May 2008 Camaro Performers MagazineArmored Car
Don't let rock chips ruin your new paint!
By Steven Rupp
Photography by Author
If your car is nice then chances are that the most expensive single item you dropped cash on was your paint job. It's also the item that takes the most abuse if you actually drive, and especially race, your Camaro. After all, even the nicest roads out there are strewn with rocks and junk that's just waiting to add one more chip to your paint.
The problem is that almost all the ways to combat this fact-of-life look like crud on your car. If you want to stop rocks from chewing up your lower fenders and quarter panels you could put on mud flaps, but then you would have to suffer ridicule from your buddies. If you go to the track you could coat your car's vulnerable areas in the infamous blue tape. But, aside from the goofy look, it's not going to help you on the public highways. Even something like a vinyl front end mask, has its own issues and, if installed or made poorly, can sometimes cause more damage than they prevent. The holy-grail is a system that protects the paint, but doesn't kill the looks of the car. Enter clear film.
Clear film was first developed for the military to protect composite rotor blades from chips and damage caused by small rock and sand debris. At some point a cleaver person figured it might work to protect cars from damage as well. When the technology first moved to the automotive side it was virtually identical to what was used in aviation. The problem is that the material, at that point, was about protection more than looks and suffered from a few appearance problems. Namely a rough surface (i.e. orange peel) and a tendency to yellow over time.
Today's films are specifically designed for automotive use. This means that the goal is to protect the paint and look great. Depending on the brand, the surface is as smooth as a buffed out paint job and advances in technology has made it able to stay shiny and not yellow over time. Sean Heiland, of Ultimate Shield, makes his living installing clear paint protection film. Many of his customers bring in high end exotics for protection, but he's being seeing an increase in classic cars seeking the same protection. According to Heiland it only makes sense that someone who has spent 10-20 grand on a paint job would want to keep it nice looking as long as possible.
The paint on our '68 Camaro is pretty nice and since it cost us plenty we want it to stay as nice as possible. We also intend to beat on the car and as such know that rock chips and road rash is going to happen. Still, we're going to do what we can to lessen the inevitable damage by taking the Camaro over to Ultimate Shield for some high-tech protection.
1. Depending on the car there may or may not be a pattern already designed and in the system. But, for more classic cars there's not and that means all the pieces need to be custom cut for each application. Sean starts trimming the pieces for our '68 Camaro on his Graphtec plotting machine. Since there's no kit for our '68 he will cut the pieces by hand, but using the plotter to cut the longest section of straight line made things much easier.
2. Paint film shares a lot of similarities with window tint. Both seem like they would easy for the do-it-yourselfer to put on, but in fact are very hard to do right. After the rough cuts were made Sean removes the first section from the backing paper. One of the most important aspects of this install is cleanliness since, just like window tint, things stuck between the film and paint will be there forever.
3. Installation is a very wet process. A combination of distilled water and alcohol is used to keep the film from setting up before it's properly placed on the panel.
4. Once the film panel is in the right spot a squeegee is used to force out the water and bond the film to the paint. The back side of the film does have a light adhesive, but if you ever want to remove the film in the future it can be taken off. Nonetheless, if your paint is not adhered properly to the underlying metal then there is a slight risk that removing the film could pull off paint. Sean has never had this happen on a factory paint job and if a custom paint job was done right then there shouldn't be a problem there either.
5. Sean then used a pair of scissors to trim away the excess film.
6. With the film scored Sean could then remove the extra film leaving a nice clean edge. This procedure was then repeated on the left and bottom sides of the panel. A heat gun was then carefully used to set the films final bond. This is also were Sean checked the panel for any air bubbles, water bubbles, or other issues.
7. The lower panels really take a beating from rocks thrown up by tires. On our '68 Camaro this problem is even worse considering the width of the tires and the fact that they are sticky R-compound Toyo R888s. Like the rear panel the front panel was cut to the rough shape and then put in place. For a cleaner, and easier, install it's best to remove items like emblems, side maker lights, and anything else that would have to be installed around.
8. Almost any panel can be covered in the film. In fact Sean has had several customers with crazy expensive exotics cover up to 90-percent of their car, a procedure that can cost thousands of dollars. We didn't want to go that far, but we did think it would be nice to have some protection up front. To help stave off the rocks being flung up buy whomever we're chasing we covered the upper and lower front valances.
9. The most noticeable thing about the film is the edge. In most cases there's just no way around it. Nonetheless in some places it can be minimized by wrapping the film around the edge of a panel. Here you can see the difference in grades of film. The red arrow points to a cheaper brand-x film and the blue arrow to the film Ultimate Shield uses. It's pretty easy to see how the cheaper film has a very grainy appearance while the good stuff is nearly as smooth as the paint. Cheap is rarely good and good is rarely cheap.
10. And here's our finished car. Trying to take a picture to show the final product was tougher than filming Wonder Woman's invisible plane. Then again, that's the point. From eight feet away you can't see the film is there and even up close most people never realize it's there until we tell them. The film is UV neutral so that the paint under the film will fade just like the uncovered paint. That means you'll need to wax and buff the film just like you would your paint. You'll also need to use a small brush to remove wax from the edge of the film. Keep in mind that the edge of the film will be more apparent on certain colors, like black. Your installer should be able to apply a test strip on your car so you can see how noticeable, or not, the edge will be on your particular hue.