Car Care: Protect Your Car's Paint

Stop road debris from chipping your car's paint

Protect the finish on your car hood and mirrors from flying road debris with a special rubbery film. With a little practice you can apply it yourself and save hundreds of dollars.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Applying the protective film

The low-slung hoods and aerodynamic side mirrors on new cars are extremely vulnerable to paint chips from flying road debris. To protect the paint, dealers apply a thin, clear, rubbery paint film over those surfaces. The film really reduces paint chip damage, but dealers charge about $400 for it.

You can buy the film online and install it yourself in a few hours for about $120 (or less, depending on the size of the vehicle). It’s not complicated, but it does take practice. So purchase an extra set of film for your mirrors and try it with them first. Once you get the hang of wetting, stretching and squeegeeing the film around your mirror, you’ll find the hood much easier.

I bought a complete Aerogard film kit (film, spray bottles, knife and squeegee) for this 2011 Ford Flex (available from clearmask.com). There are cheaper films, but Aerogard film is a bit stretchier and more forgiving than other brands, so it’s worth paying a little extra.

You’ll also need distilled water, isopropyl alcohol and dishwashing detergent to prepare the two spray bottles. Follow the mixing directions exactly (I learned this the hard way).

Start by washing the entire vehicle, using bug and tar remover to get rid of the crud on the hood and mirrors. Then do a final wipe-down with a microfiber towel to remove dust.

Unroll the film on the clean hood (never on the floor) and let it “relax” for at least 15 minutes. Then spray the hood with the detergent solution.

Remove the adhesive liner and backer sheet and spray the sticky side with the detergent solution (Photo 1). Then center the wet film on the wetted hood and squeegee from the center of the hood outward (Photo 2). You can lift the film and retry as many times as you like as long as you rewet it with soapy water. Work out as many water bubbles as you can. If you can’t squeegee the bubbles out, leave them. They’ll disappear on their own over time. Air bubbles, on the other hand, won’t disappear. Pop those with a pin and squeegee the film.

Then apply the film to the mirror (Photo 3). Slice off any excess film (Photo 4).

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Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Aerogard film kit
  • Microfiber towel
  • Bug and tar remover