issue with some PPF brands on the market today.
The introduction of new nanotechnology techniques and materials were a huge help in making a material that is engineered at a molecular level for increased strength and is nearly invisible when applied.
The downside of PPF is that installing the film can be time-consuming, and if it is not done correctly, it can cause damage to the paint underneath when it’s being removed. It’s also a “you get what you pay for” situation both when it comes to the brand of PPF and the installer you choose. While you may be tempted to go to the installer with the lowest price, be aware that you’re not going to get the same seamless finish and level of protection that a high-end installer can give you. In addition, even some of the high-end PPF films on the market can start to yellow over time, reducing its clarity and just generally looking…well, bad. While some brands are better than others when it comes to yellowing, this is a downside of the underlying technology that PPF is built on (and part of why putting PPF on your windshield is never a good idea!).
Caring for your car isn’t just for diehard enthusiasts anymore. If you’re commuting or driving regularly, you’ve probably realized that the amount of time and effort you put into preventative measures when it comes to things like the body, glass, and paint can really influence how much you’re spending on repairs over time. But it’s not just the functional things that most of us care about. When we invest a fair bit of money into a new vehicle, keeping it looking like new for as long as possible is typically the goal. That’s where PPF has come in handy.
We know it's obvious, but it's important to point out that if you want to protect the body of your vehicle, PPF is absolutely the way to go. While there are other products like coatings or vinyl wraps you can add to the vehicle, none of these will have the impact protection that PPF will give you.
PPF is typically used for overall protection of your vehicle’s body and paint. While you can apply it on the entirety of your vehicle, at minimum PPF is usually applied to areas where the potential for impact damage is high. On top of giving you protection against rock chips and pitting that damage your paint over time, it will also help the paint from being destroyed by stubborn bug splatter or bird droppings that can get caked onto the surface.
A high quality PPF will block less than 0.1% of sunlight and this ensures that the colors and shine of the paint are not dimmed or obscured. Some films are also self-healing, i.e. reorganize themselves at the molecular level, back to their original state, and thus, extend the life of your car’s coat of paint because of consistent, sustained protection. All of this combines to give you protection that can last you many years if you care for it properly. You can expect in many cases to get a 5-10 year warranty with your PPF, which is an indication of the longevity of many of the products on the market.
One of the major benefits to PPF is that it is almost completely non-invasive; PPF is relatively thin to the point where you likely won’t be able to see it on the paint, and yet, it’s strong enough to prevent damage. In the long term, this can help mitigate any expenses associated with repainting, scuff and scratch repair. And in the short term, you get to enjoy the “like new” look of your vehicle’s paint for a lot longer than if you left it unprotected.
Overall, if you’re generally concerned about protecting your vehicle’s paint, there’s no better option than PPF.
While PPF has grown in popularity for good reason - it’s not without its downsides. Many people also overestimate the power of PPF and what it actually does or doesn’t protect against.
First of all, having PPF on your car doesn’t mean you don’t need to wash or take care of it! In fact, it may mean you actually want to spend more time making sure the body is clean and fee of debris that could get caked on. Dirt, bird droppings, or exposure to chemicals that remain on the surface can damage the integrity of the film, and will mean you have to shell out the money to replace your PPF sooner than you want to.
On the subject of cost, this is one of the biggest cons to PPF. If you want it done well, you’ll want to get a reputable and experienced installer to apply the film to your vehicle. This will not only ensure that you get maximum coverage for maximum protection, but attempting to do it yourself or take it to the cheapest shop in town is a great way to be disappointed with the finish of the film. That being said, the cost of this is not small. A full PPF job can easily be a $5000+ job, so make sure to carefully consider who you take it to and how much of your vehicle you want to protect. It’s not uncommon to choose to protect only the highest risk parts of the vehicle, which can be a great option to keep down on costs while getting the necessary protection.
It’s also to keep in mind that while the PPF itself may be expertly engineered for great optical properties, they are not paint enhancers. If the paintwork is old, poorly done, or the vehicle needs to be repainted, the film won’t hide it. You’ll want to make sure to get a paint correction done before installing the film to make sure your car is looking its best (and is protected).
Finally, one of the biggest drawbacks to PPF is the all too common yellowing over time. While some manufacturers have found solutions that delay this process by longer than others, there are plenty of PPF brands on the market that yellow after just a few years after exposure to the sun. This is primarily due to the fact that the polyurethane material made to make pretty much every PPF on the market is inherently sensitive to UV radiation, and especially on vehicles kept outside, will start to degrade over time.
As the name suggests, PPF is made exclusively to protect the painted surfaces of your vehicle. While this is great, you’re leaving one of the most vulnerable parts of your vehicle exposed - the windshield. If you’re concerned with protecting your vehicle, you should always consider a proper windshield protection for the windshield - never attempt to put PPF on your windshield! While it is clear enough to let your paint color shine through, PPF is not designed for clear, glass surfaces, and will just leave your windshield looking hazy and foggy, not to mention will yellow pretty quickly with all that exposure to sun!
If you’re concerned about maintaining the painted surfaces on your vehicle, there’s no doubt that PPF is a great option for you. Many car owners will attest to the cost and inconvenience of replacing parts, and/or for a whole body repaint.
Considering the range of products available and their differing caliber and capabilities, getting a PPF installed on part or most of your vehicle is worthwhile. The technology that has gone into developing Paint Protection Film technology is also continuously improving, so talking to your local shops about what options are currently available is a great place to start! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to ask them about protecting your windshield!
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