Protecting your Body: Vinyl Wraps

   11.03.22

Protecting your Body: Vinyl Wraps

My first off-road vehicle was a Jeep XJ, and I beat that vehicle up. It was very capable on the trail and was also my daily driver. I made many bad decisions in that vehicle, but none were catastrophic. The worst things I ended up with were a broken slip yoke eliminator and body damage–mainly pin striping from squeezing down tight trails.

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At the time, I really didn’t care much. I felt that it showed my Jeep wasn’t just parking lot queen. However, I don’t want my current vehicles to look trashed. They are an extension of my business; a damaged vehicle doesn’t always project the most professional looks.

Not a real injury–this was during a wilderness medicine class–I frequently used the XJ as a prop. That sim blood stained the side, and I could never clean it fully off.

Why bother?

Yeah, yeah, I know. It is a badge of honor to trash your vehicle so you can virtue signal that you actually go off-road.

Paint actually serves a purpose on your vehicle. Beyond having some kind of personalization, it protects the underlying body from oxidation which can cause structural problems. It is durable for most people’s use cases (driving on the road to and from work and the grocery store) and is low maintenance. Assuming you take a minimal amount of care, like occasional washing, the paint will last the life of the vehicle.

When you go off-road and travel on trails, sometimes you have the opportunity to get scrapes and bumps. That durable paint doesn’t do so well for that. Most of the time, the damage is superficial and just looks ugly. In other cases, it can get scratched deep enough to damage the actual protection.

You can see some of the pin striping in the wrap. This might have damaged the paint.

A properly installed wrap will provide a durable layer over the top of your paint that can absorb some of the damage. Another benefit is that most wraps can “heal” with the application of directed heat from a heat gun–something your paint cannot do.

The wrap applies on top of the paint, can completely mask the original color, and provides a layer of protection.

A wrap can be replaced for a fraction of the cost, and installation is pretty rapid. You don’t need a special booth or environment–just an area where you can manage dust.

Types of wraps

A wrap can be partial or full on the vehicle. It can be a simple color swap or incorporate designs.

My Tacoma before any wraps.

My first wrap was a half wrap, covering the lower half of the vehicle. My most recent couple of wraps have been full. A full wrap obviously takes longer as more of the vehicle is covered. With a full wrap, you can go as complete as possible–meaning that every single painted surface is covered. You can even do a full “blackout” and wrap the chrome and shiny bits.

Half wrap with some masking of the front grill and an accent piece on the hood.  It had some dirt and mud spray that was nearly the same color as the original paint.
Pic of the half wrap.

For me, this is a bit overkill and adds significant time and cost. My primary reason for the wrap is protection. I also support sponsors and companies by selling advertising and displaying logos. I do a color swap and then apply decals on top of the vinyl. This allows me the flexibility to remove decals or fix panels if they get damaged.

Full wrap done for SHOT 2022 in the berm for Carbon Media and TFB.  It’s the same quicksand Tacoma with a full color change.

Other people I know will do a commercial wrap that is specific to a single business and will involve a custom-printed wrap. The downside is that if you damage part of the wrap, you generally need to replace the entire wrap since the design flows across panels.

Things to watch out for…

Not all installers are the same. The bar for opening a wrap shop is low, and YouTube can impart a false sense of ease of installation. I’ve used a few different installers, and the most successful ones have a facility and staff with experience. They are rarely in a residential garage (not to say there aren’t some installers with a home-based business).

The wrap shop I use, Titan Wrap Shop, does everything from full wraps to custom decals. Here is the owner installing the onX Logo on my trailer prior to Overland Expo PNW.

Beware of budget installs. Vinyl wrap costs money, and there are hours of labor required to do an installation. Good installers will remove trim, mirrors, handles, and other components so that when they put down the wrap, it is seamless looking.  They might also be able to mask around it–as was done in this case. If they don’t manage components, you might see the original color peeking through around boundaries. And that might be okay if you are just looking for some base protection. I personally want it to both protect and look good.

Before doing the trim around the handle.
A good wrap will be seamless around components.

Final thoughts

A wrap is a way to customize your vehicle’s appearance and provides some protection from light trail damage. It won’t save you from exceptionally bad decisions but can certainly protect your paint from pin striping and shallow scrapes.

My new RAM Power Wagon. It came in this intense blue.

 

The same Power Wagon with a color swap and decals applied.

The cost is much less than a paint job and will help protect the vehicle’s value. You can also monetize a wrap to help subsidize the cost.

My last two wraps were done by Titan Wrap Shop in Albuquerque.

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Avatar Author ID 94 - 983799875

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Before that, he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie,” and assaults 14er in his sandals, and engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming copious water. To fund these adventures, he writes all manner of content (having also held editor positions at several publications) and teaches wilderness medicine and off-road skills. He hopes that his posts will help you find the gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it (and the training to use it). Learn from his mistakes--he is known (in certain circles) for his curse...ahem, ability...to find the breaking point of anything. You can follow him at https://linktr.ee/docrader.

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