Wrapping a vehicle in vinyl to alter its look was once the domain of show cars, luxury and exotics but has now gone mainstream as part of a growing multibillion-dollar industry.
A car wrap is a series of vinyl decals allowing an owner to change the look of a vehicle without the long-term commitment of a traditional paint job. Think of it as a temporary tattoo for your car. Wrapping differs from a paint job in that the decals can be removed later with no impact on the existing paint, assuming the wrap was maintained correctly.
The designs include standard glossy colors, gradient colors, matte finishes, chrome metallic colors, company logos and full-on illustrations. The only limits are your imagination — and your budget.
Here are the pros and cons of getting your car wrapped.
A pristine surface is needed
Some people might think that a wrap can be used to breathe life into an older car or one with a bad paint job, but that isn’t the case. Sure, it’ll cover up the unsightly paint, but if the vehicle has any scratches, paint imperfections or door dings, they will be quite noticeable on the newly wrapped surface.
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Additionally, if the paint has started to flake or oxidize, the decals will have a hard time adhering to it. Many shops will advise customers to repair any scratches or dents before wrapping the vehicle.
Costs can vary
The act of applying an auto wrap is fairly labor-intensive, so the shop will determine the price based on the size of the vehicle, the complexity of the installation, and the materials of the wrap itself.
The cost can range from $2,000 for a smaller vehicle with a common color, such as matte black, and upward of $10,000 on a high-end vehicle like a Bentley or Lamborghini. The vinyl shop needs to be extra careful with those vehicles, and the body panels tend to be more complicated to remove.
Chrome or metallic finishes fall somewhere in between and tend to be on the more expensive side due to the higher cost of the materials and the intricacies involved in the installation. Chrome wraps can turn dull when they’re overheated or overstretched. Expect to pay roughly $6,500 to $8,000 for a chrome wrap.
First, the shop will wash and detail the vehicle with a clay bar to remove any contaminants from the surface of the paint. Some installers use a solution of isopropyl alcohol to clean the paint and then use compressed air to blow off any remaining dirt particles.
Next, the shop will remove the bumper covers, headlights and taillights so that the installer can place the wrap as close to the edges of the body panels as possible. If a customer doesn’t feel comfortable with the shop taking the car apart, the installer will skip that step and use a scalpel-like tool to cut the vinyl around lights and grilles.
The installer will then apply the vinyl to the vehicle body. A heat gun is often used to make the decal more pliable, so it can properly adhere to the shape of the vehicle. Complex wrap designs will require additional vinyl layers. Finally, the installer will use a soft felt squeegee to remove any lingering air pockets.
The entire process can take a few days to complete. If you want the doorjambs — the inner body-colored part of your doors — to match, it can easily take an extra day or so since the area has numerous crevices. Often the doors need to be taken apart before being wrapped, which can add to the labor required and cost.
How long do they last?
A properly maintained car wrap can last up to five years. However, the more a car wrap is exposed to the elements, the shorter it will survive. Excessive sun exposure can dry out the vinyl wrap, making it difficult to remove and significantly shortening its lifespan. Some shops will offer to apply a nano-ceramic coating on the finished wrap, for an added fee, to give it greater UV resistance and prevent minor scratches.
Avoid parking your wrapped vehicle in the street and exposing it to road salts and extreme temperatures. Similarly, you’ll want to steer clear of automatic car washes, and instead use a microfiber towel to keep the wrap clean.
EDMUNDS SAYS: When the time comes to sell your car, or if you want to go back to the car’s original color, you can take it back to the shop to get the wrap removed. If the wrap has retained its structural integrity, removal can be as easy as pulling off a Band-Aid. But if it’s been baked in and comes apart, expect to pay about $2,500 for the added labor.
5 fuel-efficient SUVs to help you save at the pump
2022 Ford Escape Hybrid
Offered in both conventional and plug-in hybrid variations, the 2022 Ford Escape is one the most fuel-efficient small SUVs you can buy. The standard hybrid earns an EPA-estimated 41 mpg combined (44 city/37 highway), giving it a total potential maximum range of 582 miles.
The plug-in hybrid returns 40 combined mpg and supplements its efficiency with 37 miles of electric-only operation. That means those with shorter commutes and convenient charging options may rarely need to use fuel.
Regardless of configuration, the Ford Escape Hybrid boasts a comfortable cabin, a compliant ride and sufficient power. A couple of drawbacks are its smaller than average cargo capacity and air conditioner that doesn’t quite get super cold on hot days.
2022 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Like the Escape, Toyota’s RAV4 is offered in both hybrid and plug-in flavors. The conventional hybrid nets 40 combined mpg (41 city/38 highway) for a total max range of 580 miles. The RAV4 Prime PHEV scores 38 combined mpg and a class-leading 42-mile all-electric range. Better still, the Prime is downright quick with 302 horsepower and a 0 to 60 mph sprint of just 5.6 seconds.
Other highlights of the 2022 RAV4 Hybrid include a roomy cabin, plenty of cargo space and standard all-wheel drive. Drivers will be less enthused with a somewhat awkward brake feel and the infotainment system’s dated-looking graphics.
Hyundai Tucson hybrid
The Hyundai Tucson small SUV is fully redesigned for 2022. In addition to distinctive new styling and features, Hyundai has added hybrid powertrains to the Tucson’s portfolio. Rated at 38 combined mpg (38 city/38 highway), and slightly less on higher trims, the standard hybrid can travel up to an estimated 521 miles on a single tank. Alternatively, the plug-in model returns 35 combined mpg and offers 33 miles of all-electric range.
Spacious, pleasant-riding and quick, the Hyundai Tucson is currently Edmunds’ highest-rated hybrid SUV. Fuel economy and electric range lag slightly behind close competitors, but Hyundai’s class-leading warranty provides extra ownership assurance.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Thankfully, those requiring a third row of seating aren’t doomed to bad gas mileage. The 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid touts class-leading fuel economy of 36 mpg combined (36 city/35 highway), for a total range of 616 miles. Toyota’s modest upcharge over the base Highlander and lower starting price than rivals keep the Hybrid attainable.
The Highlander Hybrid is easy to maneuver and smooth-riding, and it includes a full suite of driver aids as standard. Taller riders will have a tight squeeze in the third row and cargo space behind that row is constrained, though the total cabin volume is competitive.
2022 Tesla Model Y
The only thing better than fuel sipping is fuel abstinence. Tesla’s Model Y Long Range serves up to 330 miles of electric range on a full charge. In our own range testing, we’ve found the Model Y underperforms its EPA estimate a little, but it’s still one of the best SUVs available for going the distance. With overnight top-ups via a Level 2 charger, or stops at a Tesla Supercharger station, most drivers will never experience range anxiety and can happily ignore lofty fuel prices.
The Model Y is quick and cavernous, and it offers cutting-edge technology. Its inconsistent build quality and uninspiring design have opened the door for new challengers, however.
A burgeoning electric vehicle market and compelling hybrid options give consumers a variety of ways to beat the prices at the pump. But keep in mind that amid a vehicle shortage and rising fuel costs, these cars may be even harder to find or may carry premiums at dealers.