There are a lot of ways to protect your vehicle, both inside and out. From waxing and undercoating the outside, to detailing the interior or upgrading the floor mats. However, not all car protections are exactly as advertised. Some upgrades are just not worth the money. Despite that, there are hundreds of companies hawking new products with the promise of keeping your ride in pristine shape.

One of the newest car care solutions to hit the market is paint protection film (PPF). Applied by professional auto detailers or vinyl installation experts, this thin polyurethane film apparently acts as a skin for your car. It helps protect your car’s paint from rock chips and small scratches. It also blocks ultraviolet light exposure from the sun, damage from acid rain, and more things that can conspire to ruin your car’s finish.

So is PPF a legitimate way to protect your car? Or is it simply another over-hyped product that makes a lot of promises, but doesn’t really deliver? Let’s take a look.

The Background

Paint protection film traces its roots back to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Back then, the U.S. Department of Defense was having trouble with the rotor blades on helicopters. They kept being damaged by shrapnel and other debris. To solve the issue, the military reached out to the 3M Corporation to develop a protective layer that was transparent and lightweight.

The solution 3M developed was a customized urethane film, known today as “helicopter tape.” This film did an exceptional job of protecting the surface of anywhere it was applied. It proved to be excellent at preventing damage from stone chips, UV rays, and many other types of damage to helicopter rotor blades. The military loved it.

How It Works

The PPF used on vehicles today is a version of the one originally used on military helicopters. Modern PPF is a high-quality thermoplastic urethane film that is applied to the topcoat of painted surfaces. The product is available in multiple colors, or in a clear version, as well as in different levels of thickness.

The primary benefit of PPF is that it’s extremely resistant to acidic contaminants and corrosion. That means it provides great protection against everything from bug splatter and bird droppings, to mineral deposits and acid rain. It also repels sun (ultraviolet) light. The PPF is also stretchable, which allows it to “self-heal” when light scratches occur on the surface of a vehicle.

PPF is sold under a number of brand names, primarily by automotive dealers and car detailing companies. Some of the more popular brands include Clear Mask, Invisible Shield, Rock Chip Protection, Clear Wrap, and Car Scratch Protection Film.

Is It Worth It?

PPF is not cheap. The protection can cost as much as $2,000, depending on your make and model. Whether applying PPF to your vehicle makes financial sense probably depends on how valuable your car is. If you own a high end luxury vehicle, then maybe it makes sense. If you drive around an old beater, don’t even think about using PPF.

Other advantages of PPF are that it reduces the need for waxing, results in fewer car washes, helps to improve the shine on your car, and can help retain the value of your vehicle. Or at at least slow its depreciation, at a minimum.

While some people attempt to apply PPF themselves, this is not something we recommend. It would be best for you to get any PPF applied by a professional. While it may be expensive to pay someone else to do it, the damage done by a botched do-it-yourself application can be even more expensive. Any rookie mistakes can result in discoloration to the paint. You might even end up needing an entirely new paint coating.

The Final Verdict

Paint Protection Film does work. The application is a good way to protect vehicles from damage caused by small rocks, road debris, UV light damage, and other elements. However, it’s an expensive solution. It may not be worth the investment, depending on the vehicle you drive and your own financial means.

If you have an cheap car that you plan to pay off quickly and drive into the ground, then we would recommend a more affordable solution to protect the exterior of your vehicle. Just spring for a regular car wax.

On the other hand, if you spent $80,000+ on a full-sized high-end SUV, you might want to take extra steps to protect it. Shelling out $2,000 for PPF may be a wise move, especially if you plan to resell your ride in a few years. The final decision should come down to your personal budget and how badly you want to protect the paint and body of your vehicle.


Devon is a writer, editor, and veteran of the online publishing world. He has a particular love for classic muscle cars.