Dress up a vinyl car? What you need to know before starting

The job of applying this metallic light blue vinyl to a Tesla Model 3 cost around $700 at a store in Southern California. This included parts, labor and an optional ceramic coating for added durability.

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Scott Jacobs/Courtesy of Edmunds via AP

The job of applying this metallic light blue vinyl to a Tesla Model 3 cost around $3,700 at a store in Southern California. This included parts, labor and an optional ceramic coating for added durability.

Wrapping a vehicle in vinyl to alter its appearance used to be the domain of show cars, luxury and the exotic, but has now become mainstream as part of a growing multi-billion dollar industry. dollars.

A car wrap is a series of vinyl decals that allow an owner to change the appearance of a vehicle without the long-term commitment of a traditional paint job. Think of it as a temporary tattoo for your car. The wrap differs from a paint job in that the decals can be removed later without impacting the existing paint, assuming the wrap has been properly cared for.

Designs include standard gloss colors, gradient colors, matte finishes, chrome metallic colors, corporate logos and full artwork. The only limits are your imagination and your budget.

Here are the pros and cons of having your car wrapped.

A blank surface is required

Some people might think that a wrap can be used to breathe new life into an older car or a car with a bad paint job, but that is not the case. Of course, this will cover up unsightly paint, but if the vehicle has any scratches, paint blemishes, or door knocks, they will be quite noticeable on the newly wrapped surface.

Also, if the paint has started to peel or oxidize, the decals will have a hard time sticking to it. Many stores advise customers to fix any scratches or dents before packing the vehicle.

Costs may vary

The act of applying an auto wrap is quite laborious, so the shop will determine the price based on the size of the vehicle, the complexity of the installation, and the materials of the wrap itself.

The cost can range from $2,000 for a smaller vehicle with a common color, like matte black, and up to $10,000 for a higher-end vehicle like a Bentley or Lamborghini. The vinyl store has to be extra careful with these vehicles, and the body panels tend to be more of a hassle to remove.

Chrome or metallic finishes fall somewhere in between and tend to be more expensive due to the higher cost of materials and complexities involved in installation. Chrome wraps can become dull when overheated or stretched too much. Expect to pay around $6,500 to $8,000 for chrome wrap.

Installation procedure

First, the shop will wash and detail the vehicle with a clay bar to remove any contaminants from the paint surface. Some installers use an isopropyl alcohol solution to clean the paint, then use compressed air to blow out any remaining dirt particles.

Next, the shop will remove the bumper covers, headlights, and taillights so the installer can place the wrap as close to the edges of the body panels as possible. If a customer is not comfortable with the shop stripping the car, the installer will skip this step and use a scalpel-like tool to cut the vinyl around the lights and grilles.

The installer will then apply the vinyl to the vehicle body. A heat gun is often used to make the decal more flexible, so it can adhere well to the shape of the vehicle. Complex wrap designs will require additional layers of vinyl. Finally, the installer will use a soft felt squeegee to remove any lingering air pockets.

The whole process can take a few days. If you want the door jambs – the interior body color portion of your doors – to match, this can easily take about an extra day, as the area has many crevices. Often doors need to be dismantled before they can be packed away, which can increase the labor required and the cost.

How long do they last?

A properly maintained car wrap can last up to five years. However, the longer a car wrap is exposed to the elements, the less it will survive. Excessive exposure to sunlight can dry out vinyl wrap, making it difficult to remove and dramatically shortening its life. Some stores will offer to apply a nano-ceramic coating to the finished package, at an additional cost, to give it greater UV resistance and prevent minor scratches.

Avoid parking your wrapped vehicle on the street and exposing it to road salts and extreme temperatures. Likewise, you’ll want to avoid automatic car washes and instead use a microfiber towel to keep the wrap clean.

EDMUNDS SAYS: When it comes time to sell your car, or if you want to return the car to its original color, you can take it back to the store to have the film removed. If the wrap has retained its structural integrity, removal can be as simple as removing a bandage. But if it’s been baked and comes apart, expect to pay around $2,500 for extra labor.


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