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After the Wrap Hits the Road

Corrective actions for your shop post vehicle wrap.

You might think that once a happy wrap customer pays you in full and heads out of your shop, that your work is officially done. While I agree that you have usually fulfilled your duties at that point, every once in a while you might get an urgent follow-up call from a distressed customer, telling you, “Something is just not right with the wrap.”

Let's go over just a few of the reasons a client might need to call you for a repair, for some answers, or for some advice – after they have driven away from your shop and hit the road with a new wrap. And I’ll strive to provide some solutions to each.

Lifting vinyl or laminate
One issue that clients can have is vinyl lifting away from the vehicle. This typically occurs in areas where there are complex curves or deep channels. If the problem is caught early enough – in the first week or two – these areas can often be repaired.

I recommend setting up a time as soon as possible to have one of your senior installers take a look at the issue. In some situations, it’s possible to use a primer, some strips of clear laminate, some heat, some scrap material, and some skill to repair these areas to the customer’s satisfaction. If, however: the vinyl got dirty on the adhesive side; if the vinyl has lifted in the middle of a panel; or if the vinyl has dried out (because the issue wasn’t addressed early on), it may not be possible to repair and you may need to re-print and re-install the wrap.

Corrective action: Make sure your installers are properly trained in install techniques that roll vinyl down into deep channels, as opposed to bringing over the gap and trying to stretch vinyl down into the channels. It’s just as vital to be properly trained on and carry a good primer for use in these areas. Two examples of these types of areas requiring primer and advanced install techniques include: the deep channels on the sides of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, as well as above both tail lights on the rear of Ford Transit Connects.

Chalky or oxidized paint is another reason for lifting vinyl, and this is a much scarier problem for the shop because it typically cannot be repaired. Obviously, you should never install a wrap on a vehicle that has oxidized paint. It’s like trying to install a decal on a dusty chalkboard – it just doesn’t work. In my opinion, unless you had an upfront conversation and a warranty-waiver signed, you actually owe the client a new vehicle wrap. Here, you cannot re-wrap the vehicle unless it is repaired first. Tip: With tractor trailers, an acid wash can make the vehicle wrap-ready.

Corrective action: As professionals, we should never wrap a vehicle we cannot warranty. A simple inspection of the vehicle will show oxidized paint. Use a black T-shirt to wipe along a white vehicle to see if any “white” appears on the rag (this also holds true using a white T-shirt on a colored vehicle). Tip: Wrapping surfaces like rubber and textured plastic can have similar issues and should be avoided.

Occasionally, you’ll get a call from a client claiming that the vinyl is lifting, but upon inspection you’ll find that it’s actually the laminate that’s lifting. The most common reason for the laminate lifting is mismatched components, meaning this laminate was not designed to be used with the particular printed vinyl. Using a calendared laminate with a cast vinyl will also cause lifting laminate (among many other issues). Using a cast laminate from one manufacturer and a cast vinyl from another manufacturer might work, but then again it might fail miserably. Even laminates from the same manufacturer that were not designed to be used in combination can cause you problems and headaches.

Corrective action: Only use components that were purposely engineered to be used together. Read and follow product bulletins, and clearly label all rolls in your shop to avoid mistakes while loading printers and laminators.

Another reason for lifting laminate is improper curing of solvent inks post-print and before lamination. We all get in a hurry to laminate after printing because schedules and deadlines never seem to take a break. But rushing to the laminating stage before properly allowing the ink to out-gas will only wreak havoc in the wrap game. Doing so can cause the gases to penetrate the printed vinyl and change the properties of the adhesive; it can also cause the laminate to lift from the vinyl. This issue seems to be most prominent when there’s heavy saturation, high-ambient humidity, not enough dry time, or any combination of these factors.

Corrective action: Product bulletins state the process and time required for proper curing. In the event you’re in a humid environment, have extremely fast printers, or just don't have time to wait, there are curing or drying devices that are commercially available. Make sure the vinyl properly out-gasses or you’ll be doing the job all over again.

‘Weird markings’
Once a year or so, we get a call from a client describing “weird markings” on certain areas of their wrap. When the client brings the vehicle in, we see the areas they’re talking about: This effect looks like someone took a squirt bottle of “something bad” and squirted it onto the vehicle.

To date, we have traced down three different causes. Our first encounter with such a scenario was a result of someone putting a harsh chemical cleaner in their windshield-washer system. When they deployed the spraying system, it did indeed clean the window but then proceeded to run from the top of the vehicle down its sides, eating away at the protective vinyl laminate. We have also seen this problem come about as a result of headlight washers spraying up on the vehicle’s hood.

The next mystery we solved was after a client had some salt spray on the rear of their vehicle (from salt on icy roads), which they decided to clean with an abrasive cleaner. It took them a while to confess what they had done, but in the end it was pretty obvious that it was a sprayed-on external chemical that caused the resultant pitting and discolorations.

The last bizarre markings we identified were a bit tricky to track down, but with help from the media manufacturer’s lab we finally got to the bottom of it. A customer had us do a full wrap on a new GMC Arcadia using one of the matte gray films (no print or laminate needed). A few months went by and he then sent us photos showing what looked like a severely expired wrap – but only in certain areas (those that faced up and toward the sun). Some areas of this vehicle looked brand new, while others looked eight years old. If that wasn’t weird enough, this dried out, burnt look also appeared to run down the vehicle, as if it had been caused by a liquid.

This was a real head-scratcher – while it was obvious that the sun played a factor (by the location on the roof and the edges or surfaces that faced up), liquid must also have played a factor because of the streaks where the problem seemed to “pour” down the vehicle.

In the end, we finally determined the cause: While the vehicle had been parked by the beach without moving for a few months, it had been coated with a bit of acid dew each morning. The droplets acted as miniature magnifying glasses, focusing the sun’s light to cause burning. Once there was enough of this dew, it would then run down the vehicle. The lab also stated that their material should not have been so negatively affected by these conditions so they warranted the job for us. In this case, it truly was a perfect storm of four factors at once: a bad roll of material, vehicle parked in the same spot for months, acid dew, and specific sun exposure.

Corrective action: We cannot warranty vinyl against harsh chemicals, so the only way we have found to help avoid these types of issues is to document them with good photos when they occur and visually educate our future customers as to what can happen if they do not follow the use-and-care guide we provide.

Upfront, clear, and consistent
The last tip to help avoid concerned calls post-wrap is to make sure all customers fully understand the expected life of a wrap. We take careful steps at bluemedia to ensure our clients know the details of the warranty, including the fact that different climates have different life expectancies and that perforated window vinyl and vinyl installed on surfaces that are +/- 10 percent of vertical may not last as long as the rest of the wrap. Be upfront, be clear, and be consistent. That is exactly what anyone making a purchase wants from a vendor.

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