How-To Clean and Protect a Vinyl Wrap

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the completion of a Metallic Blue/Gun Metal Grey color change applied to the body panels of “Project BluMajik,” our 1995 Ford F-350, it’s time to update you on the status of the truck’s wrap and provide insights on things we’re doing to properly care for the Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions vinyl that the crew at Raceskinz applied.

Per Raceskinz co-owner Mike Smith, when vinyl-wrap material is cared for properly, it can “last” (look good, remain adhered, etc.) on a truck for up to eight years, which, when cost is taken into account versus a paint-based color change, is a very respectable lifespan. However, with keeping vinyl clean being the more critical of the two primary care criteria, it’s important to understand the process isn’t the same as for conventional painted rigs—in a nutshell, depending on the type of gloss and the vinyl material itself, it’s important to remember that using any type of compound, polish or cleaner waxes could alter the vinyl’s sheen.

Understanding the effect that elements have on vinyl is another key to ensuring its longevity. As a Southern California-based truck, heat, direct sunlight, wind, and, yes, rain, are BluMajik’s nemesis. And, based on the driveway/yard configuration at Truck and Off-Road Group Senior Content Producer KJ Jones’ home, the hard water of lawn sprinklers also poses a significant threat.

Read on for tips on how to cover the two important bases, cleaning and protection, using products from Meguiar’s and California Car Cover. The DIY processes aren’t difficult, but it’s important they’re adhered to for consistent, good results.

Filthy Fenders and More

First, we’re fully aware our vinyl-wrapped 1995 F-350 should never look this bad. The six-month dirt-and-dust accumulation wasn’t intentional. BluMajik was covered shortly after the wrap was applied, but unfortunately severe wind in November (Thanksgiving day, actually) lifted the ill-fitting cover and carried it away.

Here’s a closer look at how thick the layer of grime was before we started the cleaning process. The defacement was self-inflicted, a message added by KJ to hammer home the point that BluMajik really needs a good bath.

Dirt was everywhere, from front to back. Read on to see how this is remedied, and controlled going forward.

Wash Without Water

Now, given the photos detailing the amount of dirt that was on our project rig, conventional thought would have us reaching for a pressure washer and some type of detergent-based cleaning solution, the highest-level no-no for wrapped-vehicle care. While traditional washing (two separate buckets of water, automotive-specific wash solution, microfiber cloths, etc.) is still recommended, we chose Meguiar’s Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax, an easy-on/easy-off spray product that safely loosens and lifts dirt without damaging the vinyl. The company’s Ultimate Quik Wax adds polymers for vinyl-safe protection, and its Hybrid Ceramic Detailer gives excellent SiO2 protection against the elements and is great for safe, quick dust and fingerprint removal.

The amount of dirt and debris on BluMajik was about the most that the waterless product can safely remove. Trucks with heavier mud, dirt, or debris require a good old-fashioned wash with a hose and the aforementioned washing materials. Again, a high-pressure washer should never be used, as it will peel the vinyl off the truck.

Our F-350 is updated with a 2010-2011 front bumper that includes black-plastic accent pieces. Meguiar’s Ultimate Black Plastic Restorer is used to bring back and maintain shine and luster on the bumper trim and other black-plastic parts.

Here’s Project BluMajik, all cleaned up and looking good. While washing the truck without water definitely is a different experience, Meguiar’s Waterless Wash & Wax does a really good job and is spray-and-wipe-simple to use. In terms of time spent, a traditional hand wash on our 1995 Ford F-350 typically took about 90 minutes to complete (depending on ambient temperature—the hotter it was outside, the longer it took). Because BluMajik’s exterior was so dirty and we admittedly were apprehensive about using the waterless product, our first time using it required about an hour of low effort. We were able to clean the fenders and other large areas in one pass. Subsequent washes have been completed in 40 minutes, on average.

Great Cover-Up

With the project rig clean, we took a drive out to California Car Cover headquarters in Simi Valley, California, for guidance on how to protect the truck’s vinyl wrap from sun and elements.

As seen in use at many cars-(or trucks)-and-coffee gatherings, the Original California Car Duster is the company’s best-selling, flagship product, and a great tool to have onboard a rig for easy dust management.

This is the truck’s former cover (notice the MotorTrend brand), which was more a “universal” piece that did not fit well and ultimately was blown off and away to Neverland.

Parking near sprinklers is another threat to a vinyl wrap. Although it’s only water, in Southern California, “hard” water (H2O with a high mineral concentration) is an archenemy to a vehicle’s vinyl-wrapped or painted finish. When it dries, hard water leaves spots that are difficult to eradicate from a truck’s body, yet another good reason why using a good truck cover is advised.

In addition to quick cleanups at car shows, using an Original California Car Duster is recommended before covering a vehicle and immediately after removing a truck cover. Only a short wipedown is necessary.

California Car Cover’s truck protectors include a convenient bag for easy storage. Installing the cover starts with removing it from the tote, then orienting it on the truck, starting at the bed, so the company logo ends up at the front when the cover is fully rolled out from the back to the front. Using a small stepladder makes installation easier on taller vehicles, and seeking help is advised on windy days.

After consulting with Tony DeFrank Jr. at California Car Cover, we selected the Superweave All-Weather Outdoor Custom Car Cover. It’s the company’s most UV-, water-, and weather-resistant truck cover, featuring unsurpassed moisture, dust, and pollutant protection. Superweave fabric allows moisture, condensation, and heat to easily escape from beneath the cover. It’s washer/dryer safe, available in five different colors, and protected by a 4-year limited warranty.

As we noted earlier in this report, the environment can cause significant damage to a vinyl wrap. The cover blocks the sun’s glare and UV rays, and rain literally rolls off the Superweave material instead of being absorbed by it.

High-speed winds (and poor fitment) were reasons for the loss of BluMajik’s first cover. Our new California Car Cover Superweave All-Weather Outdoor Custom Car Cover features heavy-duty eyelets on each side that are used for securing the cover with a 6-foot bungee cord.

We’re very pleased with the new cover for Project BluMajik. Fitment is excellent (check out the pockets for towing mirrors), as all of the company’s covers are custom-fitted, based on make/model/year measurements and details about the truck that are discussed during consultation with California Car Covers sales representatives.

Almost a year later, the Superweave cover still looks new after experiencing all of the conditions that we anticipated would put it to the test.

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