Each time you get behind the wheel, you’re putting your car’s paint job at risk. Whether it’s debris kicked up by other drivers, oils set free by the year’s first rains, bird and bug excretions, or even just the sun itself, a number of damaging materials can chip, scratch, stain, or corrode your car’s paint – provided you don’t take measures to protect it.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to proactively protect your car’s paint job from most anything the road might throw at it. It’s called paint protection film (PPF), and when applied correctly, this thin, clear film can keep your car safe from the dangers mentioned above, saving you the time and cost of professional paint and body repair.
Want to learn more about PPF? Read on for a brief explainer of what PPF is, how it protects your car, and how to have it installed.
What is paint protection film?
Paint protection film (also known as PPF, clear bra, clear mask, clear wrap, clear paint film, and a host of other names) is a clear, thermoplastic urethane film that protects a car’s paint job from damage caused by:
Chips and scuffs
And all kinds of other potentially nasty actions and substances
Originally invented and intended for military use (specifically, to protect helicopter rotors from wear and damage), the automotive industry has refined PPF into a thin, self-healing top coat that, when applied by an expert, greatly extends the life of a car’s paint job while remaining invisible. You can apply PPF to your car’s hood, bumper, fenders, doors, mirrors, rocker panels, or entire body.
How does paint protection film work?
The polyurethane that serves as the base of paint protection film has a number of key properties that make it perfect for protecting your car’s paint from damage and corrosion. Polyurethane is:
Resistant to impact, abrasion and corrosion
But most importantly, polyurethane (and thus PPF) can return to its original shape after being damaged. This means that PPF can absorb the force associated with a scuff, scratch, or other paint-damaging action and, after a bit of time, heal itself – so your car’s paint job looks none the worse for wear.
Of course, polyurethane isn’t the only material used in PPF; it’s just the main one. PPFs also include a clearcoat top layer, designed to enhance your car’s paint job as well as prevent bird poop and dead bugs from sticking to it, and a durable, invisible acrylic adhesive that keeps the film attached throughout your car’s lifetime.
Those three layers form a film that’s about 8 mils, or .008 inches, thick, with the polyurethane accounting for about 6 of those 8 mils. When applied correctly, PPFs are completely invisible and do not yellow, peel, or blister, ensuring your car’s paint job is not only well-protected, but shines through.
What kinds of paint protection film are there? (And which one’s right for me?)
As with most products (especially automotive ones), there are a variety of different paint protection films on the market, produced by a number of different manufacturers, including:
Each of these manufacturers offers different brands of PPFs, which themselves offer different features, including UV resistance, hydrophobic properties, different finishes, etc. For an example of the differences and similarities between a set of PPFs, check out Exclusive Detail’s breakdown of XPEL’s Ultimate film, SunTek’s Ultra film, and 3M’s Scotchgard Pro film. After you do, you’ll have at least some idea of how difficult it can be to straight-up compare one PPF to another.
That’s why we’d encourage you to do some basic research, maybe locking down a brand or some features that you’re looking for, and then finding a knowledgeable PPF installer in your area who can recommend the right PPF for you and your car. Doing some basic research will put you in a good spot to ask your PPF installer some starter questions (Should I go with a hydrophobic film? How important is UV resistance?) that they can answer and elaborate on.
How do I apply (and remove) paint protection film?
You don’t. Or rather, you shouldn’t. PPF installation has a steep learning curve. When installed by a novice, PPFs can bubble, stretch incorrectly, wrap incorrectly, trap dirt or other debris under the film, and blemish your car’s paint job. You can see a few pictures and videos of what bad PPF application looks like here.
So unless you have years of experience, we recommend you don’t install your car’s PPF yourself. Rather, we recommend you seek out an experienced PPF installer, one who offers a good warranty (7+ years), installs PPFs regularly, is insured and credentialed, and can show you some finished PPF installations in person.
The same advice applies to PPF removal, should you choose to remove or replace your PPF coating. Amateur PPF removal can damage your car’s paint job and body, negating the benefits of applying PPF in the first place!
Where can I get paint protection film?
While you can get paint protection film from any of the retailers we linked to above, we really do recommend you purchase PPF as part of a professional installation. Your PPF installer likely works with, knows, and prefers certain PPFs (for example, we work with and prefer XPEL), as well as which will work best for your needs.
Remember, when you look for a professional PPF installer, the questions you’ll want to ask them are:
What is your warranty? (It should likely be 7+ years.)
Do you install PPFs regularly?
Are you insured and credentialed for PPF installation?
Can you show me some finished PPF installations, in-person?
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend ourselves – provided you’re looking in the Central Valley area. Central Valley Mobile Auto Detailing’s been in business since 2002, and we offer XPEL PPF installation. We’d love to help you protect your car from chips, abrasions, bird droppings, UV exposure, and other dangers while you drive the Clovis- or Fresno-area streets.