Updated by Victor Espeland on 10/10/22
Paint protection film (also known as clear bra or PPF) is the best paint protection money can buy — emphasis on the word money. When you’re making that kind of investment, you start to think about the advantages and disadvantages of PPF and clear bra. What are the pros and cons? That’s what we’ll be answering in this article.
We’ll be honest — Behind the Detail strongly believes the “pros” of PPF outweigh the “cons”. That being said, there are definitely some drawbacks of clear wrapping a car. For the most part though these disadvantages are about the cost, potential for installation error, limits to its protection and minor aesthetic annoyances.
So if you’re okay with the cost, you trust your installer and you’re aware PPF doesn’t protect against everything, these cons aren’t really cons after all.
- 1 Topics covered in this article:
- 2 The Cost of PPF
- 3 The Aesthetics of PPF
- 4 The Protection of PPF
- 5 The Durability of PPF
- 6 The Maintenance of PPF
- 7 The Resale Value of Cars Protected by PPF
- 8 Is Paint Protection Film Worth It?
Topics covered in this article:
The Cost of PPF
Pro: It’s less expensive than re-painting a car
When it comes to severe paint damage like heavy rock chipping or clear coat failure, the only solution is to re-paint. That can be expensive, especially if you’re having to re-paint frequently. Investing in paint protection film upfront, however, will help protect against that kind of severe damage, saving you from repeat visits to the body shop.
What about re-painting for a new look? If you want to change your vehicle’s appearance, color or finish-changing paint protection film/clear bra is also less expensive than re-painting. It costs on average anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 to re-paint an average size vehicle, while installing PPF/clear bra will typically stay in the $3-5K range.
Con: It’s still pretty expensive
Just because a service is less expensive relative to another service doesn’t mean it’s affordable for everyone. For many, paint protection film is totally out of their price range. In these cases, a DIY ceramic coating might be a better option for paint protection. It won’t stop rock chips but it will at least make cleaning easier.
The Aesthetics of PPF
Pro: It enhances and maintains gloss and color
Gloss is the boss when it comes to paint aesthetics (unless the finish is matte, of course) which is why it’s so great that PPF enhances and maintains that shine. Glossy automotive paint starts to dull as scratches accumulate and oxidation from UV rays pervades.
Paint protection film/clear bra helps prevent this kind of dulling by resisting scratches and, thanks to UV protection becoming more and more common in PPF, by inhibiting the UV reactions that cause oxidation in the first place. All this adds up to paint that stays shinier for longer.
Con: It can worsen “Orange Peel” texture
Orange peel is a topic we’ve discussed before on Behind the Detail, but to give you a quick explanation it’s a texture seen on most automotive paint that comes as a natural byproduct of the painting process at OEM factories.
Depending on the kind of film, some PPF will actually worsen the appearance of orange peel due to the inherent thickness of the film. That being said, not all PPF is the same and some kinds will add very little to no texture to the underlying paint.
The Protection of PPF
Pro: It’s the best car paint protection
Paint protection film, clear bra and vinyl wraps, as we’ve mentioned before, are the most durable paint protection money can buy. PPF prevents chips — it’s a literal shield for paint that’s thick enough to stop tiny rocks from peppering the paint on your front end with unsightly chips.
Some PPF even has self-healing properties. When activated by heat (typically via a heat gun) the film rebounds from light scratches. Considering that light scratches from washing and drying are the #1 cause of paint dulling over time, the ability to self-heal is crucial if you want to avoid polishing.
When it comes to paint protection film vs. ceramic coatings, PPF wins in terms of protection. Although great for resisting contamination, ceramic coatings simply can’t compete with that kind of durability. Paint protection film also lasts a long time, with high quality films protecting for up to 10 years or more.
Con: It doesn’t protect against everything
This might be common knowledge to some, but many people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how much paint protection film can protect against. The fact is, PPF/clear bra is great for resisting moderate to light abrasion and tiny rock chips, but it’s not going to withstand someone keying your car or a giant stone denting your front end. That’s not to say PPF isn’t great at protecting; it’s just not a magical force field like some imagine.
PPF also isn’t great for resisting contamination. Yes, it will stop the underlying paint from getting dirty, but it won’t necessarily be easier to clean like it would be with a ceramic coating.
Many PPFs these days have hydrophobic properties that do resist contamination to an extent, but these properties are usually lost within a few months. For that reason it’s best to apply a ceramic coating for PPF on top of the film so you can get longer-lasting contaminant resistance.
The Durability of PPF
Pro: PPF can last up to 12 years or more
While ceramic coatings are certainly durable — some even tout “lifetime” longevity — they remain susceptible to wear and require regular reinforcement treatments to maintain protection.
Paint protection film, on the other hand, will last much longer without requiring re-application. It’s thicker than ceramic coatings, so it wears at a much slower rate. Many paint protection film brands will warranty their PPF because it lasts so long. Legend Paint Protection Film warranties their “PPF Prime” for 12 years.
Con: PPF can still deteriorate over time
Nothing is permanent — even paint protection film. In the past, “yellowing” was the biggest concern. This refers to how clear film will turn a shade of yellow as UV rays from the sun damage the material. Today most PPF has some level of UV resistance to stop this kind of yellowing, but it can still be a concern for vehicles with PPF that are being left outside.
The Maintenance of PPF
Pro: You don’t have to polish PPF
Like we mentioned above, many paint protection film manufacturers today are engineering their films to self-heal light scratches, commonly called “wash marks” or “swirls”. Typically these kinds of scratch patterns will require a light polishing to be removed, but with self-healing film the PPF will “bounce back” from minor scratches.
Pro: If you do polish PPF, it won’t harm the clear coat
The best way to enhance the appearance of automotive paint is by polishing. The problem is that it’s destructive to the clear coat — you’re literally sanding down the factory-applied protection to level out scratches and imperfections. Remove enough clear coat and the paint could fail completely, leaving the vehicle susceptible to rust.
This isn’t a problem, however, if you’re polishing paint protection film instead of the clear coat. That’s right: PPF can be polished to remove scratches and improve shine! Now, you won’t necessarily be able to remove every last scratch as you don’t want to be too aggressive on the film. But you will be able to get the shine in great shape without harming the clear coat.
Con: It does require special care
Because paint protection film is made from urethane, it behaves a little differently in comparison to clear coat. Chief among these differences is how it reacts to solvents. Solvents are a common ingredient in cleaning products that helps break down contamination so it can be removed.
The trouble is many solvents are too caustic to be used on paint protection film and can potentially weaken the material in the area it’s applied. For this reason you need to use a cleaner designed explicitly for PPF so it will be safe to use on the film.
The Resale Value of Cars Protected by PPF
Pro: It can keep the resale value of a car higher
We all know that once a car drives off the dealership lot, it depreciates in resale value and only continues to plummet from there. That depreciation can be mitigated, however, by maintaining the vehicle in as close to new condition as possible. The best way to maintain a vehicle’s resale value is to protect the paint with paint protection film/clear bra because it will prevent the rock chips, scratches and oxidation that lowers resale value.
Con: Botched removal can damage the paint
Let’s say you had PPF installed years ago and now you’re selling your car. You return to your PPF installer to have the film removed with the idea that the paint underneath will be pristine, resulting in a higher resale value. But then the unthinkable happens — as the installer removes the PPF, the adhesive lifts up the paint with it!
So now instead of increasing the vehicle’s resale value, PPF has actually decreased the value. That defeats the entire purpose of PPF in the first place! For this reason it is crucial that your installer be experienced not just in application but in removal as well.
Is Paint Protection Film Worth It?
Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons, it’s time to make a decision — is it worth it for you to get PPF/clear bra installed on your vehicle? We can’t make the choice for you, but we can make a recommendation.
The best way to protect your paint is to have PPF installed with a ceramic coating applied on top.
Why’s that? Well, like we said, the pros of PPF protection overwhelmingly outweigh the cons. As long as your expectations are realistic, you can afford the service and you’ve got a solid installer, PPF/clear bra is the only choice if you’re serious about protecting paint.
That being said, PPF isn’t the best at resisting the kind of grime and contamination that accumulates from the road. It’s also susceptible to yellowing from UV rays. Most PPF will have some hydrophobic properties and UV protection, but those benefits will wear away as the vehicle is driven more and more.
A ceramic coating for clear bra/PPF, however, will provide all of those properties for a much longer time. For that reason, installing a ceramic coating for PPF/clear bra is absolutely necessary to complete the PPF’s protection.
What do you think of the pros and cons of PPF/clear bra that we shared? If there’s anything you disagree with or have another perspective on, please comment below and let us know!