How long will my vehicle wrap last? Good question!

Vehicle wraps and graphics are a big investment, in time and money, but they’re also an investment in your organization’s reputation. Vehicle graphics that look worn and dated send a bad message about your business. On the other hand, vehicle graphics that stand out send an impactful message to prospects.

Why do some wraps begin coming apart at the seams after only a few months and others last for years? Why do some wraps fade the first summer on the street while others show no signs of fading after several years? I’ve seen wraps that should’ve been replaced after a couple years, and others that looked good after ten years on the road. So what’s the difference?

Let’s dive deeper into materials, warranties, and other contributing factors that may affect the life of your vehicle wrap.

Toyota Highlander Wrapped with Bright Blue Vehicle Graphics

Vehicle Graphics Vinyl Materials

Let’s start by talking about the materials being used for your vehicle wrap. Choosing the best material for your application is key and, like most things, you can purchase many levels of quality and price in adhesive vinyls. Graphics warranties may range from two to seven years depending on the materials intended purpose. Using a cheaper material for short-term use is fine, but cutting cost by using a lower grade material that was never intended for an extended use application will cause major problems.

Vinyl begins as Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC). Additives create the vinyl film used to wrap vehicles. Plasticizers are added for flexibility, pigment is added for color, then UV absorbers and heat stabilizers are added to create a vinyl that will conform to a vehicle’s shape and withstand the elements. Cast, or “premium vinyl,” is a process similar to making a cake. Ingredients are mixed and solvents are added, then poured into a casting sheet, which is baked, allowing the solvents to evaporate. This process makes a very flexible, thin, shrink-resistant material.

Another manufacturing option is the calendar or economy process. In this method, ingredients are mixed, but solvents aren’t added. Like pizza dough, the vinyl is rolled and stretched into the desired shape. This material is thicker and having been stretched, it tends to shrink.

A full wrap requires compliant material that can be heated and formed around curves. Noncompliant material is less expensive, but if used for the wrong application costs the customer more in the long run. To read more, see our blog, How to Avoid Costly Vehicle Graphics Mistakes.

Graphics Installation

How long your vehicle wrap will last also depends on how it’s installed. Last week, a local franchise of a national restaurant chain brought their vehicle in for an estimate. Areas of the existing wrap were peeling because it hadn’t been installed properly around the rivets which causes lifting and eventually peeling of the wrap. It’s critical to find a certified graphics installer to install your vehicle graphics properly.

There are two primary vehicle graphics installation certification programs. PDAA (Professional Decal Application Alliance) which is administered by SGIA (Specialty Graphics Imaging Association), and UASG (United Application Standards Group) through 3M. The UASG has distinguished itself by being the first organization of its kind to require every decal installer to meet high standards of professionalism and installation skill. See our blog about How to Find the Best Vehicle Graphics Installers.

Pre-installation Preparation

There are several things that should be inspected before installation of your vehicle wrap. The condition of the vehicle’s paint, any damage such as dents or rust, and the condition of seals and gaskets should all be inspected to avoid potential vinyl adhesive failure. Adhesive vinyl graphics will not adhere to worn out or damaged substrates nor will it hide or camouflage pre-existing damage.

Clean the vehicle prior to installation. Any debris remaining on the vehicle before the vinyl application may show through. Residue of oil or film may cause adhesive failure. The final wipe down should be with isopropyl alcohol and the vehicle should be thoroughly dried before installation. — 5 Steps to Planning Vehicle Graphics Pre-installation.

Climate

Climate, such as the amount of sunlight, affects adhesive vinyl graphics significantly. Motoring through the deserts of Nevada or New Mexico is going to affect graphics more than driving in Tennessee or Virginia. Ask your preferred graphics provider how your climate may affect printed adhesive vinyl.  Some colors, such as red, are more susceptible to fading. Also the position of the graphic makes a difference, horizontal surfaces absorb more direct sunlight and ultra-violet rays.

Environmental conditions such as acid rain, sea salt, and smog can hasten the failure of vinyl graphics. Tree sap, bugs, and bird droppings all can be a problem if not cleaned in a timely manner.

Lastly, the work environment of the car or truck can make a difference. Allowing petroleum products to set into the vinyl, or vehicles used around corrosive materials, when left unchecked can lead to early adhesive vinyl failure.

Care and Maintenance

Using recommended cleaning methods will extend the life of your vehicle graphics. Contaminants allowed to remain on the graphic may be more difficult to remove during cleaning. Wash regularly and rinse off as much dirt and grit as possible with a spray of water whenever the vehicle appears dirty.

To wash your vehicle properly, use a wet, non-abrasive detergent such as 3M™ Car Wash Soap 39000 or Meguiar’s NXT Generation® Car Wash or Deep Crystal® Car Wash and a soft, clean cloth or sponge. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. To reduce water spotting, immediately use a silicone squeegee to remove water and finish with a clean soft rag.  See 3M’s bulletin about Caring for Your Vehicle Graphics and Wraps [PDF]. See “Difficult Contaminants” on page 1, for spot cleaning bird droppings, tar, etc.

Overlaminate

Overlaminate of adhesive vinyl graphics protects the design from harmful UV rays, acid dew, and road debris. Laminating the material is recommended. It also provides excellent gloss and clarity of reflection, giving a “wet paint” look and it is warranted by 3M when used with recommended 3M graphic films, printers and inks – including its performance on horizontal surfaces, offering your customers peace of mind.

Color

Some colors are more adversely affected by sunlight than other colors. Before deciding, check the warranty for exceptions by color.

So, How Long Will My Vehicle Wrap Last?

As you can see, there are several factors contributing to the life of your vehicle graphics or wrap. Here are some simple tips to follow to help extend the life of your graphics:

  • Use an experienced and knowledgable graphics provider, like TKO Graphix, to choose the proper material for your vehicle and type of application.
  • Hire certified and experienced installers.
  • Take climate and color into consideration when considering the design of your vehicle graphics.
  • Properly maintain your fleet and vehicle graphics by following the care and washing guidelines provided.
  • Choose a graphics manufacturer that can provide the best graphic warranty. TKO Graphix is a 3M™ MCS™ Warranty provider. This certificate of warranty ensures our printed graphics are backed by 3M’s most comprehensive warranty and demonstrates our commitment to providing customers with quality 3M™ graphics that stand the test of time.

 

We would be happy to steer you in the right direction with your fleet and vehicle graphics. Contact us today for a quote.

 

If you’d like to read more about vehicle wraps, check out our series of FAQ blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this one, FAQ: What Does a Vehicle Graphic Designer Need to Know About My Vehicle?