I drove to SEMA with my 200,000 mile Jeep Wrangler to learn how to install XPEL paint protection film. Here’s what I learned
Late last year, XPEL invited me to attend SEMA, the big car show in Las Vegas filled with cool custom cars, aftermarket suppliers, parties, and burnouts — you know, SEMA. To get there, I of course had to take a 1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ that had just received a complete order of XPEL paint protection film at the hands of some real artists. Here’s what the trip to Vegas, the silly car show, and my time with the XPEL were like.
The trip began in typical David Tracy fashion: I had to quickly fix my car so I could participate in a Mercedes event in Las Vegas, and the Jeep was running poorly and shaking on the highway.
The car had maybe 300 miles on it, but it wasn’t pretty, and I couldn’t risk it. I diagnosed the vibration as a bad universal joint, so I quickly pulled the Jeep’s small rear driveshaft. Here in my hands:
In my opinion, the engine stuttering was most likely caused by a clogged fuel filter, so – since I was running out of time – I asked my friend Taylor for help while struggling with my old U-joints:
Once started, the trip to Sin City was truly miserable. The car ran and drove perfectly – that was not the problem, nor the truth I presented to myself zero Extra time before a Toyota event I wanted to attend. No, the problem was the cheap soft top I had just installed and was trying out for the first time. Seriously, look at the setup for this thing:
This door swung back and forth as the aerodynamic, brick-like appearance of the Jeep hurtled down the highway, the door flapping loudly in a way that would drive anyone crazy. But what’s worse is the zipper:
Just look at that metal zipper on top of the other, banging away like a high-pitched drum, completely driving me along crazy.
The good news is that I just arrived in time for the Toyota conference, which means I got to see the Toyota Tacoma X-Runner concept and the FJ Bruiser in person:
Plus, I got to spend time with legendary automotive journalist Andrew Collins:
Then the next day I met Jay Leno:
And throughout the show I got to see some seriously crazy designs:
But more importantly, my arrival meant I got to spend a good time with our friends at XPEL, whose Paint Protection Film (PPF) I believe in, especially as an off-roader who loves driving the awesome Jeep Wrangler wherever I please. :
Here, take a look at what XPEL showed me at SEMA:
XPEL showed me its booth for the first time, where I learned that the company also makes a large number of products that have nothing to do with cars. For example, it turns out they make solar window film that you can put on your home’s windows to dramatically reduce radiant heat transfer from the sun (and no, it’s not just a really dark film like window tint):
It turns out they also make a protective coating for bicycles:
There’s a ceramic coating I like to put on my shower glass so those bubbles don’t keep leaving marks that are impossible to remove:
But enough about that. I was there for the automotive stuff – specifically, I was excited to try applying paint protection, since I’d seen Johnny from 405 Motoring do it on my Jeep, and I was amazed at how challenging it looked. In fact, XPEL set me up with Travis, the company’s in-house PPF installation expert (trainer), which means he’s not only the best ever, but he also almost certainly had to teach some failed people how to install this film, so I felt comfortable knowing That I probably wouldn’t be the worst he’d ever seen. probably.
The car I was going to have my first lesson on? BAC (Briggs Automotive Company) Mono; This is the British street car:
Travis walked me through the different fluids his team uses to formulate the nearly invisible PPF urethane. There’s water and baby soap, which is the “slippery solution” that allows the film to float over the car’s panel, there’s alcohol, which is used to give the film a nice, durable “texture” that bonds to the panel, and then there’s gel, which is used for tight corners and other areas where PPF is difficult to adhere to.
Travis started by spraying the lid of the BAC with some slip solution, then “rolling” some film right over the top:
Back rolling involves removing some of the film from the backing paper and pressing it onto a dry part of the car until the adhesive is locked in place. This allowed Travis to easily unfold the rest of the wrapping paper, placing the film exactly where it should be. I say “pretty much” because it was still a bit wrinkled and out of place, which is why Travis then lifted the PPF and sprayed more slip solution under it so it could float a little better.
From there, he poured in an alcohol solution to make the PPF adhere tightly to the upper right corner, which is where he started his squeegee:
Travis installed the PPF on the front of the BAC Mono like an absolute boss, because that’s literally Travis. Here he changes grip just before rolling the leading edge of the PPF under the hood of the car – a very tight turn:
I tried the same thing, using some really tacky gel to squeeze that top corner, and while it certainly did better than I expected thanks to Travis’ instructions, I definitely wouldn’t want to do that on a client’s car, because I would be so disappointed in my work:
It’s a complex process that involves pinning one point, then squeezing it out from there, avoiding trapping bubbles, trying to fold the PPF under the lip, making sure things don’t slide too far from where they’re supposed to be, and keeping things slippery enough so they don’t get stuck Mop – it is a real art.
Also at the SEMA Show, XPEL demonstrated its Design Access Program, or DAP. This is software that allows a shop to pull a car from a giant list, and then literally print out whatever plate they need a PPF for (or if they’re installing window tint, print the right size for the window tints of a particular car):
You can see the XPEL window tint for the Tesla Model 3 above (note that DAP also provides instructions/pointers for installation). Below is an example of what the PPF would look like for a section of a Porsche 911. The colors are there to divide the PPF into sections to help provide installation instructions on how to best apply the film:
Also at SEMA, I got to experience the self-healing properties of PPF. Check this:
Most importantly, I was able to attend the XPEL event for the traders and their guests. You can actually see Travis, the king of PPF installation, in the photo directly below:
Here’s a little clip I shot:
The concert was legit, and was a reminder of how many people believe these things.
After the party, I drove home from Vegas and looked at the beautiful hood of a 1991 Jeep Wrangler, imagining all the scratched brush I’d be driving through, putting the self-healing property of XPEL’s PPF to the test. Beautiful Jeep: Get ready for some serious offroading: