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Car Wraps: Are They Worth It?


Gray camo pattern car wrap

Most of us like the idea of having something shiny and new. This is particularly true when it comes to our vehicles. However, the price of a new car, truck, or SUV today discourages many of us from buying a vehicle only to satisfy that craving for change. The good news is there is a more affordable path to refreshing your ride than replacing or repainting it: vinyl car wraps.

Apply lipstick over worn paint, preserve your car’s finish, or create an exciting new look. Wrapping your vehicle will fulfill the need more affordably than other alternatives.

Wrapping isn’t always the answer, but it can be a relatively inexpensive way to make a car look showroom new again.

What is Car Vinyl Wrap?

An alternative to a quality paint job, car wraps are a vinyl film with an adhesive backing that you can safely apply over a vehicle’s surface. The removable material can cover worn paint or serve as protection for a vehicle’s finish. As an option for a temporary change, you can apply a wrap and remove it later when you want to switch to another finish or color.

Providers offer wraps in a variety of finishes. Choices include matte, chrome, gloss metallic, and satin. Furthermore, wraps are available in hundreds of colors. You may wrap the entire vehicle or choose to highlight specific areas like the hood, trunk lid, or roof.

Easy to maintain, wraps preserve their appearance and finish for years without waxing. Just wash with mild pH-balanced soap and water, and you’re good to go. Moreover, if the wrap is scratched or damaged in some way, you can replace the film in the damaged area. Thus, you avoid repainting the entire vehicle.

Why Vinyl Wrap a Car?

Vinyl car wrap pattern

There are almost as many reasons to wrap a car as there are choices of car wrap colors. Well, not really, but here are several motivations for wrapping your car, truck, or SUV.

  • Increase the Value: You may have thought neon green was a great look when you bought your car, but now you realize your opinion is somewhat unique. Or, perhaps parking at the beach in the sun has dulled or damaged your ride’s paint over time. No matter, you can raise your vehicle’s trade-in or resale value with a wrap.
  • Indulge Your Itch for Change: It’s human nature to tire or even become bored with the same thing day in and day out. However, change comes with a price. When that change involves a significant chunk of most household budgets, as vehicles do, changes become few and far between. However, like replacing the shower curtain in a bathroom, wrapping your car can provide that spark of novelty to make your older vehicle seem new.
  • Save Time and Effort: A wrap is remarkably easy to maintain once it’s applied. Whichever finish you choose, a weekly dose of mild soap and water is all the wrap requires to retain its showroom look. No more trips to the local park in search of a shade tree under which you can safely wax your car. Matte finishes are notoriously time intensive to maintain, but not so with a vinyl wrap in a matte finish. As with other vinyl wraps, a matte finish wrap requires only regular washing to maintain.
  • Avoid an Expensive Paint Job: Even good factory paint jobs will fade over time with extended exposure to the elements. Sometimes your love affair with a car will outlive the factory paint. A good aftermarket paint job will cost more than twice what a professionally applied wrap will cost. Furthermore, there will be less downtime with a wrap than with painting because a wrap doesn’t require time to dry and cure. Nor does it need a clearcoat to protect the finish.
  • Graphic Options: You can add graphics, logos, and text to a wrap, whether for self-expression or advertising. When it comes time to sell or trade in the vehicle, such wraps won’t affect the value because you can remove them.
  • Pick Exactly What You Want: Car wrap combinations are seemingly endless. You can pick from hundreds of colors and multiple finishes. You may wrap the entire vehicle in one color or choose to mix and match colors for particular areas. Maybe you want the car’s body to have one color while another shade covers the roof or hood. There are textured finishes and even color-shifting wraps. You can let your imagination run wild.

What Are the Different Types of Vinyl Wraps?

Different manufacturers and different providers categorize wraps in various ways. We’ll give you some background to sharpen your focus during car-wrap decision-making.

Vinyl film is of two basic types: calendered and cast. Calendered is a thicker, less pliable film. It doesn’t translate well to car wrapping because it resists conforming to the creases and curves found on the surface of virtually every vehicle. Whether you do it yourself or have a wrap applied by a professional, steer clear of calendered film.

On the other hand, cast film is easier to work with and adapts well to the various surfaces found on vehicles. You can easily remove cast film without damaging a car’s factory finish. Therefore, ensure that you’re wrapping your car with cast film.

Beyond those two basic vinyl-film categories, providers typically separate wraps into finishes. Depending on the provider, those finishes may be as few as four or as many as a dozen variations. Here are the most likely finish types you’ll encounter.

  • Gloss: Essentially a shiny finish, many manufacturers offer different forms of this finish, such as high-gloss, metallic-gloss, and chrome, to name a few.
  • Matte: Think of matte as the opposite of gloss. It’s a flat finish that serves to emphasize a vehicle’s shape and contours.
  • Satin: This finish is what you might get if you crossed matte with gloss. It’s a matte-like finish with a bit of shine.
  • Carbon Fiber: Real carbon fiber infuses your car’s appearance with a sense of performance while adding less weight than the metal pieces it replaces. Carbon fiber wraps usually have some texture to enhance their carbon fiber appearance.
  • Color-Shift: Designed to appear to change color when viewed from different angles and in different amounts of light, color-shift wraps are more of the glossy variety.

How Does Vinyl Wrap Differ from Paint Protection Film?

Vinyl wraps and paint protection films are similar because both products protect a car’s paint and finish. However, where a vinyl wrap can change the color and finish of a vehicle, a paint protection film is transparent and invisible.

What Are the Available Car Wrap Colors?

If you can imagine a color, the odds are it’s available as a car wrap. At most, automakers offer 10 or 12 stock colors for a new vehicle. Some models have much fewer than that. Vinyl car wraps, on the other hand, come in hundreds of colors and finishes. They range from ordinary colors like black and white to intense hues like pink, orange, and purple.

Triangle pattern car wrap

Maybe you want some colorful camouflage or a series of stripes. How about polka dots? Not only do vinyl wraps come in a wide range of colors, but wrap manufacturers can supply just about any design you can dream up.

If you can’t decide on a color, pick a color-shifting wrap to be surprised by the shade each and every time you approach your car.

Available colors are constantly evolving and changing. There is always something new.

Customizing and Advertising

You may have seen a passing vehicle covered with crazy graphics and wondered where it was painted. Well, chances are what you were looking at was a vinyl wrap. If you’re working with the right shop, they can produce a wrap featuring just about any design you can imagine.

Likewise, wrapping can be used as a moving billboard to advertise your business or another entity. Consult your tax professional to see if you can write off some or all of the wrapping costs if you file taxes as self-employed or a small business.

How Much Does Wrapping a Car Cost?

There are so many considerations when wrapping a vehicle that providing an accurate average price is nearly impossible. Here’s what will influence the ultimate cost:

  • Manufacturer – Several manufacturers produce vinyl wraps. For example, 3M, Oracal Films, Avery Dennison Films, and several more companies manufacture wraps at various price points.
  • Color and Finish – Some colors and finishes cost more than others. These differences vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • Vehicle Size – It costs more to wrap a Chevy Tahoe than it does a Chevy Spark. The difference comes from the cost of the amount of wrap needed and the amount of time required to apply the wrap.
  • Amount of Coverage – How much of the vehicle do you want to wrap: All of it or only the hood?

Let’s say you want to wrap your entire 2021 Nissan Altima. You will need roughly 130 sq. ft. of the wrap. You could spend between $600 and $2,000 or more, depending on the brand, color, and finish. Professionally applying it will set you back another $1,000 to as much as $2,500, depending on the type of film. Larger vehicles can cost as much as $5,000 to have wrapped professionally. Exotics will cost even more.

Can You Vinyl Wrap a Car Yourself?

The simple answer is yes. If you have the time, energy, and patience, you can save some serious coin wrapping a vehicle yourself. However, you will need the appropriate tools. Moreover, you will need to visit a repair shop for any dents or dings because wrapping won’t eliminate them. Also, the vehicle’s surface must be operating-room clean. Therefore, a relatively controlled environment is best for accomplishing this task.

Applying vinyl car wrap

If you have ever applied a decal to a surface or tinted your car’s windows, wrapping your vehicle is the same process. However, it’s on a much grander scale. We recommend researching, talking to other enthusiasts, and watching as many how-to videos as possible before embarking on any wrapping project.

You don’t need a Ph.D. in car wrapping to produce a successful outcome. Still, there are a lot of things that can go wrong that will impact the finished product. Overstretching, poorly matched seams, bubbles, and loose corners can disappoint the do-it-yourselfer. It’s worth repeating that the vehicle’s surface must be absolutely free of grime and imperfections.

You will need various tools, including a heat gun, a vinyl-wrapping felt squeegee, a vinyl cutter, trim tools, and so forth.

There is encouraging news. Making a mistake won’t ruin the job because the vinyl wrap is removable. Simply peel off the piece you messed up and replace it. It’s a good idea to order a little more wrap than you think you will need.

How Long Will a Vinyl Car Wrap Last?

Any mistakes you or a professional applier make in putting down the wrap will come back to haunt you and reduce the wrap’s life. A good rule of thumb is that anything that adds wear to your car’s exterior finish will also affect a vinyl car wrap.

Other factors affecting a vinyl wrap’s life expectancy:

Wrap Quality – A quality vinyl wrap will outlast a bargain-basement one. If your budget doesn’t allow for investing in a quality wrap, you will waste your time and money on an inferior brand.

Keeping It Clean – Whether it’s a paint or vinyl finish, it requires weekly washing to maintain the properties of its finish. The same things will destroy a vinyl wrap as well as ruin paint. You must clean bird poop, tree sap, bug guts, and the other usual suspects from the surface immediately. Hand washing with a mild pH-balanced soap is preferred, but you can get away with an occasional touchless carwash.

Storage – Keeping your vehicle under a roof overnight will add to the wrap’s life span. Furthermore, not parking it under trees, like maple and elm, that drop sap will avoid some of nature’s damage.

Weather – Vinyl isn’t immune to the effects of weather. Coastal salt air, bright sunlight, and very hot temperatures can damage the vinyl. If you live in the Snowbelt, salt from the roads, if left on the vinyl, can damage your wrap.

Tips for Maintaining Vinyl Car Wraps

There’s no big secret to taking care of your vinyl wrap, but you must remember that it’s not a paint job. Wash it regularly using a quality pH-balanced car soap and dry it with a soft cloth. Do not wax or attempt to use a cutting compound on the vinyl. You can soften harder-to-remove substances like tree sap by soaking the spots with soapy water for a few minutes.

Should You Wrap Your Car?

If you have the room in your budget and want to renew your car’s exterior, vinyl wrap is a solid solution. Whether to cover worn paint, protect healthy paint, or just switch things up a bit, wrapping is an affordable way to accomplish all these needs.

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