How long will vehicle graphics last? I’ve seen wraps that needed replaced after a couple years, and others that looked good after ten years on the road. So what’s the difference? The best answer is, it depends. There are multiple factors involved in determining the lifespan of any vehicle graphic, but in general, a quality installation using superior materials should last five to seven years, occasionally longer. Here are some of the things that can shorten or lengthen the life of an adhesive vinyl wrap or decal. So, how long will vehicle graphics last?

8 Keys to Vehicle Graphics Longevity

Material

There are hundreds of grades of adhesive vinyl material designed for many uses. Using the wrong material for the job, such as a short-term vinyl for a long-term application, will cut the life of any vehicle graphic. Like most things, you can purchase many levels of quality in adhesive vinyls. Warranties may range from two to seven years. Choosing the best material for your application is key. Using a cheaper material for short term use is fine, but cutting cost by using a lower grade material that was never intended for extended use creates problems.

Color

Some colors, such as reds and yellows, may fade faster, shortening the warranty. They can can be more adversely affected by sunlight than other colors. Whether paint or vinyl, red and yellows often show signs of fade in a shorter time than many other colors. Before deciding on color for you graphics, check the warranty for exceptions by color. If your branded color is red or yellow we recommend lamination, which slows the fading process.

Installation

Proper installation with approved tools is crucial. A poor installation will make for a short term graphic. Vehicle Graphic Application–The Devils in the Details.

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 rivets. Potential customers judge your organization by the face it presents, whether it’s your storefront, interior signage, or vehicle graphics. A peeling graphic doesn’t present a good image. It’s critical to find a quality graphics installer for your vehicle graphics.

Climate

Areas with extremely high temperatures and above average direct sunlight will take their toll on vehicle finishes whether it’s paint or vinyl. Areas with high levels of contaminants in the air, or on the road, as well as high saltwater concentration can adversely affect the vinyl. Motoring through the deserts of Nevada or New Mexico will affect  graphics more than driving in Tennessee or Virginia. Ask your preferred graphics provider how your climate may spoil printed adhesive vinyls.

Care

Improper care, or the lack thereof, can lead to a damaged finish. The most important thing to remember is to keep it clean. A dirty vehicle sends a bad message. It can also lead to a build up of chemicals that can damage a wrap. Following proper maintenance guidelines will extend the life of your vehicle graphics.

“The best thing anyone can do to keep adhesive vinyl vehicle graphics looking bright and new is to keep them clean. Road contaminants, solvents, and dirt can damage the surface of any vehicle, paint or graphics. It’s important to remove these particles soon and often. Don’t allow harsh chemicals like road salt to build up and attack the surface of your vehicle. Wash bird droppings, tree sap, and other stains as soon as possible. The number one key to keeping your new vehicle graphic looking new is to keep it clean.” — Caring for your New Vehicle Graphics. 

Substrate

The condition of the vehicle can and will affect the vehicle graphic. Attempting to cover rust and damage with graphics will not hide the damage. However, it will hasten the death of the material. “We recommend 1080 Series for new or reconditioned cars. Ideal candidates for 3M’s 1080 vehicle wrap film are luxury, sports cars, exotics, and track cars. Older vehicles that have dents, scratches, rust and other damage may be visible through the wrap. These defects may cause the wrap to look bad. 3M’s warranty only covers vehicles that have an excellent paint to substrate bond. Vehicles with clear coat issues, scratches, and dents will need to be sanded and prepped before it is wrapped.” – All about 3M 1080 Vehicle Wrap Film

Some materials are difficult to impossible to cover, for example some plastics, “Proper adhesion of vinyl graphics on plastics depends on several variables that include the type of plastic and how it was produced. Much of the success or failure will depend on the knowledge and experience of the applicator. Should it be installed wet, dry, or not at all? Other factors such as the condition and cleanliness of the surface as well as temperature and humidity during installation will impact the appearance and longevity of the graphic.” —  Can Adhesive Vinyl be applied to Plastic?

Use

Vehicle graphics applied to work vehicles can be affected by the work. For example, tankers that haul petroleum products can be damaged by petroleum products allowed to spill and sit on the vinyl. Construction equipment that digs, pushes, and grates, may be scraped and cut by dirt and gravel. Conversely, graphics on a show car that sits inside may last for years.

Lamination

Some vinyl’s don’t accept clear coat or lamination, however, most do and protecting the finish with an overlaminate will extend the life of the vinyl. “It also provides excellent gloss and clarity of reflection, giving a “wet paint” look.”  — 3M in this Graphics solutions post.

“Use a quality overlaminate on all of your graphics. Lamination not only protects against abrasion and improves the finish, it also provides a built-in layer of UV protection that helps protect the colors from fading and helps prevent the deterioration of media in sunlight. Matzen recommends another tip for her clients: “Rotate the vehicle so the intensity of the sun isn’t beating mostly on one side.” — Sign & Digital Design Magazine: Preparation and Maintenance For a Long Term Wrap

Vertical vs. horizontal exposure

Where the graphics are placed on a vehicle makes a difference. Horizontal surfaces such as hoods and roofs take more direct sunlight and may fade sooner than vertical surfaces such as doors.

“Horizontal installations have more direct continuous exposure to: Harsh ultra-violet energy of the sun, and the accumulation of contaminants, pollution, acid rain, and moisture commonly known as fall out. The combination of these two factors causes premature fading, and browning or discoloration of products. Therefore, these applications require products that have performance enhancements that are able to meet expectations.” — Sign & Digital Design Magazine: Wrap Protection Technologies

Here’s what the experts have to say

Adhesive vinyl provider Avery Dennison has this to say, “On average, Avery Dennison vehicle wraps that are properly installed will not fade, crack or peel for up to 5 years in most locations.”

In Wrap film series 1080 3M shares these factors that affect graphic performance life.

“The actual performance life of a graphic is affected by:

  • Selection, condition, and preparation of the substrate.
  • Surface texture.
  • Application methods.
  • Angle and direction of sun exposure.
  • Environmental conditions.
  • Cleaning or maintenance methods.”

How long will vehicle graphics last?

How long will fleet graphics last? The best answer is we can’t say. However, climate permitting, if you’ve used the correct material, had it installed by professionals, and kept it clean and undamaged it should last 5 years or more. If you’d like to know more just ask us, we’ll be here for a long, long time. We’re built to last.