Use a vehicle template to note any areas that may have damage or that may be of concern.

Importance of the Detailed Vehicle Inspection

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

There are so many things that go into creating a vehicle wrap that often the due diligence part of the process is overlooked. It's important to disclose any possible issues to your customer and review and document the vehicle problems. Without doing this you face two main issues that could lead to litigation—wrap failure and liability questions once the vehicle wrap you install is later removed.

Spotting Issues
So what are you looking for? To avoid having the graphics fail, the graphics vinyl must create a bond with the vehicle surface. Anything that weakens this bond can create failure.

Look for rust spots, chips in the paint, dents, lifting or bubbling paint, chalky residue, areas of Bondo or other body fillers, recent repairs or patching, freshly painted areas, road tar or other residue that may be difficult to remove. Also note if the vehicle has heavy wax or silicone buildup. Be sure to charge extra to clean off heavy wax or residue on the vehicle.

If you're doing a removal of an existing wrap prior to re-wrapping the vehicle, be sure to note all of the above potential problems as well as any damage to the vehicle that may have been caused by installation of the previous wrap. Specifically note and photograph any cut marks on the vehicle. You do not want to be held responsible for the damage.

Prior to wrap removal, have the customer sign a Paint Liability Waiver, remove the wrap, do your inspection and then review this with the customer before doing the new install. It's an extra step, but you can have the customer sign off on your notes when they come in during the art approval process.

Taking Notes
When the customer brings in their vehicle to start discussing a wrap, you'll typically begin by measuring and getting them a quote. You don't want to waste your time doing a detailed inspection until you know the customer is actually going to commit to the job.

I grab a template of the vehicle and take measurements during the initial quoting phase. On this template I may note major damage or areas of concern and we discuss this with the customer, especially if it's bad enough to require repairs prior to wrapping.

Once we have an approval and a deposit, we move forward with a more comprehensive inspection of the vehicle. It really doesn't take that long to do and the customer can typically wait. You may wish to review the vehicle with them or take your notes and then re-walk the vehicle with the customer to point out what you've found. The important thing is to take the time to point out problem areas to the customer.

The note-taking is fairly simple. Either grab a template of the vehicle, or print out photos of the actual vehicle. Attach them to a clipboard and start walking the vehicle. Circle anything on the template that could potentially cause an issue. Try to be precise on your circling. Make a quick note next to the issue—rust, paint flaking, scratch, etc. If there is overall issues like chalky paint or heavy residue make a note on the template as well.

If the vehicle is dirty, be sure to clean off any problem areas to fully assess the possible issue. This also will allow the problem to be clearly noted and photographed. After noting the issues, be sure you go back and clearly photograph each area. Note the location of the problem in the naming of the photo or on a printout of the photos.

Wrap Checklist
Our Wrap Checklist is something I've mentioned many times in Sign & Digital Graphics magazine, and it's been a great tool. The first steps on the checklist get us through the quoting steps then onto the inspection.

You can have the customer either sign the template, noting the problem areas, or have them sign the Wrap Checklist (if you have one) and attach the template to it. Either way, be sure to get the customer's signature. Having their signature indicates that the vehicle has been documented and they have been informed of any potential issues, and what those issues may be.

I've had many requests over the years for copies of our Wrap Checklist as a helpful reference in creating your own. If you would like me to email you a copy, feel free to shoot me an email at cj@vhsigns.com.

Paint Removal Liability
We had an issue with a customer regarding paint coming off with the removal of a wrap. The Paint Removal Liability Form is another document that you should create and keep copies at the front counter.

A Paint Removal Liability Form also creates due diligence. You could incorporate this into one blanket wrap checklist or treat it as a separate document. We have it as a separate document because often we're removing a wrap, or spot graphics, that someone else installed and may or may not be part of a new installation.

What you're covering on this form falls under the liability issues that may come up later when removing the wrap. On the vehicle inspection you do before wrapping you'll make note of any paint issues. But on this form you'll be re-stating the paint problem and explaining that the issue could either cause the graphics to fail, or that it could cause the paint to come off when the graphic is removed.

Again, be sure to discuss and fully explain the issues with the customer, and then have them sign off on the form.

Be sure the customer understands why their paint is a potential problem and why you're not liable. Besides obvious paint problems, if the vehicle has been repainted there is no guarantee that it was done properly.

Make copies of the Wrap Checklist, the Paint Removal Liability Form and the checklist that you took notes on. Sign both your copy and the customer's copy and have them do the same. Keep all documents on-file.

I should note here that we did not go through a lawyer to write up these documents. It's more of a way to organize the information that the customer needs to have regarding the condition of their vehicle. Having proof that this information has been reviewed with the customer by having them sign it will go a long way in supporting your discussions with them should a problem arise down the road. From my experience, having this type of documentation is very helpful in small claims court too—whether it was written by a lawyer or not.

Warranties
The problem areas you find in your inspection may also void any material warranties from the vinyl manufacturer, and this also needs to be pointed out to the customer. It's up to the customer as to whether they want to have these problems professionally repaired prior to wrapping or not.

Severe issues should be repaired as the customer is wasting their money on a wrap that will fail. Minor problems will still void manufacturer warranties, but may not become a problem. Some customer's simply cannot afford to fix the minor damage areas and will choose to wrap right over them.

It's up to the customer to decide. Our job is to make sure they are fully informed about any issues may arise so they can make an educated decision. Keeping the documents on file also helps deter any potential litigation or future bad customer relations.

Another consideration that should be noted in the paperwork is any issues relating to the customer leaving the wrap on longer than suggested. Check your manufacturer bulletin for the media you are installing and look for the maximum time period that the manufacturer will warranty the product. Explain to your customer that if the wrap is left on beyond this warrantied time period that any damage to the paint after that point is not covered. 

* From the 2014 issue of WRAPS magazine.