Beware of earth, wind, water and fire

Onsite Installation Obstacles

Today’s installer has to be more flexible than in the past. Wraps are getting more popular than ever, and with this growth you are likely to encounter onsite installation obstacles.  If at all possible, wraps should be done in a clean, climate-controlled environment. But this isn’t always possible for every shop and customer. Here are a few tips and tricks that I have found out over the years of installing onsite and the obstacles that I have encountered. With these practices, you will be able to efficiently and effectively install a wrap onsite without failure due to these installation issues. Each wrap vinyl manufacture has its own installation parameters. I urge you to check these parameters and become very familiar with the material(s) you are planning on installing. The basic obstacles can be closely related to four elements.

The surface temperature of a vehicle can change greatly depending on whether the vehicle is in direct sunlight or in the shade. These pictures were taken on the same vehicle one side in the shade and one side in the sun.   


Vinyl always has a way of finding dirt. Keeping dirt out from behind the vinyl and off of your substrate can be a tricky process. When installing onsite, I always try to find the cleanest spot possible. Typically concrete or asphalt holds less dirt. Gravel and grass can be very tricky to nearly impossible depending on the circumstances. Once I have a clean spot, I begin to clean the entire vehicle. I pay special attention to cleaning inside door jams, wheel wells and even go as far as cleaning the wheels. Once the vehicle is clean and prepped, I start to position my panels. Right before I begin to stick a panel, I clean the surface again. The time it takes to get from one panel to the next can be substantial. Over that time, dirt or pollen can start to collect, so it is imperative to clean the surface right before installation. When pulling the backing off the vinyl, there is a buildup in static electricity. This static can physically suck the dirt off the ground or surrounding areas, which is why I clean parts of the car that don’t even get vinyl, like the wheels. Another trick is to dry fit your panel, and if you have a bunch of bleed that hangs below the vehicle, trim it off.  That will prevent dirt from the ground getting sucked into the vinyl. 


Air can be very frustrating while installing vinyl. The wind can cause dirt to be blown onto the vehicle. It can also cause nightmares while pulling the backing. Another more abstract problem caused by air is oxidation. If you encounter a windy situation, pay attention to the direction of the wind and find a building or any other kind of wind barrier. If nothing else is available, I try to work with the wind to my back. That way, the wind will push the vinyl against the vehicle as opposed to getting behind the vinyl. 

This is a box of TSP substitute. TSP or TSP substitute is great for cleaning oxidation off of trailers. Simply mix according to manufacturer’s instructions and wipe or brush on, then rinse thoroughly.

Another trick to remember is to keep the vinyl as close to the vehicle as possible and use magnets or tape to keep any loose pieces of vinyl from flapping.  If for some reason the vinyl gets caught by the wind and sticks to itself, don’t panic. With today’s repositionable vinyl, a situation like this can be overcome with a little time and patience. 

Oxidation typically is going to be found on trailers and box trucks. There are two main trailer materials that are prone to oxidation. One is aluminum sides and the other is fiberglass reinforced plywood, or FRP. The way to tell the difference between them is aluminum-sided trucks have vertical rows of rivets running down the whole side of the trailer and FRP bodies typically only have a couple of horizontal rows. The rivets on FRP bodies typically are larger, but no matter the construction, they clean up basically the same. The easiest way to tell if the surface is oxidized is to run your hand across the surface. If the surface of your hand is white then there is oxidation on the surface of the trailer. This is something that can easily be fixed with a common chemical found in your local hardware store. TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a TSP substitute can be used to clean oxidized trailers. I mix it with warm water in a large container and brush it on with a push broom, then rinse clean. Depending on the level of oxidation, it might have to be washed twice. Don’t forget that if the surface is just slightly oxidized, vinyl can adhere to it better than a clean surface even if the initial tack isn’t as strong. 


Water is one of the modern wrap materials’ worst nightmares. Today’s wrap materials with air release technology will not adhere when wet. This is where paying attention to the weather is imperative. If there is any chance of rain, have a plan B if installing outside. Prevention is the best policy. You don’t want to wait until the rain hits and have to scramble around trying to find cover and save the vinyl. I have installed in parking garages, car wash bays, closed bank drive-throughs, etc. Anywhere is better than getting caught by rain. It’s even worth it to find a local shop that has bays and see what you can rent one for. A $50 rental might just save your whole day and is well worth avoiding the aggravation. 

This picture shows the inside of a door and how dirty it can be. Just simply wiping the outside of a vehicle without opening doors, hood, trunk, gas caps, etc., can lead to premature vinyl failure due to improper cleaning procedures. 

Dew is also another obstacle to overcome. Dew typically sits on horizontal surfaces, which helps. A little dew on the roof and hood can easily be remedied with paper towel or a shammy. When it begins to make its way into gaskets and door jams then you have a problem. I open every door and wipe down all the door sills and the back of the doors, then if at all possible begin to remove gaskets. If a gasket doesn’t come out easily, take some paper towels and wrap them around the end of your squeegee. Then push them into the crack between the gasket and paint to absorb the water from behind the gasket. This should solve most of your water issues.

Fire (Sun)

The Sun can be your best friend and worst enemy, depending on the time of the year. First let’s talk about summer. During the summertime, one of the first things I try to do when showing up is pay attention to where the sun is. Then I try to estimate which direction it is headed and position myself strategically to always be working in the shade. There are some areas of a vehicle that just can’t avoid the sun like the roof and hood. So once I have a good position I will knock out the hood and roof first. Once those are done, it is a lot easier to move the vehicle where it needs to be so that the side I am working on is in the shade. This serves multiple purposes. First being it will bring the surface temperature of the vehicle down to a manageable range.  The temperature change from the sunny side to shady side can be huge and will be larger the darker the vehicle. Second, you’re not working in the sun, which means you have a more comfortable work environment and can work for longer periods of time. Sometimes those few degrees make all the difference in the world. 

The winter can be a little trickier. Vinyl will stick when it is too hot, but it won’t stick when too cold. So, using the same concept of working in the shade, sometimes you have to work in the sun to get the temperature up to a working range. This is a very delicate process because every color of vinyl is going to react differently to the sun. Pay attention to what the vinyl is telling you and work slow. You should be able to push through it. Another trick is to artificially heat the panels you are going to work on. Use your imagination, anything that will heat the panels’ works.  On a trailer I will use my weed burner and heat up the panel I am working on. This can give you a couple of minutes of manageable time. I have heard of people using heat lamps, these would work great for a shop but not so much out in the middle of a parking lot. Once you manage to get the vinyl laid, always, always, always post-heat. This can be the single most important process to remember in the winter. There is no way to tell if the vinyl is truly laid until you post-heat. These tips will help when working in temperatures that are on the fence. If you encounter extreme temperatures, the best bet is to take it inside.