In the months leading up to the delivery of my WRX, I spent a lot of time researching what kinds of mods/upgrades most owners recommend. One of the most frequently mentioned was paint protection film (AKA "clear bra") for the front of the car.
September 2019 Update: I've put together some long-term thoughts after almost two years with the XPEL! You can check them out here.
I had seen countless pictures and forum threads complaining how easily the WRX front bumpers and hoods gather rock chips. Granted, this is not exclusive to the WRX or Subaru in general - due to a variety of environmental factors, a lot of automakers have shifted to using more eco-friendly water-based (and therefore thinner) paints.
While I'm not an expert on paint, I can say that my Fiesta ST gathered a whole LOTTA chips on it's front bumper and hood over the three years I owned it. Thankfully, due to the black paint and darker primer/plastic underneath, the chips weren't super obvious, but that didn't make it any less painful to wash or detail the car and be reminded of the damage.
With the WRX being a car I planned on having for many years and wanted to keep as clean and pristine as possible, I began researching the various paint protection film options available.
It seemed that overall the two most recommended protection films were 3M and XPEL. While a bit more expensive, the XPEL caught my attention for one important reason: its ability to "self heal"!
Thanks to some chemistry wizardry, XPEL Ultimate allows the clear coat polymers of the film be highly scratch resistant most of the time, but also to "flow" freely when heated. This means that if the film is scratched or marred, applying a bit of warm water or leaving it out in the sun for a few minutes is usually enough for the scratch to level and heal itself.
In my research, I stumbled across a great post by Nick over at nickscarblog.com, highlighting his experience with XPEL Ultimate on his used Audi TT RS. Nick seemed to echo the feelings of most people I talked to who have worked with or had XPEL on their own cars; that it was well worth the extra money!
As luck would have it, shortly after I began my research, a local friend of a friend had their new Corvette Grand Sport wrapped in XPEL. I was able to see the finished product on his car at a show one weekend, and after seeing the film in-person and chatting with the owner, I felt ready to pull the trigger.
I contacted a few Twin Cities-based businesses for quotes, and in the end decided to go with Bravo Protection Products out of Wayzata, Minnesota. In addition to offering a competitive price, Tom did an awesome job breaking down the entire process for me over the phone. He answered all my questions, addressed any concerns I had, and we set an appointment for the following Monday afternoon. I was already really impressed with their level of customer service, and felt reassured that my car would be in good hands.
Monday morning rolled around, and I made the trip up to Wayzata to Bravo's shop. I was greeted by Tom who, once again, walked me through the process and reviewed the work to be done with me.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the original estimate had been a bit conservative. This was mostly due to the extra material needed for the side skirt kit (as it runs the full length of the lower half of the car, as well as protecting the rear spat area). In addition to a full 30% tint all around, they would be installing XPEL Ultimate on the following:
- Front bumper
- Full hood
- Front fenders
- Side skirts
- Door mirrors
- Rear spats
I agreed it was probably worth spending the extra cash now for the peace of mind and handed the keys over. I settled into their lobby, expecting to have to wait through the afternoon, but to my surprise, they ended up finishing everything in only a few hours!
When I stepped outside to examine their work, I couldn't help but grin. The pre-cut XPEL templates they had used wrapped around the car's leading edges almost perfectly - leaving very few seams/lines for the eye to catch. I was so happy with the result, and pleasantly surprised at how much of the car the XPEL film had covered.
The 30% 3M tint job had turned out awesome as well. Tom had recommended going 30%, as 50% tint (although the legal limit in Minnesota) was barely noticeable on a darker car.
After living with both the XPEL film and 3M tint for a few weeks, I think I'd split the difference and go with a 40% tint if I had the opportunity to do it again. 30% isn't blackout dark by any means, but it does make it tough for other drivers to see me wave. Call me ridiculous, but it's something I enjoy!
Regarding the film, I can safely say it was well worth every penny. After a 500+ mile road trip across Wisconsin recently, the front of my car had collected a CRAZY amount of dead bugs and road debris.
Had it not been for the XPEL, I'm positive that some of the bug stains would have started etching the soft clear coat, especially considering that the car sat out in 90+ degree sun for a day while I was at a wedding. Instead, when I got home and got to washing the car a few days later, almost all of the grime and staining was immediately rinsed off with a simple foam gun rinse.
Having struggled with caked-on bumper bugs and dirt for years with my previous cars, I can't understate how awesome it is to be able to blast everything off with a garden hose!
I also had the misfortune of testing the self-healing properties of the film when a quick detailer bottle slid off the sunroof, down the windshield, and rolled across the hood. The bottle left a few minor marks in the film, but a few hours later they had healed over and weren't visible at all!
Overall, I'd highly recommend the XPEL Ultimate film for anyone looking to protect their vehicle's paint. It can be a pricey upfront investment, but the protection and peace of mind you gain pays for itself over and over.
July 2023 Update: I still maintain that XPEL film is the best money you can spend if you want to protect your car's paint. After five years on the WRX and a little over a year on the Legacy XT, I've not once regretted getting XPEL Ultimate applied on both cars! You can read more about my long-term thoughts on XPEL here.
I'd recommend setting aside a few bucks to have the PPF applied immediately after picking up your new car, as every minute you drive without it is another opportunity to collect chips and stains that will have to be corrected!
If you have any questions about my car or the XPEL film, feel free to reach out!
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