EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the cost for full-body protection on Ford F-150 Raptor and Super Duty trucks, which can run anywhere between $5,500 and $6,000.
There's a clear way for dealerships to boost service department profits, win customers' loyalty by safeguarding their vehicles from road damage and cut the cost and time of reconditioning trade-ins and processing off-lease vehicles: installing transparent paint protection film.
Some dealerships charge as much as $6,000 to apply the polyurethane coating to an entire vehicle, shielding its finish from scratches, scuffs and chips. Even smaller film applications, sometimes called "wear and tear protection," require no more than $25 in materials, take less than an hour to complete and offer a markup to the dealership of $199 to $299.
Vendors and dealers warn, however, that proper training of employees who work with the film is crucial for dealers to profit from the product.
"Dealerships need to understand it begins and ends with the skill of the installer," says Eric Keller, business development manager of XPEL Technologies Corp. in San Antonio, a major supplier of paint protection film.
Another top vendor, 3M Co., developed the film in the mid-1960s to protect helicopter blades. In the 1990s, the film — sometimes called "clear bra" — began to be widely applied to cars and trucks.
Mike Beaver, a national sales manager for 3M, says paint protection film remains effective at fending off damage from stones, salt and sand, as well as human carelessness that causes dings and scratches.
The film is typically about eight times the thickness of a plastic kitchen garbage bag. It is sold in bulk rolls and in proprietary patterns specific to hundreds of vehicle models.