Does 3M Paint Defender Spray Film Really Work?

Scion xD Rally photos by Philip Chase

It’s one of the automotive enthusiast’s biggest dilemmas; you want to use your performance car on the track, but you also want to keep it looking sharp for those days when a car show or meet sounds like more fun than an expensive track day. So what do you do if you just got a fancy paint job for your car? Traditionally, there’s only been one real option—to head out to your local hardware store and pick up a few big rolls of 3M painter’s tape, then proceed to wrap the hell out of your car. But that’s unsightly, and frankly, a pain in the you-know-what to do. But there’s a potential fix on the horizon in Paint Defender, 3M’s newest solution to this age-old dilemma. So follow along with us as we put it to the test. Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post, and 3M didn’t supply us with the Paint Defender. We just thought it was an interesting concept and wanted to see how well the product worked in the real world.

Painter’s tape has long been thought as a really cheap way to protect from bugs, but it’s not nearly as effective against preventing rock chips. One thing it is good for, though, is to attract strange looks while cruising down the road with a multi-colored car.

We understand that nothing hurts more than that first scratch on your vehicle.

The system is designed to protect vulnerable, painted areas of the vehicle from scratches, chips and stains and is an excellent alternative to painter’s tape. It’s also far more affordable than expensive custom protection clear film, as it can be applied at home by the enthusiast and doesn’t require a trained expert to apply it.

This spray film is temporary paint protection that protects from road debris that might kick up on the road, and would otherwise leave a nice scratch or chip in your paint. If you can spray-paint a body panel or piece of furniture, applying 3M Paint Defender is a breeze.

3M Defender sprays on, dries quickly, protects with a rubbery film, and can be removed with no residual impact when you are ready to show off your perfect paint. It can be applied to easily-damaged regions of your car – lower fascia, side mirrors, rocker panels, and basically any surface facing directly toward the front/bottom of the car.

While many may argue that clear bras are the final word in paint protection, they do come with drawbacks. The most obvious is cost. Another is environmental exposures including sun damaging UV rays which cause the clear film to turn to a yellowish opaque color after a few years. This yellowing phenomenon is more visible on light colored cars such as white which can become an eyesore.

Removing clear bras can also be difficult and often requires professional assistance. The strong adhesive backing if not carefully removed can easily pull paint from body panels. We experienced this firsthand on a project car’s aftermarket fiberglass side skirt; to our dismay, the removal process pulled a chunk of the paint off the car.

We applied Paint Defender to the Rally America National Championship Scion xD, which competes in the two-wheel-drive class. We all know the beating that rally cars endure at every event, and the costs associated with repairs are significant, so we thought this would be a great test for the product.

To begin the coating process, we used the optional Paint Defender Application kit which includes one 12×16-foot plastic sheet, and—ironically enough—3M painter’s tape.

Use the plastic sheet to prevent excess material from making its way to unwanted areas of the car.

Place the plastic down to the hood in a straight line and tape down to the panel. Place a second line of tape to define the coating edge.

For easy film removability, 3M recommends waxing the vehicle with their included 3M Performance Finish prior to applying their spray film.

3M also recommends spraying large areas such as the hood in half sections at a time.  A total of three coats will provide sufficient coverage. To apply, begin by using a left to right spray pattern followed by up and down passes. Be sure to overlap each pass to promote even coverage.

Hold the nozzle six to eight inches from the surface and spray using a speed of approximately two seconds per foot.

3M Paint Defender also easily sprays around curved surfaces like mirrors or bumpers.

The material will have a heavy orange peel/lumpy appearance when applied correctly. This is completely normal; the coating will self-level as it dries to a smooth surface. White cross-hatch patterns will also be visible upon applying. This is also normal and will clear up once the surface is completely dry.

Applying the proper amount of coating is critical. Appling too light of a coat will expose a dry and dull appearance while not offering the proper protection. Too thick of a coating will exhibit heavy drips and sags throughout the vehicles panels.

Following their Seattle Rally event, the 3M Paint Defender was reported by the team to have survived with minimal damage, other than a few areas that lifted and exposed peeling. We attributed the peeling caused by our first time usage and improper prep prior to spraying the material. Another factor was pressure washing the vehicle following each stage of the course. All in all, the film’s ability to survive the grueling gravel and rock assaults were a true testament to this product.

We also tested the product by applying it on half of a piece of powder coated aluminum to see if there are any visible changes to its appearance.

Once the spray process is complete, immediately remove the last layer of tape that was applied before the coating dries. This is the tape layer that is touching the edge of the wet coating.

After initial application of 3M Paint Defender, allow the coating to dry for approximately two to four hours. The spray film fully cures and is water resistant in approximately one to four days.

During the curing process, do not wash the vehicle with a high-pressure car wash. After that time, wash and wax your vehicle as you normally would. Avoid spraying the edges of the film with a pressure washer or using brushes to reduce the chance of lifting the edges of the film.

We also applied the protection spray on metallic blue paint to showcase whether it would affect the metallic painted finish.

Using the same prepping procedure, we coated the unit and placed it out in the sun to cure.

Notice the milky white appearance on the portion that we just sprayed.

Within less than 15 minutes baking under the sun, we snapped another photo to show the nearly invisible edge where we sprayed. Pretty impressive!

A close-up inspection revealed that the heavy scratches that were previously noticeable on the powder coated piece were now masked and nearly invisible with the aid of our spray coating.

To test the protection of the spray film, we subjected the coated piece to some media blasting. The premise behind our test was to simulate road conditions that would subject a bumper or hood panel to the punishing effects of damaging rock and gravel pelting the surface.

Upon blasting the part, we pulled it out of the cabinet.

We wiped the surface down and noticed heavy damage on the untreated clear coat and painted surface.

Using only our finger nails, we were able to easily remove the 3M Paint Defender coating to reveal the underside paint. The film took the abuse instead of the paint and looked perfect.

As with any paint protector, 3M Paint Defender is not bulletproof, and it can be damaged. But the beauty of this product is if the need arises, the film can be easily removed and reapplied to over and over again to continue protecting your vehicle’s paint. We have to admit that we’re impressed with its performance and plan to continue using it.