Have you ever owned a car you didn’t love looking at? You could get it painted, but another possibility growing in popularity is applying vinyl wrap all over it. There are plenty of advantages and nearly infinite appearance options, but how much does it cost to wrap a car?
What is a car wrap?
Manufacturers such as 3M have developed pliable sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymer in almost any color imaginable. These sheets can be printed on, patternized or even finished with a metallic sheen or reflective chrome appearance. The sheet wrap partially or fully covers a car’s exterior surface.
Vinyl film was developed in the early 20th century but didn’t find its way into the automotive industry until the 1950s. Use started with lettering for advertising and displaying company names but has since become a way to customize cars with a complete covering. As an example, laws required German taxis to be a bland beige tone years ago. Rather than completely repainting cars with costly and laborious refinishing, the Germans used wraps to change a car’s color to the approved beige in just a few hours.
Applying car wrap isn’t exactly a simple process, but it’s much less intense than a paint job.
- First, the car has to be meticulously washed and dried to remove any dirt, wax and grease. If not, the vinyl might not adhere properly and begin peeling.
- Next, workers cut a section of wrap larger than the panel being covered.
- The backing paper is removed, then the wrap is applied, starting with the middle of the panel and working toward the edges, squeegeeing air out as you go.
- Vinyl wrap car film has to be heated and stretched for curvy panels, especially smaller parts with tight turns, to prevent wrinkles and bubbles.
- Once the vinyl completely adheres, the edges are trimmed neatly using a razor sharp blade or Knifeless Tape.
Car wrap is often forgiving and can be lifted and reapplied as you go until exposed to heat.
How much does it cost to wrap a car?
Asking “how much does a car wrap cost?” is like asking how much buying a car costs. There are massive differences in price based on a bunch of factors, including vehicle type, size, quality, design and more. Generally, you can expect a price tag somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000 for a good job applied by a shop that does car wraps.
An accurate quote can only be attained if you put in the legwork and ask for details from a local shop that wraps cars. In talking with representatives from a few shops, we found some preliminary information related to car wrap cost.
Car make and model
The brand or model doesn’t affect the quote, but vehicle size does. Larger vehicles such as a Cadillac Escalade will need two to three times the film as a Chevrolet Sonic. One wrap company in Las Vegas estimated a single-color, premium-quality car wrap for an Escalade would be around $5,500 whereas a compact car would be around $2,500.
If your car has a complex design with sharp angles or intricate work, wrapping takes longer and costs more. While the difference in material would be negligible between the two, the price for wrapping a Lamborghini Aventador would likely be more than double the cost of a sedan such as the Chevy Sonic.
The grade of materials available affects car wrap prices, too. 3M has two grades of wrap: the 1080 Series or 2080 Series, with several categories of wrap in each grouping. Gloss, satin and matte monochromatic colors are at the lower end of the price ranges, and choosing Color Flip, Texture or Chrome wrap adds to the cost.
If you pick a printed design—say, Hello Kitty graphics on the vinyl wrap—the printing cost jacks up the price, too. How much more? That varies widely depending on the shop you choose, but our shops quoted between 20% and 50% more.
Drop off a filthy car covered in sap and you’ll be paying extra to have your car detailed before the shop starts the wrapping job. The more prep time required, the more you have to shell out for the wrap.
If your car has paint chips or dents, the price may not necessarily go up. However, the extra cost comes later because the wrap likely won’t adhere properly when the surface isn’t straight or has air bubbles. Wrap doesn’t cover up flaws—if anything, it accentuates them. Plus, the shop likely won’t guarantee their work or offer a warranty on the car wrap if it starts bubbling or peeling because of those preconditions.
How much car you’re wrapping
Just as the size of the vehicle matters, how much of the car gets wrapped also factors in. You’ll see muscle cars with matte-finished hoods and trunk lids that have been wrapped as an accent. Some tuners might have one or both fenders wrapped in a style rather unique to the segment. Obviously, if you aren’t wrapping the whole car, the work costs less.
If you were quoted for a wrap on a bone-stock car and show up with a modified one, the alterations will add to the estimate you received. Adding a spoiler, ground effects or a hood scoop makes the wrap more time-consuming and, thus, costs more.
If existing wrap needs to be removed
One of the benefits of a car wrap can also add to your costs down the road. If you have an existing wrap you want to replace because it’s fallen out of style or it’s become damaged, it needs to be removed first. That can cost $500 or more, and extra labor charges will apply if there is adhesive left on the paint.
Car wrap pros and cons
What’s the point in a vinyl wrap rather than just painting the car? Those are two completely different processes with their own purposes, and a wrap has its advantages as well as a few disadvantages.
Car wrap pros
Car wraps do an excellent job protecting a car’s paint job; the fact that they aren’t permanent is also a plus. But there are many other good reasons to wrap your car over painting it.
A good quality paint job tends to be at least $2,500, while a high-quality or custom paint job is around $5,000 and up. Most car aficionados know someone who has paid $10,000 or even $20,000 for a custom paint job. Comparatively, a car wrap is usually the same price or less for a similar result.
Imagine a newly-finished hot rod with a custom paint job picking up a door ding in a parking lot. That could easily cost thousands of dollars to repair, and some paints are nearly impossible to match. If the car was wrapped instead, a single panel could have the vinyl removed and rewrapped at a fraction of the cost.
As mentioned, car wraps do a top-notch job protecting a car’s factory paint job. Not only can the vinyl film keep the underlying paint looking like new, but an incident that could scratch or scuff paint may not even leave a mark on a car wrap. Under the hot sun, some dimples or scratches can even heal themselves.
As permanent as you want
Your tastes today may be different tomorrow. Or if you decide to sell your car, the new owner might want to go back to the factory color rather than the bold, textured or pearlescent wrap you chose. Wraps can be removed in a few hours, and the paint underneath will be in the same shape as before the wrap was applied—or a new car wrap can be installed.
Quick to apply
If you can go without having a car for multiple weeks, a paint job may be fine. But if it’s your daily driver, a car wrap can get you the custom look you want often within a day. It’s much faster to apply a wrap than to paint a car.
Car wrap cons
Despite many positives, a car wrap can leave you disappointed and lighter in the wallet for a number of the following reasons.
Paint could peel
If you cover up a low-quality paint job, there’s a good chance some of the paint could lift off the car when removing the car wrap. It’s a chance you take when cutting corners. The same is true if you try to save money by using vinyl from manufacturers who don’t have the staying reputation of 3M or Avery.
Vulnerable to weather
Although vinyl is considered UV resistant and colorfast, exposure to the elements puts it to the test. To some degree, a vinyl car wrap will fade and become brittle if left in the sun. For cheaper or poorly installed wraps, the same bubbling you see on subpar window tint can happen to a car wrap—a look that nobody loves.
An amateur installer could wreck the paint
After the vinyl sheet is stretched over the panel, it’s trimmed with a super-sharp blade. If the installer isn’t a pro, their blade can scratch the underlying paint or cut right through it, leaving it exposed to oxidation that can destroy your car.
It doesn’t last forever
Properly cared for, a car’s paint can last its whole lifetime. Vinyl doesn’t have the same staying power. Even though it might take years, some degradation and damage occurs, and you either have to live with it or get your car rewrapped.
It still isn’t a cheap option
Although it can be cheaper than a custom paint job, car wrapping can still cost in the thousands of dollars. Think you’ll get your money back when you sell? Unless you go with a generic, run-of-the-mill color, think again. The wrap can make your car harder to sell, so consider it an expense just for your enjoyment.
Can I wrap my car myself?
There are plenty of things a DIYer can tackle on their own—oil changes, brakes and electrical repairs to name a few. Wrapping a car can be done by someone at home, but is it a good idea? That’s up to you.
Think about all the equipment you need to do the job right. You’ll need:
- Enough film to cover your car (and measuring accurately is a feat in itself!)
- A heat gun
- A utility knife
- A small squeegee, preferably with a felt edge
- Knifeless Tape or a very fine blade for finishing the edges
- Masking tape
- Lint-free gloves
- Tape measure
- A good friend or two to help
There are all the other factors to think about: What happens if you mess it up and get wrinkles or bubbles? You can’t get a warranty on a DIY project. If you make a wrong cut, you’ve just wasted a bunch of expensive film. It’s also going to take most people three times as long as a pro. Will it look as good? Probably not even close.
It’s your car, so you can do what you want. If you do try a car wrap on your own, invest in a good quality material and the right tools. That said, if you are at all unsure if you can pull off the job, it might be best to leave it to the pros.