3M Paint Defender Tested: Does DIY Paint Protection Work?

July 13, 2013

Purchasing a vehicle is usually the second largest expense one will incur during their lifetime, the first being a house. Unfortunately, a vehicle is a massive depreciating asset that is quite expensive to begin with, so protecting one's new asset is essential.

Many consumers--including our own editorial staff--use paint protecting films to help keep paint nice and shiny, but this can be cost-prohibitive for some.

Paint protection is a popular way to avoid damage from rocks, bugs, sand, and more. It can keep your paint from getting pitted, and can eventually save a lot of money that you might have spent repainting certain panels on your vehicle.

Current paint protection shields are hard to apply, and usually require a trained professional. These solutions can cost a consumer anywhere from $500 to well over $1,000 installed. Some auto manufactures even offer paint protection at the dealership, or from the factory as an option, but this can still be cost-prohibitive for consumers.

Those guys who brought you the Sticky Note have now found a way to bring paint protection film to your garage in a do-it-yourself form. The new 3M product is called Paint Defender, and it's a film that's sprayed on as a liquid, then dries as a solid.

In case you missed that, you spray a liquid onto your car's paint, and it dries as a solid piece of plastic.

Recently we flew out to 3M headquarters in Minnesota to take a look at Paint Defender, and tested it for ourselves.

The $44.99 Paint Defender system consists of three products: Paint Defender spray film, application kit, and a spray trigger. While each of these products are sold separately, it's cheaper to buy them as a kit.

3M Paint Defender

3M Paint Defender

The application of Paint Defender is a three-step process:

  1. Mask the area of the vehicle of which you plan to apply Paint Defender.
  2. Wax the masked area so it's easier to remove the Paint Defender film at a later date.
  3. Spray the Paint Defender film over the masked area.

After watching the 3M team demonstrate the three step process, we were given the opportunity to do it ourselves in the lab. While our application in the lab went flawlessly, we were skeptical as to how easy this would be outside of a lab environment.

3M kindly sent us a kit to test at home, and we performed the three steps on a 2001 Audi A6 exactly as we did in the lab environment. The application process did go smoothly, but we learned some very valuable lessons that can't be overlooked if you want the Paint Defender film to turn out perfectly:

  • You will spend more time masking off the area you plan to apply Paint Defender to than you will spend spraying the film.
  • While the spray will dry in 2-4 hours, it actually takes a few days for it to fully cure. Make sure it doesn't get wet for a few days.
  • The film will feel tacky until it cures. This doesn't mean it isn't dry.
  • If you want Paint Defender to feel as smooth as your paint, you'll need to wax it once it's cured.
  • Be sure to spray the film lightly on the areas of your vehicle that are horizontal. You'll end up naturally spraying those areas with a heavier coating.
  • Follow the included instructions to the T.
  • Did we mention how important the masking process is?

Once on your vehicle, 3M says that Paint Defender will last about a year before a new coat will need to be applied. Removal is simple as it just peels off your paint.

Keep in mind that Paint Defender isn't quite as thick as some of the other films you can purchase for your vehicle, but it protects nearly as well at a fraction of the cost.

In all honesty--much like that film you always think you're going to get right on your smart phone, it's tough to get absolutely perfect results. Not long after applying ours with somewhat imperfect results, we removed it for exactly that reason. But realistically, and considering its price point, we can see more enthusiasts using Paint Defender as an extra defense for track days or long road trips. 

If that sounds like a criticism, it's not. To the point, all this product needs to be perfect is a little patience. We're confident that DIY people who can follow directions and be patient can get some really good results with this--and avoid those expensive trips to the body shop.

Paint Defender is available now at AutoZone and Amazon for $44.99.


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