Home » I Drove To SEMA In My 200,000-Mile Jeep Wrangler To Learn How To Install XPEL Paint Protection Film. Here’s What I Learned

I Drove To SEMA In My 200,000-Mile Jeep Wrangler To Learn How To Install XPEL Paint Protection Film. Here’s What I Learned

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Late last year, XPEL kindly invited me to attend SEMA, the big car show in Las Vegas filled with amazing custom cars and aftermarket suppliers and parties and burnouts — You know, SEMA. To get there, I of course had to take the 1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ that had just received a full XPEL Paint Protection Film application at the hands of some true artists. Here’s what the trip to Vegas, the absurd car show, and my time with XPEL was like.

The trek began in typical David Tracy fashion: I had to rapidly fix my car in order to make a Mercedes event in Las Vegas, and the Jeep was both running poorly and vibrating on the highway.

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The vehicle might have made the 300 mile trip, but it wasn’t going to be pretty, and I couldn’t risk it. I diagnosed the vibration as a bad universal joint, so I quickly yanked the Jeep’s tiny rear driveshaft. Here it is in my hand:

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The engine’s stumble was, in my opinion, likely caused by a clogged fuel filter, so — because I was running out of time — I enlisted help from my friend Taylor as I toiled with old U-joints:

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Once underway, the drive to Sin City was honestly miserable. The vehicle ran and drove perfectly — that wasn’t the problem, nor was the fact that I had given myself zero extra time before the Toyota event I wanted to attend. No, the issue was the dirt-cheap soft top I had just installed and was trying out for the first time. Seriously, look at the fitment on this thing:

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That door just swung back and forth as the Jeep’s brick-like aerodynamic profile rushed down the highway, the door flapping loudly in a way that would drive anyone crazy. But worse than that were the zippers:

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Just look at that metal zipper sitting atop the other, just banging away like a high-pitched drum, driving me absolutely bonkers.

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The good news is that I just made it in time for the Toyota briefing, which meant I got to see in-person the Toyota Tacoma X-Runner Concept and the FJ Bruiser:

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Plus, I got to hang out with legendary auto journalist Andrew Collins:

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Then the next day I got to meet Jay Leno:

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And throughout the show I got to see some seriously bonkers builds:

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But most importantly, my arrival meant I got to hang out with our friends at XPEL, whose Paint Protection Film (PPF) is something I believe in, especially as an avid off-roader who likes driving his nice Jeep Wrangler wherever the heck I please:

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Here, have a look at what XPEL showed me at SEMA:

XPEL first showed me its booth, where I learned that the company also makes a ton of products having nothing to do with cars. For example, it turns out they make Solar Window Film that you can put over your house’s windows to dramatically reduce radiant heat transfer from the sun (and no, it’s not just a really dark film like a window tint):

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It also turns out they make a protective film for bikes:

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And there’s ceramic coating that I kinda want to put on my shower’s glass so those bubbles won’t keep leaving markings that are borderline impossible to get off:

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But enough about that. I was there for car things —  namely, I was excited about trying my hand at applying Paint Protection Film, since I’d seen Johnny from 405 Motoring do it on my Jeep, and was dumbfounded by how challenging it looked. XPEL actually set me up with Travis, the company’s PPF installation guru (trainer), which meant that not only is he the best of the best, but he’s also almost certainly had to teach some absolute duds how to install this film, so I felt comfortable knowing that I was probably not going to be the very worst he’s ever seen. Probably.

The vehicle I was going to get my first lesson on? The BAC (Briggs Automotive Company) Mono; that’s this British street-legal track car:

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Travis walked me through the various fluids that his team uses to install the virtually invisible urethane PPF. There’s water and baby soap, which is the “slip solution” that lets the film float on top of the car’s panel, there’s alcohol, which is used to really give the film a nice solid “tack” that bonds with the panel, and then there’s gel, which is used for really tight corners and other areas it’s otherwise tough to get the PPF to stick.

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Travis started off by spraying the hood of the BAC with some of the slip solution, and then “back-rolling” some film right over top:

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Back-rolling involved taking some of the film off the backing paper and pressing it against a dry part of the car so the adhesive would cling in place. This allowed Travis to easily unroll the rest of the backing paper, placing the film pretty much exactly where it needed to be. I say “pretty much,” because it was still a bit wrinkly and out of place, which is why Travis then lifted up the PPF and sprayed some more slip solution under it so it could float a bit better.

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From there, he broke out the alcohol solution to get the PPF to cling tightly in the top right corner, which is where he began his squeegee-ing:

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Travis installed the PPF onto the front of that BAC Mono like an absolute boss, because that’s literally what Travis is. Here he is changing his grip just before rolling the front edge of the PPF under the car’s hood — a very tight turn to make:

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I tried the same thing, using some really tacky gel to hold down that upper corner, and while I definitely did better than I expected thanks to Travis’ instructions, I would definitely not want to have to do this onto a customer’s car, for they’d be deeply disappointed in my work:

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It’s a complex operation that involves anchoring one point, then squeegee-ing outward from there, while avoiding trapping bubbles, trying to fold the PPF under lips, making sure things don’t slip too far from where they’re meant to be, keeping things slippery enough so the squeegee doesn’t hang up — it’s a true art.

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Also at SEMA, XPEL showed off its Design Access Program, or DAP. This is a software that lets a shop pull up a car out of a giant list, and then literally just print whatever panel they need PPF for (or if they’re installing window tint, they print out the right size tint for the windows of a given car):

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You can see XPEL’s window tint for a Tesla Model 3 above (note that DAP also provides instructions/pointers for installation). Below is an example of what PPF would look like for a section of a Porsche 911. The colors are there to break the PPF into sections to help provide an installer instructions on how to best apply the film:

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Also at SEMA, I got to experience PPF’s self-healing properties. Check this out:

 

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Most importantly, I got to attend an XPEL party for dealers and their guests. You can actually see Travis, PPF installation king, in the photo directly below:

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Here’s a little clip I shot:

The party was legit, and a reminder of just how many people believe in this stuff.

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Following the party, I drove home from Vegas and peered over my 1991 Jeep Wrangler’s beautiful hood, imagining all the scratchy brush I’ll be driving through, putting XPEL’s PPF’s self-healing property to the test. Beautiful Jeep: Get ready for some serious off-roading:

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Ben
Ben
19 days ago

Plus, I got to hang out with legendary auto journalist Andrew Collins:

Then the next day I got to meet Jay Leno:

Highly amused by the placement of the “legendary” here. 🙂

Jake Harsha
Jake Harsha
20 days ago

How much are they paying you?

Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
20 days ago
Reply to  Jake Harsha

They have a partnership with the website, they’ve been pretty open about that.

Jeeptopian
Jeeptopian
20 days ago

You could tie some paracord loops on the zippers to stop them from clinking, and make em easier to pull. The soft upper doors just need a little adjustment. You can bend the frame in a little toward the interior. You may also need to raise the upper door frame slightly and set the lock nut thingies tight.

JunkerDave
JunkerDave
20 days ago

there’s ceramic coating that I kinda want to put on my shower’s glass so those bubbles won’t keep leaving markings that are borderline impossible to get off:

Wow, either the cats or the GF has worked hard, David has been housebroken!

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
20 days ago
Reply to  JunkerDave

And not a mention of spaghetti.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
20 days ago

First, I congratulate you and Jason (and all co-conspirators) for pulling off the best automotive enthusiast site known to mankind. I have never bothered to register on any other site, for any purpose, nor any anti-social media, but was somehow compelled to here. So, it is with all due respect that I express bafflement at choosing a Wrangler for a 300ml. highway journey. Thought it was universally understood that they are horrible at that. Then again, I recall something about lowering a Mercedes wagon, and off-roading it. So who’s going for the Order of Magellan award in an Amphicar?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
21 days ago

I seemto remember that Jaguar had trouble with their tops post WWII. They fixed it with a string of lead weights across the top. Maybe DTs next article can be How I Fixed My Cheap Top With $5.00 Worth of Fishing Weights?

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
20 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Ya, that’s not quite so easy in California. No commercially available lead. Certainly not fishing weights that would be, you know, in water.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
19 days ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

On one side yeah California ruins everything. On the other old lead objects exist, it melts and molds easy, just ask my cub scout wood carved kit. Where weight increases speed.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
22 days ago

> dirt cheap

Maybe one day David will outgrow this instinct and buy stuff that doesn’t completely suck.

That PPF is a devil to install on a small, flat, rectangular phone screen, so I can’t imagine doing it on a car. I’d probably die of frustration.

Fawgcutter
Fawgcutter
22 days ago

Just look at that metal zipper sitting atop the other, just banging away like a high-pitched drum, driving me absolutely bonkers.

That’s where electrical tape or duck tape comes in handy.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
22 days ago
Reply to  Fawgcutter

Heat shrink the zipper pull.

Fawgcutter
Fawgcutter
22 days ago

True. But I was thinking about a quick fix that you could buy at a convenience store and apply it depending on what is noisier to Dave – the pulls or the pulls against the frame.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
22 days ago

I actually find this content pretty interesting; I do wonder what percentage of Autopian readers are in the market for this type of product. Theoretically it sounds great, but every last cent of my automotive budget is spent on keeping things road-worthy or improving performance. I have a hard time finding room even for things like paint repairs which I know I should do. Lately even the road worthy and performance budget has shrunk, and I just try to keep on top of routine maintenance and tires for the daily driver.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
22 days ago

I have ppf on my new cars. But for me, I shopped for the installer instead of the brand of film that they use. I honestly can’t tell you what brands are on my cars.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
21 days ago

I’d strongly consider this product on my Jeep Comanche. It is back so shows pretty much every scratch and spec of dirt. I use the truck for truck stuff so keeping it looking halfway presentable is very challenging.

Daemoss
Daemoss
20 days ago

I just bought a 2007 Boxster S as my new weekend project and this is on my list… After the twenty or so other things that I identified needed to be done before I bought the car and the approximately hundred or so more that I’ve found while working on the initial to do list.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
20 days ago
Reply to  Daemoss

Exactly my point! While technically this is on the list for me, the cost is up there with doing an engine swap, and I have so many more pressing(or performance enhancing) needs above it. New tires, coilovers, cage, big brake kit. Plus I just got laid off so absolutely everything is on hold until I have a new job.

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