To Car Wrap or Not? One clients experience shared.

Think before you wrap! – A horror story by David Raeburn (and I am not alone)

I am not sure if it was Mario Ballotelli’s fault with his much publicised “camo” wrapped Bentley, but about 5 years ago the idea of wrapping a car in a plastic film to change its appearance seemed to get very popular indeed. Dozens of new companies started to pop up offering this cheap and fun way to change your cars colour, and even protect the original paintwork from stone chips, scuffs, etc. It seemed like a great idea, and in principle it is. The purpose of this blog is to inform those thinking of getting their car wrapped of potential pitfalls, and what they can do to avoid the financial and emotional misery I have had to endure this year. This is not intended to be a finger pointing exercise, which is why the names and companies involved are not included. I will say at this point that I am not the only person to experience this, so don’t think it is an isolated rant!

I bought my R35 GT-R in August of 2011, a beautiful example in Ultimate Silver (more on this particular colour later), with about 1800 miles on the clock. One of the first things I did was invest in a front end protective clear wrap. This particular wrap is thicker than the colour change one’s as its job is to protect, not change colour.

For £800 the front bonnet, wings, bumper and wing mirror backs were all covered. The wrap was expertly applied, almost unnoticeable, and I was delighted. For 2 years the plastic did its job, which if you know the GT-R means protecting something akin to a brick that pummels its way through the air! It is worth mentioning at this point that at no point was I ever warned about, or even thought about, the potential risk of applying adhesive to the paintwork. It seemed to be such a common practice that the idea this wrap could damage the car barely crossed my mind. I certainly wasn’t told of any risk when I got the job done.

Fast forward about 2½ years, and the wrap was starting to look a little worse for wear.  A few stubborn stones had managed to break through, and the wrap was starting to lose adhesion in a few vulnerable places. This is perfectly normal, and to be honest, I was surprised it had lasted as long as it did, seeing as the car now had about 20,000 miles on it.

It was time for a change!

My idea was to replace the clear wrap with a matt one that would change the shiny silver of my car into a sort of brushed steel effect. I’d seen one done on the forums and loved the look of it.

Due to the popularity of wrapping, and the fact the original place I went to was so popular, prices had jumped a lot, and I was quoted almost £2000 for the job. In an effort to see if there were alternatives, I found another place locally that could do the work for about £1200. Now, I know what you are thinking already…..you get what you pay for! Well, to a certain extent you would be right, but not in the way you think. I did do my due diligence and found lots of recommendations for this company and some good pictures of the jobs they had already done on various cars from Porsches, Range Rovers, Bentleys and another GT-R. I was also very happy to find that these people actually removed things like the lights, and trim to wrap around them, rather than the original place that uses a technique where the vinyl is cut with a Stanley knife in situ. I’d seen some nightmare stories where the knife ends up scoring the paintwork underneath using this method, so I preferred to avoid it.

From this point on things went downhill.

Firstly, the company concerned had moved premises, but not bothered to update their website, so after a few frantic calls I eventually found the place! Upon arrival I was told by the owner that he couldn’t wrap the car in a clear matt, as he didn’t do protective wraps because the plastic is too thick (over 150 micron) and requires a special technique that he was not an expert of. After some discussion I decided on a thinner colour change wrap in matt steel which was 100 micron.

Following a string of minor issues like breaking fixing clips, damaging the wrap and having to redo it in sections, bits of wrap starting the peel off etc. The car was finally done, but here comes the absolutely crucial bit.

Initially I was told the car would take a week to do, and as I was going on holiday, gave them a full 2 weeks. Near the end of my holiday I called in to check the car was going to be ready, and the owner told me it was not. This was due to, and I quote, “A nightmare getting the old wrap off”.

He even sent me a few pictures, and at this point my heart sank to the floor. This is what he sent:

What had happened was the previous wrap had lifted the clear coat off in big chunks. However, rather than stopping at the first evidence of this happening, they continued to remove the old wrap and consequently destroy the whole front end! Let me be 100% clear here…

AT NO POINT DID THEY STOP WORK AND ASK WHAT I WANTED TO DO. This meant I could not go back to the original company who applied the wrap and get advice. Instead these guys de-wrapped the car and then wrapped the new wrap OVER THE DAMAGE.

To give a slight bit of credit where it is due, the actual new wrap did look really good. There is no doubt this company knows how to wrap cars, and initially I was impressed with the quality of the work. It was only later that I started to get problems, including the broken clips, and the fact the headlamp washer system had been put back incorrectly so when I first used it, the cover popped off. In true Nissan style, a new cover and clip to hold it on requires a full system replacement to the tune of £130 plus VAT. Nice.

The broken indicator clips, and door card clips fortunately can be ordered individually in the US, so that only cost me about £30, but none the less it added a bit of insult to the injury.

So now we get the point in the story where I have now decided that none of this is my fault, the car is severely damaged, and how do I go about getting all this fixed.

Firstly, whose fault is it?

For me, the guilty party is the company that removed the old wrap, because if nothing else, why the hell didn’t they stop when they saw the damage occurring. However, in trying to understand why this was happening there are 3 potential reasons that I have had verified by a few experts in the industry:

  1. 1.Word of Warning #1: The original paintwork was imperfect. Even companies like 3M warn that unless the paint is factory fresh, you have a risk of problems (http://solutions.3m.co.uk/3MContentRetrievalAPI/BlobServlet?lmd=1311005196000&assetId=1273689390934&assetType=MMM_Image&blobAttribute=ImageFile)
  2. 2.The first clear wrap was incorrectly applied and the glue bonded too much
  3. 3.The clear wrap was incorrectly removed (it requires a process that involved heating the material and the car itself, it’s not just a simple removal job)
  4. Clearly, as far as I was concerned, I wanted the car repaired which would involve a front end re-spray. After much negotiation, arguing, having to drive 30 miles each way at least 5 times to confront the guy who refused to answer his phone, email or texts, I finally got an agreement for him to get the car re-sprayed.

    Word of Warning #2: It seems that despite having insurance against poor workmanship, or liability insurance for damage, neither is valid when it comes to wraps. Apparently this is due to so many people making false claims to try and get “free” re-sprays. However, in talking with people in the industry, it also seems to be because the insurance companies recognise the risk of damage to cars by applying a wrap. This is, for me, a second clear source of concern for anyone considering a wrap. The fact of the matter is you are putting a solvent based adhesive onto your paint and then trapping it there. It’s no wonder it can cause damage, especially to “complex” paint systems like Ultimate Silver.

    It was at this point that I discovered this particular paint is extremely difficult to make, limited to only this car, and is only available from a few global vendors. In all these cases, it costs in excess of £1200 a litre. To put that in perspective, Dom Perignon Vintage 2003 champagne costs about £150 per litre. The only thing more expensive you may use is printer ink….but you don’t need 2.5 litres of that just for a front end of a car! I could write a whole new blog on how hard it is to find this paint, why it costs so much, and how difficult it is to apply…..but that is for another day!

    Word of Warning #3: Really consider carefully what colour paint you buy your new car in. All the premium brands have a limited edition “special” paint. Just bear in mind the potential costs. If I had bought a red GT-R, it uses the same paint as a Micra, cost £27 per litre. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    By this point, due to the fact the wrap guys have done nothing, and I am the one running around like a blue arsed fly trying to source this paint, the car has now been off the road for 4 months.

    It is now becoming increasingly clear that this chap is never going to pay to get the car repaired, despite threats of legal action, blasting all the forums, and even thoughts of worse! I am getting so sick of the situation, and the inconvenience this is causing to me, my work and my family (bear in mind this car is my daily drive, so I have had to rent cars, take taxi’s, and even borrow from friends), and the sheer costs, that I decide to pay for the work to be done myself.

    Word of Warning #4: This is a big one. YOU ARE NOT PROTECTED. Yes, I could go to small claims court, and according to a lawyer I consulted, I would win hands down. However, getting money out of an independent trader is virtually hopeless. They simply take a CCJ and carry on. Could I spam all the forums and try and ruin his business? Yes, but would that get my money back……unlikely. Again, all this guy will do is simply change company names and carry on.

    The whole thing stinks, and cost me over £5000 to remedy (not just the respray but also the fact the car needed a full service having been off the road, transport costs, and taxi’s, rental cars, etc.). I will write a separate report about the guys (Innsworth Autocolour Services, Tewkesbury www.innsworthautocolourservices.co.uk) who ended up doing the work, because they have done a brilliant job, and the car now looks as good as new! I cannot recommend them highly enough!

    Believe it or not, this is the shorter version of the story, but has the main points in it. I do not want to hurt the businesses of those who make a living out of applying wraps, and I will caveat that the risk of damage to your car is still very low, but it IS THERE. However, I think it is vitally important that everyone understands the risks of putting adhesive on your car, and you may not even know the potential problems until a few years later. Additionally, if you are considering buying a car that is already wrapped, my advice would be to get that wrap removed before you buy.

    Please, be aware of the risks, and choose a highly recommended supplier (someone who cares about their reputation should things go pear shaped), ask them if they will remedy any damage, and then it should be a trouble free experience.

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