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driving concerns

2013 Toyota Venza

I'm considering purchasing 3M paint protection film for my new Toyota Venza. The dealer wants $400 before tax to apply it to my hood. Is it worth it? – James

You'll likely appreciate that film down the road, when the (rock) chips are down.

"The 3M transparent protective film does protect the hood from chips," says Paulo Santos, instructor at Centennial College in Toronto. "In fact, some auto manufacturers are installing this film at the bottom rear section of the rear doors and at the bottom front section of the quarter panels to protect from stones flinging off the front wheels."

The idea is the same as the films that shield iPhones from scratches. The film is supposed to provide a bumper between your car's paint and its enemies – rocks, dust and UV rays from sun.

There are different brands of rock-repelling film. 3M sells two: Scotchgard, their top-of-the-line film, and VentureShield. How do they all compare? It's tough to say. 3M says there are no independent reviews comparing their films to any others. Consumer Reports hasn't tested the films.

"I've only heard about 3M's film, not any others," says Mark Deroche, autobody instructor at BCIT in Burnaby. "I hear it's a very good product. I checked with my paint reps and they say it really does provide a protective cushion."

Do you need it? Deroche thinks it's not a bad idea – and not just on gravel roads in the country.

"I'm from Winnipeg, and in the spring there's plenty of flying stones, even on city streets," he says.

One installer suggests doing your homework. Find out what type of film the dealer is using, ask to see examples of finished work and look around for better deals.

"Dealerships make the majority of their money from the add-ons from purchasing a vehicle," says Michael Willis, an installer in Oakville. "Which means most of their installers are putting on the cheapest product possible."

Toyota says the 3M film is so popular with owners that the company will be selling a version of it as a genuine Toyota accessory for every vehicle in their line.

The urethane film is supposed to be invisible, but there are online complaints of films scratching, yellowing and etching over time.

3M and Toyota say that shouldn't happen now, as new films come with their own clear coat.

The film needs to be professionally installed and professionally removed. If you ever do decide to get the film removed, it won't damage the paint, Santos says.

"But you will notice that the section that was protected will not be [as] weathered as the rest of the hood," he says.

So, how long does it last?

"3M can only guarantee that optimal look for seven years for Scotchgard and five for VentureShield," says 3M Canada spokesperson Carla McFarlane in an email. "(After that) it wouldn't necessarily have to be replaced, and it's quite possible that it will continue to look great for years after."

3M says the film could make your Venza's hood Tonka-tough, but they don't quite guarantee it.

"While paint protection film is designed specifically for stone chip protection, it can also help protect and mitigate possible damage from fender benders with other vehicles and obstacles in city parking lots," McFarlane says. "While paint protection film can come in handy in these types of scenarios... 3M's Paint Protection Films are not warranted against this type of damage."

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