Welcome to the review and test of the a 3M product called:
Scotchgard™ Paint Protection Film.
It's not too long ago that I was strapping down my giant blank vinyl bra, on the front of my car. Six years ago I wanted to keep my car spotless, and keeping the front end out of harms way was a tough task. Most of us don't have a garage queen that sits in a custom showroom, or that gets trailered to the local track on weekends. With the new breed of "daily driver" sports cars on the market, the need for a better way to protect the front end of the car has been a long time in the making.
The "clear bra" system is nothing new, in fact it has been on the market for quite sometime. Protective films have become very popular, in fact many dealers are offering it as an option. Ferrari and a few other manufacturers have also started applying it before customers take delivery. The fact is, paint and body work are expensive. Random touch ups and dent removal can cost nearly $100-200 per panel in some areas. The average enthusiast is still yet unaware of how far these clear bra systems have come or that they exist. This is why this article is here, to educate and help the car lover to, enjoy driving without fear of the annoying chips and nics from daily driving.
Q. Why the clear bra, why not just use the standard vinyl bra covers, they have to protect the car better.
A. The truth is the old vinyl bras that cover the car like a shield are much thicker, and will deflect larger objects. However, it is very difficult, to remove and install them. They should never be left on for extended periods do to moisture being trapped between the paint and the cover. In so many cases, people tend to leave them on too long or use them when it rains, which causes clouding or hazing the in the paint's clear coat. Even worse they trap dirt and debris between the cover and the paint, which during movement, or removal can cause scratching of the clear coat as well. Aside from that, most people have a problem with the vinyl bra's aesthetics. Back in the day, we all understood, that it's better to have the black bra than paint damage.
Q. Just how much can a film like the 3M actually protect?
A. You will find loose claims about this. Testing from 3M reveals that the protectant will deflect road debris without film damage at up to 60MPH with the standard film. Reading further on will demonstrate some of this with some in house testing. My personal testing and from talking to other owners reveals that this film will take some serious abuse without showing signs of it. There are limitations, the film is designed to protect against chips and small dings from small rocks and road debris, not 4" hail or a baseball bat to the car. It may still prevent paint damage but it won't stop large dings and dents.
Q. I heard it is really expensive.
A. Yes and no. Depends on who does it. Many dealerships hire contractors to come in to apply the film. If you have it done at a dealer expect to pay two people for your clear bra. Depending on the vehicle, they may mark up the service anywhere from $100-300. (This is from a local query of 8 dealerships in Northern Illinois) If you find a local installer, who is certified by 3M you get a guarantee against workmanship defects for 3 years in general sometimes longer. The cost for a full laser cut application designed for the car (partial hood, fenders, mirrors, and front bumper) will cost on average 550$ installed. An OEM vinyl bra or a Calgon Customs, will cost on average $200-300 depending on the vehicle.
Q. Can I do it myself?
A. Yes, but watch the videos first. Call this number at 3M to order:
So now that we have the most basic questions out of the way, lets move onto more reasons on why this product works so well. The biggest thing with this product was how easy it was to clean, with an almost urethane like finish, anything that soiled it like, bugs, tar, sap, and dirt, came right off with a damp microfiber sponge with a squirt of dawn blue, or your standard clear coat safe car shampoo. Waxing the surface is so easy because of how glossy the clear coat on the film is. Even the car nuts, cannot see any spider webbing or scratches on the surface of the film. However on darker cars the film is not optically clear, so depending on lighting the areas covered by the clear bra seem to have a different color. 90% of the time it is nearly impossible to see the clear bra on the car, but given the right lighting most people can see the seams. See the pictures on the right..
Caring for it is so simple from using a wax to a product like 303 Aerospace Protector (303 AP), which I have almost devoted myself to using on all rubber vinyl and other surfaces. And in the tests I do, it seems like the perfect product for applying to the 3M clear bra for keeping it slick feeling and looking. 303 AP has been used in my other articles, on CV boots, rubber seals, and ball joint boots. Since I have started using it on many of these parts, the rubber and vinyl still have the same flexibility of new parts.
Now that the care section is covered, we will move on to durability. I am always asked on how the film hold up to abuse. From what I have seen, if the product is applied right, the film will take huge punishment without any sign of it. Before I had my fender repainted I was able to try to damage the film on that side I used three different keys. I tried to scratch, gouge, and cut it. Even will all my force I could not cut through the film in the car. When it was removed it showed no evidence of this on the paint either. Additionally on the mirror I have covered in the film as my test sample I attempted at using a serrated kitchen knife to see how much pressure it took to cut through. With light sawing action and pressure, the knife did nothing. With moderate sawing action and pressure the knife was cutting the film, however it did not damage the paint or cut through, with heavy pressure, over 10 lbs the knife cut through and cut the paint. The point here is even with sharp objects it is effort to cut the film. With blunt objects it will be extremely difficult to cut the film, which is one of the reasons why it works so well for deflecting debris on the road.
What would this review be without some type of demo?
You may check out the video of the shooting on the right.
First shot right off the bat, be it bad luck or the right angle showed the pellet to penetrate the 3M film. However it did not damage the clear coat or the paint underneath. The following 6 shots deflected off the coating showing no damage at all, the 7th shot was a miss.
Shocking as it seemed, after 7 shots and one miss, I could not find one mark on the mirror, except for what looked like a small even feeling area on the lower part of the mirror that was not there before. I was curious to see if stripping all the protectant off the mirror, would increase drag or friction when the projectiles hit.
Remarkably every shot caused a slight indentation on the clear coat of this mirror with a visible black spot from where the pellet hit.
I would have to say it seems very important to have some type of protectant on the paint, be it the wax of the week or the clear bra, and some 303. I was amazed at the fact that an untreated surface was so vulnerable to damage, vs. one that had some type of protector. On a negative note, this mirror seemed to have an extremely tough clear coat on it, probably much thicker than the average body panel.
In my future tests I will have a piece of sheet metal painted and coated with the 3M for similar tests. However for now, I think it is very clear that the 3M product is a must have for those concerned about keeping the car's paint mint. If the enthusiast can front the money, it is probably one of the most useful investments that can be made, aside from an oil change.
VIDEOS -right click save as 7MB MPEG1
STEP 1 3M and 303
STEP 2 No 3M 303 Applied
STEP 3 No 3M No 303 All Protectors Stripped
I would like to thank the following for making this article possible.
3M Proper Auto Care 303 Products Hondavision.com
3M makes the clear film and in no way sponsored or supplied any of the film or parts for this article. It was completely self funded.
Proper auto care is where we buy all of our supplies for our tests, at least for cleaning, we thank them for there great selection fast shipping and selection.
303 Products has some of the best cleaners that are safe, and protectants that are really amazing, check them out.
Hondvision.com for their support and funding for projects.