While the short answer to how long a vinyl wrap lasts appears to be “three to seven years,” that wide range merits some explanation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of the variables that impact the lifespan of a vinyl wrap are the quality of the film (the “wrap” material), the quality of the installation (surface preparation is key) and what kind of care it gets (more on this in a bit). But a crucial fourth factor is ambient climate. Taylor Gooley at Hyer Quality Detail noted that hot and sunny is not a great combination for longevity of the film, and he should know: The company is located in Tempe, Ariz., just outside Phoenix, and he’s been there for eight years. In that area, he says the normal lifespan of the film is about three to five years.
What Happens to It and How to Extend Its Life
Toward the end of its useful life, the film may crack, peel or fade. Due to direct sun exposure, this may first affect the horizontal surfaces of the vehicle (hood, roof, and trunk), and in some cases, just those areas can be rewrapped. The best protection is to keep the vehicle in a garage when not being driven, or at least under a cover, and to wash it frequently. Gooley says that a ceramic coating can also help extend the film’s life.
One of the merits of a wrap is that it protects the original paint underneath, and if the installation is done correctly, the film can be removed without damaging the original finish. In that vein, Gooley says his shop sometimes installs a clear protective film that can help preserve the original paint (which strong sun can damage in relatively short order). Furthermore, some companies make a film that closely matches certain original colors, which may allow sun-damaged paint on horizontal surfaces to be wrapped instead of repainted.
The film used to wrap a vehicle is quite “stretchy,” allowing it to conform to complicated contours. In many instances, a large sheet of it is laid over a surface then trimmed with razor-edged knives to match the shape of the panel. But Gooley’s shop uses a computerized machine that in most cases can custom-cut film to fit the panel to which it’s being applied, which he says can save underlying paint from knife cut marks.