Our pearly white, long-termer Mazda BT-50 was never going to have an easy life. After all, SA4x4 and our sister magazine Caravan & Outdoor Life are all about 4×4 trails, camping and exploring the great outdoors.
In the last few months the BT-50 has driven to a number of resorts around the Western Cape, tackled a long drive to the Richtersveld, and completed a dusty odyssey through the Northern Cape which included a number of rocky, scratchy 4×4 routes, some of which turned pretty nasty – for a production car, that is.
Sure, the Mazda has the advantage of great overlanding kit, including an RSI stainless steel canopy with a fully fitted kitchen including two stainless steel tables for prep and washing up, which are stored just under the roof. We have also fitted Alu- Cab’s superb Expedition Series rooftop tent, a solid, fully-sealed aluminium clamshell unit that sets the standard for sleeping comfort, durability and quality materials. The unit’s ladder fits neatly inside the clamshell when you are stowing things, which takes just a minute or two as everything is on gas lifts; and there is a clever elasticised band to ensure that the tent-canvas stashes inside – which is precisely the convenience one seeks when you are considering purchasing a rooftop tent.
Also on the vehicle is a Shadow Awn 270-degree awning from Alu-Cab, made of a lightweight but incredibly durable reflective material which helps considerably to lower temperatures below the awning. Clever tech. The awning is stashed in a zip-up PVC bag and its aluminium channel beams are quick to deploy, being self-supporting. The rearmost panel is simply clipped into place on the rear of the roof bar, using a tie-down tensioner. In high winds, the adjustable legs can be set down and pegged out – but, for a quick stop, this is not necessary.
So, we have a world of convenience at our fingertips, but the pristine paintwork of the BT-50 is going to take strain from the constant sand-blasting and scratchy-bush scraping that comes with off-road excursions.
Cue VPS Paint Protection, a company that was founded in Durban by George Ross around 2001. At the time, George had been doing some experimenting with a 3M product used to protect the blades of helicopters, and figured that it might have uses in the automotive sector. Aviation rules take no prisoners, so there was no doubt the product was superb, but 3M had many variations of these films in their armoury – different thicknesses, different components… because they are not just a simple mono layer. Quite some experimenting later, George was ready to go commercial; and VPS has since taken off, expanding to major centres with a large branch in Edenvale in Gauteng, and now at 38 Neptune Street in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town – a new outlet run by Garth van der Merwe.
As with applying a vinyl wrap, there’s an art to getting the VPS layer just right. The vehicle is not stripped down, as trimming is just to the panel edge; but dealing with compound curves and tucked-in components requires special skills. A proper paintwork clean is of the utmost importance before the film is laid down, with the aid of a detergent to move the layer. Then each panel is given a final trim and allowed to settle while the adhesive volatiles flash off.
We chose to use a high-gloss protective film called 3M VentureShield, which is 160 microns thick, and the standard for most vehicles. It is hardly discernible from the original paintwork. A heavier-duty film known as SGH6 is also available, for those who value added protection.
The VPS layer on the BT-50 is an extensive one, reaching from the air dam and grille on each panel and halfway across the bonnet, then along each fender; and from the doorsills to the windows right through to the back of the loadbin on each side. One can opt for a smaller wrap area, perhaps just the front end, but we have gone for the Full Monty that covers practically all the areas that are vulnerable to stone chips, sand-blasting and scratching.
The VPS polyurethane protective film carries a five-year warranty and provides additional Ultra Violet protection, although the film will potentially degrade faster on any car left repeatedly in the baking sun. The wrap on the BT-50 would have cost around R23 000. What it has done is provide peace of mind against future damage, and protect the resale value of the vehicle. In addition, when any protected panel is damaged or scraped, that section is peeled off by a professional installer and replaced at a fraction of the cost of a repainting job.
Meanwhile, we have some homework to do. VPS has supplied us with a number of maintenance products used to extend the life of the 3M polyurethane film. These include VPS Cleaner, supplied in a 230ml pump spray bottle, which helps effectively but gently clean off the film of things like bugs, tar splashes and other gunk. The VPS Sealant (230ml bottle) is an acrylic polymer which seals the micro pores of the protective film, and should be applied every three months. Finally, there is VPS Car Wash (230ml bottle), which contains a lubricating polymer mixed into the normal wash water to prevent scratches when washing the vehicle − particularly useful in a water-restricted place like Cape Town.