I think oldskool auto bras, no matter what the design, material or color, are ugly, especially when they've worked loose to flap in the wind. Another reason I've never liked them is they trap dirt. Because it's impossible to keep a bra from moving, the dirt moves, too, and scratches the paint. For that reason, I used to live with braless front ends figuring that chips from tiny stones and other road debris were the lesser of two evils.
Then, about a dozen years ago, I discovered automotive paint protection film (PPF) and tried it on the front end of a '95 Coupe. During my initial research, I learned PPF had been around for over a decade. It's an adhesive-backed, clear, polyurethane film originally developed by 3M for the leading edges of helicopter rotor blades to improve their durability during operations in desert areas. The product, then known as "Scotchcal," earned its stripes" back in 1991, during the Gulf War. It decreased the erosion and impact damage to rotor blades done by dust, sand, dirt and rocks. It saved the military a boatload of money because rotors last longer with this urethane film on them.
An early automotive PPF application was on the deck lid of early-'90s Corvette Convertibles. Since then, GM and other car companies have applied urethane film to parts of vehicle bodies prone to abrasion and impact damage. It's not known who first used PPF as a "clear bra" on the entire front end of a car, but the market for this idea grew quickly in the early-'00s after 3M and the other PPF maker, Xpel Technologies Corporation of San Antonio, Texas, developed software which could control "cutting plotters" which are, basically, computer plotters set-up to cut urethane film rather than print on paper. The two companies, also, supplied vehicle-specific patterns for the cutting plotters which their dealers could download from the companies' web sites. Computer-controlled cutting of the film reduced the cost of PPF such that it could be used to protect large portions of a vehicle's bodywork and become a profitable automotive aftermarket product.
In recent years, some dealers who sold and installed 3Ms PPF were dissatisfied with its marketing and its dealer support system. That provided an opening for competitor, Xpel, which had a product that was as good or better and backed that up with a better marketing program and stronger dealer support. The result has been wide acceptance of Xpel's "Ultimate", "Xtreme", "Stealth" and "Armor" film lines by both PPF dealer/installers and enthusiasts.
New Corvette Customers Love Xpel
Since then, Xpel has taken an increasing large part of the PPF market. Not only are car enthusiast end-users moving to Xpel but so is the new car business. CAC sponsor, MacMulkin Chevrolet-Cadillac in is the second highest-volume, single dealer seller of Corvette in the United States. Located in Nashua, New Hampshire, MacMulkin sells more Corvettes in a week than many dealers sell in a year. Fully 85% of the Vette sales go out the door with Xpel paint protection film on the front end. MacMulkin's Xpel Installer Automotive Elegance in nearby Stoneham
We sat down to talk with with Mark Makarewicz, Corvette Sales Manager at MacMulkin, for a better understanding of why the dealership installs Xpel on the majority of Corvettes it sells.
Corvette Action Center: Why did you switch paint protection film brands from the previous one you had been using?
Mark Makarewicz: We switched from 3M to Xpel due to the demand by our clientele to offer the best products available to protect their vehicles.
CAC: Does Automotive Elegance perform the Xpel Ultimate installations on-site? How often is Automotive Elegance there doing your PPF work?
MM: All installs are done on the third floor of our showroom where cars are kept prior to delivery. They are here very frequently.
CAC: What selling points do you tout when encouraging your customers to add XPEL to their vehicle purchase?
MM: We just explain how the product keeps the car looking brand new and has the 10 year warranty against yellowing lifting or cracking.
CAC: Do Corvette owners seem willing to invest in XPEL ULTIMATE PPF?
MM: We close near 85% of our customers on XPEL. Resale is one of the other key points we explain to our customers.
CAC: When customers are ordering their new Corvette either via phone or online and you’re shipping the car to them, how do you encourage them to opt for the XPEL?
MM: Our customers take our word for it when we say they should get PPF on their car especially that customers in the south drive their car much more. We always insist it be done prior to the car leaving our dealership. We provide documentation to the customer either in-person or via email showing the different packages we offer and what parts of the car are protected.
CAC: Do what do you attribute your success in being so successful with sales of Xpel Ultimate?
MM: The product truly does sell itself. We show customers our vehicles we have with it on, and they understand the importance of PPF.
Techside of Xpel
Xpel Ultimate Paint Protection Film is a three-layer sandwich consisting of: 1) a 0.5-mil elastomeric polymer, clear coat which, because of its low surface energy, resists stains and contamination and, because of its "self-healing" property, eliminates small surface scratches, 2) a 6.0-mil polyurethane core formulated to have flexibility and memory when stretched and 3) a 1.6-mil, acrylic copolymer adhesive formulated to not only "stick" well to automotive finishes but to, also, have rework and remove ability. Ultimate is manufactured with a 3-mil, peel-off backing.
When applied to exterior surfaces of a vehicle, Xpel Ultimate improves the resistance of those surfaces to damage from: rubber particles, insects and fuel or oil spray and, most importantly, impacts of small stones or other debris. Because the urethane-based, clear coating is capable of impact absorption, small stones do not leave marks and even bigger ones will leave less of a mark than they would on an unprotected surface.
Back in 2003, I began a real-world test of paint protection film on my 1995 Coupe. At the time, the car's paint was not seriously damaged, but it showed the car's 67,000 miles with a fair amount of chips on the nose and the hood. I had PPF applied to the nose, the forward part of the hood and the forward facing surfaces on the side-view mirrors. My intent was to prevent further deterioration of the car's finish due to stone chips and other minor impact damage which you get during highway driving. I was amazed to notice that, once the film was installed, most of the smaller existing chips and mars disappeared. That, alone, is worth the price of the installation.
A week later, I took the car on the 50th Anniversary Corvette Caravan. In fact, I was assigned the honor of leading the Southern California/Southern Nevada Section of the National Corvette Caravan. Driving the SCSN Caravan Lead Car, I gave PPF a 4687-mile test over a two-week period on the drive to Bowling Green, KY and back. The product's performance was exceptional. During a close inspection washing the car after the long trip, I noticed only one new mar to the area protected by Scotchcal and that was from a pretty big stone. In fact, my then-fiancee and now-wife, the Fairest Sandra the Red, remembers us getting hit with that rock, kicked-up by a truck ahead of us, as it bounced off the front of the hood, then nailed the windshield in front of her, taking a small chip out of the glass. Other than that, you couldn't tell the front end was on a car which had been nearly 5000 miles.
In fact, paint protection film works so well that, four years later, when it came time to begin planning the 2009 Caravan, I had it installed on the 2004 Z06 which was the Lead Car for the '09. Again, the Scotchcal made a significant contribution to the survival of our '04's front end during the SoCal/SoNev Section's prerun trips along with the Caravan to Bowling Green
There is one characteristic of PPF which some, who are sensitive to the look of the exterior of their vehicles, might question. If you apply film to a large, relatively flat surface, such as the front of a hood, there will be a line at the edge of the film which is visible from certain angles and in certain lighting. I did not find these two qualities objectionable considering the significant improvement in appearance compared to a traditional, fabric auto bra, that the product protects my front end and that it's durable beyond when a fabric bra has completely rotted away.
Most Recent Xpel Test
In the Spring of 2012, as the SCSN Organizing Team began planning of the 2014 National Corvette Caravan, I went looking for a factory-trained installer to put Xpel Ultimate paint protection film on what would be the Lead Car for the SCSN Section, a '12 Z06. Transhine Auto Detailing of Whittier, California stepped up to support the SoCal/SoNev Caravan by installing "Auto Armor" (their name for Xpel PPF) on the front end, the lower part of the front fenders, the sideview mirrors, the rocker panels and the upward facing surfaces of the car's side skirts.
Ultimate PPF is resistant to: weak acids, most solvents, gasoline and oil and is thermally stable up to 176°F. Illustrating Ultimate's robust surface is a video on Xpel's YouTube channel in which the hood of an Audi A8, to which Ultimate is applied, is marked with a black Sharpie then stained with a raw egg. After a period in the sun, the Sharpie and egg wipe off easily. While the production of this video is amateurish and there's no sound, it illustrates convincingly how resistant Xpel Ultimate is to surface contaminants.
Technical information supplied to us by Xpel states Ultimate's shrinkage is rated less than 0.1%. Ultimate is immune to weathering for at least a year and up to two years. The data Xpel uses to support this claim was derived from two, outdoor "weathering" tests. The first was for a year with the sun at 45° which is said to be typical of Arizona. The second was for two years with with the sun at a 5° angle, said to be typical of southern Florida. With either test, there was no more than 2.0-dE change in color. "dE" is a unit of measure in a "color space" system commonly used by the industry to quantify changes in color. In that system, 2.0 is a small color shift which might be noticeable on a light-colored surface. In a practical sense, Xpel's dE will be less than that of a dye-colored, fabric car bra over the same length of time.
Xpel backs Ultimate with a 10-year, limited warranty against defects such as yellowing, staining, cracking, blistering and delaminating. This warranty does not cover normal wear and tear, road debris impact, accidents, collisions or intentional damage of any kind. This warranty, in most cases, covers the labor to install replacement film.
With, Xpel products, or any PPF for that matter, when installed to a portion of a large, relatively flat surface, such as the front ⅓ of a hood, like we did on the CAC's C6 Z06 project, the edge of the film may be visible from certain angles and in certain lighting. I have never found this quality to be objectionable and, in fact, with Xpel Ultimate, compared to previous installations, of a competing product, 3M Scotchgard, these lines are not as noticeable.
Some paint protection film manufacturers sell their product to end-users. In fact, Xpel markets its entry-level, "Xtreme" brand paint protection kits on-line. Our advice to those interested in do-it-yourself PPF is: consider that carefully. In the last several years, we've had five film installations on different cars, three with Transhine Auto Detailing in Whittier, California and two with other dealers. After observing the process a number of times, in most instances, we do not think paint protection film installation lends itself to DIYers. This is not to say that non-professionals can't install the film--they can, but it takes training, experience and the right tools to complete the task. A full Xpel Ultimate installation on most Corvettes takes about six hours for a professional installer, like Transhine's Bill DeBever, who has years of experience with PPF. Xpel requires its dealers to undergo training at Xpel's headquarters in Texas. At "PPF School" new Xpel dealers learn all the 'tricks" some of which are, where to start application of a section of film, how to reposition film which you just installed wrong, how to get the film to adhere to compound curves and sharp edges and when and how to use heat during an installation. If you don't know those tricks, you can ruin hundreds of dollars worth of film. For that reason, we agree with Xpel and Transhine: unless you have the correct tools, proper cleaning solutions, proper surface preparation solutions and experience applying adhesive films to surfaces with complex shapes; leave installing paint protection film to professionals.
Xpel Ultimate has worked quite well on our '12 Z06. The biggest difference between Ultimate and the products we've used previously, is the appearance of the top, "clear coat" layer of the film. Other PPFs we've installed have a sort of "orange peel" look and feel to their surfaces. Xpel Ultimate, has none of that. The surface is smooth--almost as if there is no film at all. We have several other vehicles with "clear bras" but, with Xpel Ultimate on the Z06, the edge line discussed above, while it is, indeed, visible, is harder to see. We're not quite sure why, but we think it's the nature of Xpel Ultimate that those edges are less visible.
Xpel Ultimate is available for C4, C5, C6 and C7. For more information, see the Xpel web site. The Xpel web site, also, has a data base of Xpel-trained installers. If you are shopping the greater Los Angeles area for an experienced Xpel dealer, contact Transhine Auto Detailing, 15130 E. Whittier Bl., Whittier CA 90603. 562-693-5619, www.transhine.com/ If you are shopping for an Xpel Ultimate installer in New England, contact Automotive Elegance in Stoneham, Massachusetts 02180, www.clearbraboston.com