The Mule: Protecting the Paint

photos by: the author

Protecting The Mule From Road Debris with the Help of XPEL

The Mule has come a long way in a short amount of time. From upgraded sway bars, brakes and an upcoming tech feature on cosmetic, intake exhaust and ultimately, a supercharger upgrade. However, at the end of the day The Mule is our daily driver, and stone chips and bug spatter can escalate rather quickly.

Looking to prolong the factory fresh finish for as long as we can, we turned to XPEL for one of their best paint protection systems. XPEL offers several different types of film for each individual need, namely, its ULTIMATE line of Paint Protection Film. There are similar products out there on the market, including from XPEL’s own line, but we should probably dig a little deeper into why this is XPEL’s ultimate, pun intended.

This film has multiple layers with a clear coat on top which allows dirt and grime to be easily wiped off with a soft cloth. Not only that, but it also prevents the film from discoloring in the sun. The most extraordinary feature, though, has to be the healing technology.

XPEL’s Paint Protection Film comes in five grades; Armor, Extreme, TracWrap, Stealth and Ultimate. For our install, we went with Ultimate, which is more geared towards daily-drivers and track-oriented street cars.

Scratches and swirl marks that would ruin paint cannot even damage the ULTIMATE Film. Heat from the sun or warmth from a garage allows the film to literally heal itself and constantly keep the vehicle looking fresh.

Not only is XPEL an amazing product, but XPEL stands behind their product 100%. The ULTIMATE Film is designed to be a long-term application, so much so, that it comes with a 10-year warranty.  If the film ever fails in any way, from cracking to discoloring, they will replace it for free.

XPEL also offers four other types of film. There is the Satin, with all the benefits of the ULTIMATE but in a satin, or a “matte,” finish.  It is an easy way to give any car that satin look without having to get an expensive paint job to do so.

TracWrap offers temporary protection and can be applied at home in less than an hour. Use it for a weekend trip or night at the track and cleanly peel it away when done. XPEL is the clearest and thinnest of the films offered, allowing the paint beneath to shine through as if the film wasn’t even there.

It does not have the healing technology of the Ultimate but, if any piece is damaged, it can easily be replaced, and XPEL stands behind it with a seven year warranty.  Finally, XPEL goes from the thinnest to the thickest with their Armor Film.  The pebbled film is great for off-road vehicles and it too comes with a seven year warranty.It is clear to see why XPEL is at the top when it comes to paint protection.

The countless reviews on highlight the benefits of using their products over any others. We’ve used products from other manufactures in the past, and even used XPEL on a C7 Z06 recently. XPEL can cover and protect it all; from headlights and windshields, to hoods, fenders and even the entire vehicle.

XPEL also uses top of the line software to create templates for their film. This software, called DAP Software, is constantly being updated so XPEL can create templates for thousands of vehicles. These templates make the installation smoother, faster, and more precise.

A really interesting feature about XPEL products, is that they upload the dimensions of most popular late-model vehicles into their databases. So instead of pulling out a huge sheet of XPEL PPF and sting most of it cutting it up, you can download the dimension you actually need, and have it outlined on the roll, for the sake of ease during the installation.

With their off-road type tires, four-wheel drive trucks are the perfect candidates for protection film. Rocks are constantly flung off the tires and down the side of the vehicle. Luckily, The Mule has stone guard implemented into he lower section of the vehicle, but we’ve noticed one or two stone chips find their way up on higher portions of the body and on the front clip.

XPEL also offer DIY kits, but only for small sections, like the door sill.  The larger pieces are better left to professional installers, and certified installers can be found on the XPEL site. For our Silverado, we met Albert Helcberger from Bloc-A-Chip at his facility in who has been performing these types of installs since 2002.

An alcohol solution is used as well as a squeegee to apply the XPEL film. Albert’s solution is typically a 70% alcohol to 30% water blend. This number can vary depending on who is doing the installation as well as the weather conditions.

Ideally, the install should be done in 60-70 degree temperatures and in a clean environment so no dust or debris gets in the film. In Ohio, the weather rarely cooperates with car enthusiasts, but being early Summer, we lucked out as the temps were well above the recommended installation levels.    

Of course the vehicle should be clean at the time of installation and not freshly waxed. We were sure to wash our Silverado just prior to the installation  but Albert wiped it down again, away, as road dust and various debris from even the most basic travel route can quickly gather unwanted grime. A solution of alcohol can be used to wipe down the car prior to install to ensure it is properly prepped. The installer, too, should have clean hands and ideally should not handle the sticky side of the film too much to prevent fingerprints being left behind.

After the vehicle is prepped, the installer will use two different solutions, one a mixture of soap and water and the other alcohol and water.  These solutions have different purposes; one to slide the film around and the other to help it stick.

PPF needs to be installed wet to allow it to slip around on the vehicle and make it easier for the installer to place it in just the right spot.  The soap solution is sprayed on the car and even on the film so it does not stick before the installer wants it to.  This can be a very tedious process, even with the film already cut to size with the DAP template.

Once the film is where the installer wants it, it is time to start sticking it down. Now the alcohol solution is used as well as a squeegee. Albert’s solution was 70% alcohol to 30% water. This number can vary depending on who is doing the installation as well as the weather conditions. The installer will lift corners of the film to spray the solution underneath, smooth the film back down, and use the squeegee to push the excess solution out as well as any air bubbles.

In Albert’s case, he used a heat gun in addition to the squeegee because of the chilly temperature. A heat gun, though too, can help stretch the film to get just the right fit.  However, the installer needs to be careful that the film does not get too soft and hot.

The final piece of equipment is a blade to trim and tuck the film around the lights, blinkers, grill, etc. This is a very tedious process because the installer has to be exact and careful not to cut the film wrong or the paint underneath. The whole process requires patience and skill and is definitely left to the professionals, like Albert.

After the film is all set, the truck was ready to go. The film needs to cure for at least 24 hours, after that time it can be hand washed but not waxed until a week later. Once the waiting period is up, the vehicle can be washed, waxed, and driven with the knowledge that the paint is protected and guaranteed for 10 years. We also had to the the sun, heat and air bubbles work themselves out of the tiny gap between the hood and the racing stripes on the hood.

In our case, the price for the hood, front fender corner sections came to $450. This, naturally, will vary by vehicle. However, this is a small price to pay when a repaint for various sections of a new Silverado could cost into the thousands. It makes sense to spend a little for PPF now rather than a lot more for a repaint later.

The finished product: As you can see, there’s absolutely no evidence of the XPEL protective film on the front bumper. You can chalk it up for two reason; the quality of the XPEL film, and Bloc-A-Chip’s talents to cut them film to run accordingly to the Silverado’s body lines.

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Rick Seitz

Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of AutoCentric Media, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles; GM, Ford, Dodge, imports, trucks -- you name it! When he isn't clacking away on his keyboard, he's building, tuning, driving or testing his current crop of personal projects!

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