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What’s the difference? XPEL vs 3M Paint Protection Film

If you’re buying a new car or trying to keep a classic ride looking saucy, there’s a good chance you’ve already looked into some of the options. Who stands on top when it comes to XPEL vs 3M paint protection film?

Spoiler alert, I’d recommend going with XPEL! Nobody wants to come out and see their E39 M5 covered in stupid rock chips or a growing number of scratches. So we agree, it’s time for some peace of mind and to save your car’s paint and not sweat road debris as much…

2003 M5 with some paint imperfections without a paint protection film
Wishing I had PPF, probably need a paint correction now

What are hydrophobic properties?

Why should you care if protective films are hydrophobic? Easy answer, it makes cleaning things like bird droppings and bug guts significantly easier. It also helps prevent rain spots from forming. The more hydrophobic a surface is the more it repels liquids.

If you want to take a deep dive into the science of it all, look at ACS Publication’s Commentary. Warning: after reading that, you’re going to feel 10% smarter and 15% dumber at the same time.

Keep it simple, more hydrophobic, more good. More good, more happy. Solved.

XPEL and 3M Similarities

Both XPEL PPF and 3M’s PFF have self-healing properties. With the use of a heat gun for the impatient or the heat from the sun, minor scratches will swirl marks will fade away. PPFs are applied as a clear film, usually. Often times folks will have a paint correction done before application.

Both brands bring a 10-year warranty which is awesome and generous. That should keep your vehicle’s paint looking minty for some time. 3M used to offer a 7-year warranty. Maybe thanks to XPEL’s rise in market share and 10-year warranty from the jump, 3M had to catch up. Competition, especially in the aftermarket, is always good for car owners.

3M and XPEL films both provide protection against UV damage and should be non-yellowing. Your clear film should stay clear. If it’s a quality film it won’t fade. If it does, you better take them up on that warranty. In terms of UV protection specifically, you may be wondering about vinyl wraps as an option. You can read more about wraps vs ppf here.

Both films will help maintain a car’s appearance and up the resale value. Particularly in the higher end of the car market, it’s extremely common to see sellers specify which and when PPF was applied and how much of the warranty remains. For example, take a look at this perfect, 6-speed GT3 and its details.

GT3 with XPEL PPF applied
XPEL PPF on this GT3

Each film also needs to be installed properly and well. The quality of an installation will impact much more than the trade-offs of each brand will. If it doesn’t go on smoothly or doesn’t adhere properly you’re going to lose a lot of the benefits of either one. This is not something I’d recommend buying, cutting, and installing yourself. To be fair, I can’t even put a screen protector on a phone.

XPEL Paint Protection Film

Until recently, there was not an XPEL film offered with highly hydrophobic properties. In 2022 they released their Ultimate Fusion line which does include this magical feature directly named. Although it seems like its availability through their site is hit or miss. The XPEL stealth ppf doesn’t make mention of resistance to liquids and bad gook along the way.

XPEL official Logo from their press kit
post not affiliated with XPEL

XPEL’s films also have varying degrees of thickness. They have a thin film that can be applied to vehicle interiors too. As a parent, using that on areas that geat a lot of wear sounds extremely helpful. I’m sure your kids also bang stuff against the inside of the doors. If they don’t, I don’t want to hear about how you pulled that off.

The more expensive XPEL Ultimate Plus line does cite stain resistance from the normal clear coat offenders. It doesn’t come out directly and claim it its hydrophobic though. This is a point that I think is worth clarifying.

The general consensus Is that XPEL is more durable and provides better protection against paint chips and light scratches than 3M. For the mainline products, the thickness is quite similar. The compound itself is more resilient and is definitely one of the key differences.

3M Paint Protection Film

The previous line Series 100 M films have been improved upon substantially with the Pro 200 Series Gloss. According to 3M, their increased quality paint protection film specifically states it’s hydrophobic. And you can actually buy it, which maybe isn’t the case for the higher-tier XPEL Ultimate Fusion yet. 3M has been in the game the longest and was the industry leader for quite some time.

3M paint protection film roll and box

Because 3M has been around longer, it may be easier to find a certified installer in your area. They’ve also been making this stuff for a really long time, so if brand longevity is important to you, this may be the way to go. Their product lineup is significantly more narrow, so it’s more of a one size fits all approach.

While both brands are on the pricier side of the scale, 3M tends to be cheaper than XPEL. If you’re in a position where the price is the limiting factor, 3M is infinitely better than not having a PPF applied.