Cars are subject to damage from all sorts of elements, including road debris and hazardous weather (remember rain can even be harmful to your paint since rain often contains pollutants). You can pay to have these damages to your car’s paint repaired, or you can take preventative measures. One of the best ways to keep a vehicle protected from wear and tear is by applying clear paint protection. There are a number of ways to do this, including a clear wrap or liquid paint protector that you can apply yourself or a professionally installed clear wrap. Below, we’ll detail the costs and other important information for each of these methods of paint protection. We cover everything from the cost to simply wrap door handles (great for those with fingernails that scratch the paint) to clear bra costs to assessing the paint protection costs for covering the entire vehicle.
Why Use a Paint Protection Wrap?
Your car’s paint takes the brunt of all of your driving. It is the first stop for anything flying through the air, from bugs to hail and ice to gravel and other debris. For most of us, it’s only a matter of time until our car paint succumbs to chipping, scratching, and fading. But there are preventative steps you can take to help protect your car’s paint from damage. For example, there are clunky black leather or vinyl bras that bend around the hood to stay in place. Unfortunately, these bras increase your fuel consumption and wear away your paint. A far better choice is paint protection wraps or films. These have become a go-to method for fortifying your paint job.
Wraps or films are available through professional installation at dealerships, standalone shops, and mechanics, and they’re also available as do-it-yourself kits. Professionally installed clear paint protection film on most mid-sized cars will cost around $500 to $2,000 for the full car, depending on the company you choose and the size of your vehicle. At the other end of the spectrum, you can apply clear film yourself starting at around $15 for just the fenders or hood of your car, or pay $70 for enough clear film to wrap a full car. Read on to discover the clear paint protection options that are available, including DIY clear wraps, liquid spray protection, pre-cut wrap sections, and professional installation.
What Are My Options and What Is the Average Cost for Each One?
For all of the products mentioned in this section, we’ve provided links to the Amazon listings further down, where we detail the application process for each paint protection method.
DIY Cost Range for Liquid Paint Protection
- Hood, mirror caps, and fenders of a medium or large car: $35 for full kit and one bottle of Paint Defender
- Entire vehicle: $82 for full kit and four bottles of Paint Defender
The 3M DIY kit that involves a spray system that hardens after application. One bottle ($16) will cover approximately half the hood, one fender, one mirror cap, and the front bumper of a medium- to large-sized vehicle. It is recommended that more than one coat be applied to each section, which may mean that you’ll need another bottle or two more than you would expect.
DIY Cost Range for Bulk Clear Wrap
- Fenders or hood: $15 (one 6 x 48-inch roll)
- Fenders or hood plus doors: $30 (two 6 x 48-inch rolls)
- Entire vehicle: $50 for a smaller vehicle (one 12 x 96-inch roll and one 6 x 48-inch roll) or $70 for a larger vehicle (two full-size 12 x 96-inch rolls)
A $15 roll will have about 6 x 48 inches of clear vinyl wrap material. One roll of this size will cover the fenders or the front hood of a medium-sized car. To cover the side panels, purchase an additional roll.
Other wrap sizes sold by 3M include:
- 12 x 72 inches ($33) — expect this size to cover the front hood, front and rear lights, and lower side door panels
- 12 x 96 inches ($35) — expect this wrap to cover all of the previous sections plus extra edges.
Depending on the size of your vehicle, you’ll likely need either another full-size roll or a smaller $15 roll to completely wrap the vehicle. These wraps do not stretch very much, so purchase more than you think you need to ensure proper coverage or to account for possible mistakes made during cutting. Remember that the DIY method requires precise cutting for each car section. Choose the smaller width to cover flat sections, and the larger wrap for bigger sections with curves and edges.
The following information was gathered from the Performance Window Tint’s price list as a representative sample for these costs.
- Two door handles: Approximately $30
- Both mirrors: Approximately $60
- Over first 12-inches of hood and front fenders: Approximately $180
- Over first 18-inches of hood and front fenders: Approximately $220 (this puts the average clear bra cost at $220)
- Over first 24-inches of hood and front fenders: Approximately $260
- Bumper packages (for small sedans): Prices start at approximately $350
- Headlights: $60 to $100 for a pair, for a standard sized light up to a larger truck or SUV size.
- Entire vehicle: $500 – $2,000 depending on the size of the vehicle and the labor rates in your area
Just like with the DIY method, professional clear bra installation can include all or just a few parts of the car. Smaller sections obviously cost less than larger ones, so the biggest factor in determining how much you’ll pay for professional installation will be the size of the section to be covered.
How to Decide Between DIY and Professional Installation
Choosing to clear coat your car with paint protection is a big decision. Going with the DIY method might be easier on your budget, but it also might mean shorter-lived results. It could demand repeated reapplications, simply because the material is typically only designed to last about a year or two.
This leaves the option of professional installation. But, long-lasting results come with a hefty price tag. If you don’t want to spend the $500 or more that it may cost for professional installation but you’re still wary about undertaking the project yourself, consider exploring the huge number of helpful videos and tutorials for DIY paint protection:
Let’s take a closer look at specific products, and associated prices, that are required for these DIY and professional solutions. Read on for a comparison list to help you determine the paint protection method that fits your budget. The list includes the cost of different film options, the ease of application, tips to consider before starting the project, and the expected level of durability.
Liquid Paint Protection Spray
Cost: Kits are available starting at about $40 on Amazon.
Paint Defender by 3M offers do-it-yourselfers the opportunity to apply preventive care in their own garage for much cheaper than taking the car to a shop. Paint Defender is a liquid that is sprayed onto the car, and then dries as plastic.
- Mask off the area to be treated.
- Wax the area that is masked. This will help when you need to remove the film after it dries.
- You are now ready to spray the Paint Defender film over the area you have masked. Follow the instructions and pay attention to the warnings that come with the kit for best results.
Helpful Hints for Smooth Application
The prep time will take longer than the actual application. The spray typically takes about two to four hours to dry, and the film won’t fully cure until a few days have passed. Your car should not get wet for a few days while the film cures.
Wax the film after it has cured for a smooth finish. During the spraying process, horizontal areas should be sprayed with a lighter touch. Otherwise, you may apply too heavy of a coating on these areas.
Paint Defender lasts about a year before it needs to be removed and a new film applied. Luckily, the removal process is easy: just peel off the old film. Then simply follow the same application steps to apply a new layer of film.
Paint Protection Vinyl
Cost: $15 and up when purchasing products on Amazon, depending how much of the car you want to cover. One 6 x 48-inch roll will cover fenders or hood of a medium-sized car; a 12 x 72-inch roll will cover hood, lights, side door panels; a 12 x 96-inch roll will cover hood, fenders, and side door panels.
For the more adventurous do-it-yourselfer, there is 3M Clear Bra Paint Protection Vinyl Film. These are rolls of vinyl film in various bulk sizes, and many of them come with a squeegee for fine-tuning smooth edges. Once applied, the clear bra will ward off chips and scratches from rocks, branches, and other debris on the road. It is a clear polyurethane film that has the adhesive already attached to the back. Because the wrap comes in flat rectangular shapes, it must be cut to desired sizes. This may raise costs if mistakes are made during cutting and application.
- Clean surface to be treated. Ensure surface is completely dry.
- Carefully apply the sheet of clear film over the surface.
- Using the squeegee, smooth out the surface and trim off the excess film with a razor.
- The film sets within 20 minutes of application.
Helpful Hints for Smooth Application
It is important to clean the surface prior to applying the protective film. If debris is caught below the surface, the film will not apply properly and may cause scratches on your paint. Be equally careful to let the surface dry completely before application; trapped moisture may cause the adhesive to lose effectiveness. This film goes on clear and transparent. It will not damage your paint job or headlights or leave any residue when removed.
For easier application, the film can be purchased in die-cut or pre-masked parts when ordered with OEM specifications, although pre-cut films will be much more expensive. (For example, here’s a pre-cut Ford front bumper 3M paint protection film for about $190 from Amazon.)
3M of course tests its products for durability. The paint protection film is resistant to weathering, including staining and discoloration. Additionally, the film is resistant to shrinking as well as stretching. You can expect this type of film to last longer than Paint Defender, typically up to two years or even longer in some cases.
Cost: Typically $500 – $2,000, depending on which installer you choose and how much of the car you want covered. Here is a sampling of professional 3M clear bra services:
- 12″ hood and fender protection: $180.00
- 18″ hood and fender protection: $220.00
- 24″ hood and fender protection: $260.00
- Lower bumper protection: Starts at $350.00
- Above windshield protection: $100.00
- Mirror protection: $60.00 (pair)
- Headlight/fog light protection: $60.00 (pair)
- Large headlight protection: $100.00 (pair)
- Door handles protection: $30.00 (pair)
Sometimes, you just want a professional to do it. If the thought of applying a thin clear film gives you flashbacks to your bubble-filled cell phone screen from your misguided attempts at screen protection, consider taking your car to an automotive shop for XPEL paint protection. Professional application is an especially appealing option if you don’t want to reapply a clear bra or temporary film on a semi-regular basis. The material used by XPEL is a polyurethane film, and it is computer-cut to ensure an exact fit to your car’s specifications.
The application process for you as the consumer consists of choosing from various protection levels: XPEL Ultimate, XPEL Stealth, XPEL Tracwrap, XPEL Xtreme, and XPEL Armor (for commercial use).
Helpful Hints for Smooth Application
The best time to apply paint protection is before the car even gets on the road. XPEL offers the aforementioned levels of protection through certified installers nationwide, making it easy to get paint protection installed before your paint has a chance to get damaged.
XPEL paint protection film is guaranteed to offer protection for 10 years. But it is also easily removable and will not damage factory paint. It is tested against yellowing, blistering, and peeling.
Cost: $24.99 when the kit is purchased on Amazon. This will provide coverage for lights, edges of car close to the ground, narrow strips on lower side panels, and thin strip on hood. The wrap is temporary and is not intended to be left on for long periods of time.
XPEL focuses on professional installation of paint protection wraps and films. However, the company does offer a temporary clear bra treatment that you can apply to your vehicle yourself. Tracwrap is a DIY temporary road abrasion coverage option, available from Amazon for about $25.
- Clean the surface to be treated.
- Let surface dry before applying adhesive film.
- Apply film to desired surface(s) and smooth out edges with the supplied squeegee tool.
- Cut excess edges of film with a razor. Film sets in 45 minutes.
Helpful Hints for Smooth Application
This protective film is intended only for temporary use, so extended use is not guaranteed to be effective. For $24.99, you receive about 20 feet of film, which should allow for covering the most critical areas you need protected on your vehicle.
The film is made from urethane and is considered tougher than spray-on products or blue painters tape. The durability is limited by the temporary nature of this coverage option. It is intended only for use with specific events (e.g. racing, towing, off-roading, track days, road trips, etc.).
With some research and a little practice, you can use a DIY paint protection kit to protect the fender or hood of your car for as little as $15. With the DIY method, you can work your way through each section and still use your car on a daily basis. The project may take time, but it won’t take your car out of commission.
If DIY isn’t your style, you can visit a professional for $500 or more. You can’t always avoid the rocks, branches, intense weather, and poor road conditions that cause scratches, dents, and dings to your car’s paint — but, you can take some preventative action to keep your car looking new. Paint protection, whether as a clear wrap, liquid paint protector, or professional-grade bra, can be an excellent way to ensure that your vehicle always looks great.
You may be wondering if vinyl wrapping a car will provide the same sort of protection. It’s temping because vinyl wrapping allows you also to transform the entire look of your vehicle. However, vinyl is not strong. We explain more in our comprehensive article about the costs of wrapping your car (complete with a video explaining why vinyl doesn’t protect paint very well).