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High-tech film could be your paint's saviour - Edmonton Journal Article, 2008

Driving a car in our harsh climate -- especially in winter -- means one thing. Inevitably, the flawlessly smooth, gleaming paint of your vehicle will be damaged.

Whether you've just bought a $16,000 new Toyota Corolla or plunked down $127 'large' for a 2008 Jaguar XKR convertible, every new car owner dreads discovering that first rock chip on the car. The good news is there's a great solution to protecting your new car finish -- clear urethane film.

To get the inside story on automotive clear protective films, we visited European Auto Tinting, an Edmonton enterprise that's been operating since 1994.

Ron Jansen, company co-owner, has been installing clear protective film on vehicles for more than a decade.

"I think (our shop) is about No. 5 in North America for the amount of 3M protectant (film) installed," he says, continuing, "I've installed this clear film on all sorts of cars, trucks -- and even on skateboards, golf clubs and boats!"

Peter Sitek, European Auto Tinting co-owner, learned how to install the protectant film while living in Italy. Sitek claims the product is sometimes difficult to sell, because the clear film is virtually invisible.

Jansen says some of his customers have shown up to pick up their vehicles and have argued with him believing the installation hadn't been done.

"I've had to walk them to their cars to show them it's finished," he says, laughing.

Another protective product many customers purchase is clear film to cover headlights, daytime running lights and fog lights. Only a few years ago, many car and truck light assemblies had glass lenses, which were prone to stone breakage. Today, most vehicle light lenses are made of Lexan.

"Lexan is virtually indestructable," Jansen says. "But what happens over time is constant exposure to gravel and other road debris causes the lenses to 'fog' or get cloudy."

Many customers have the film applied to provide the headlights with extra protection as well as to keep the lens optically clear.

"With the 'ricochet' material (the generic name for the clear plastic film used to cover light assembly lenses), if a rock breaks the lens, I'll pay for it," says Jansen, "and in the 11 years I've been installing this product, I've only had two customers come back with claims."

We watched Jansen apply 3M paint protection film to a 2007 Acura MDX. The company uses a software program that includes almost every car built in recent years. On the computer, Jansen pulls up a diagram of the MDX and selects the parts of the vehicle the customer wants protected. Some vehicles can have 16 or 18 pieces of painted bodywork that can be covered, but Jansen usually recommends covering just the painted metal parts on the front of the vehicle.

After selecting the desired parts (in this case, the MDX has 18 pieces) from the software, Jansen feeds a roll of 20 mil (0.20 mm thick) polyurethane film into a computer-controlled cutting machine. Once the shapes have been cut onto a single sheet of the paper-backed film, he lays it onto a work table. "I have to work fast," he explains. "This film is 'self-healing.' If I don't peel off the extra film that surrounds the actual pieces I need really quickly, it becomes almost impossible to peel apart the pieces I need."

The next step is cleaning the surfaces of the MDX on which the film will be applied. The front end of the vehicle is washed and dried. Then Jansen sprays on and wipes off an eradicator that removes silicone and grease. Next he sprays on 3M glass cleaner and wipes it off with paper towels. "We're a test site for 3M," he notes, "to see what (products) perform best, and we submit reports to them."

The final step is the actual application of the film. Jansen peels one piece of film from its backing paper and liberally sprays it with a soap solution. This solution allows him to touch the adhesive backing without leaving permanent finger prints.

He then positions the piece of film and sprays a mix of water and alcohol to rinse away the soap solution while 'squeegeeing' the liquid and air bubbles away with a piece of flat plastic. In about one hour, the 18 pieces have been applied, and ideally, Jansen says the film should cure for about 48 hours.

The amount of protective film applied to the hood and front fenders of a vehicle can range from eight inches to 30 inches, depending on the customer's preference, but the typical installation is 18 inches (measured from the leading edge of the hood.) Most installations cost $450 to $550. The price for the protection package for this 2007 MDX was $595, a good value considering the new cost of the vehicle. Headlight clear film protection packages range from $80-$100 per pair.

According to Jansen, these protective films need no special maintenance. He recommends applying a simple coat of car wax twice a year. The only caution he advises is if using a pressure washer. If the material gets nicked or perforated from stones, very high water pressure can tear the material.

For people who want to protect the finish on their new vehicle, this almost invisible paint protection film is a terrific option to consider.

European Auto Tinting offers a five-year warranty on the paint protection film and a three-year warranty on headlight/fog light protection film. The business is located at 5630 103A St., phone 438-4676.

Tim Yip. © The Edmonton Journal 2008.

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