Quick: name the top three tweaks to make any car cooler overnight?
The order is debatable but we’d say tinted glass, up-sized wheels and a fresh paint color. (Half points if you said to debadge and dechrome the beast from nose to tail:)
We tackled all five of these mods to give new life to @thewanderingwheelman’s BMW 3 series wagon.
The 2007 328Xi Touring is a fairly timeless q-car that still drives like a champ even a decade after it first hit the streets. This was back before turbos took over so the honey wagon runs the smooth and soulful BMW inline six and the rear-biased AWD system. Factory stance was pretty good from the start in terms of a racy lowness, but the stock rims barely filled the wheel arches.
The factory paintwork is similarly inoffensive as a metallic dark grey – but was ripe for some color after a decade in black and white.
Let’s outline how we achieved the amazing results you see in the before/after visuals – with tips to help you out along the way when it comes to the most impactful aesthetic mods: the full color change and the window tinting all around.
WRAP – Full Color Change via Vinyl Wrap
When folks think of a vehicle wrap you might picture some matte black or some other dull-finish grey. These were definitely the first style wave for wraps, but the tech has come a long way in the last few years. The latest generation of wraps come in literally thousands of colors and finishes.
The most paint-like, to our eyes, is glossy film in a cool, multifaceted metallic color. Other finish options include satin, brushed metallic or carbon fiber.
Your choice of supplier will be the easiest one you make: 3M is the best and you are paying for quality that can stand up to years of real-world usage. 3M works with thousands of installer shops worldwide to make the upgrade process as easy as picking a color and dropping off the car.
Picking a color:
We played around with the 3M Wraps Customizer tool pretty extensively to decide on a color for the project car. You choose the default car or truck then can visualize all the colors as accent elements (like roof or hood) and also see a preview of the finishes. You can definitely create some hilarious combinations for giggles, but then get serious about your choices.
Pro tip: we’d suggest picking four or five color options that you really like on the visualizer. You can check these out in real life by visiting a detailer or tint shop near you – almost all of them will have a swatch booklet that lets you get a much clearer sense of the exact wrap color.
In person you can also bend the sample a bit to see its undertones, and hit it with direct sunlight to see the light/shade looks of each wrap.
Pick a pattern/stripe/accent piece to re-color:
We went with a full color change to wrap all body panels in the Blue Raspberry, except for the roof, which we wanted in gloss black as a contrast accent.
We wanted a color that was bright, popped in the sunlight and looked relatively OEM – but with a twist.
Even though the wraps can be peeled off and removed, it is good to pick a color you will be cool with for the long haul. 3M wraps last easily 4 years across any climate looking just as sharp and bright as day one. 3M wraps are exceptionally resistant to sun fade and this sets them above cheaper alternatives that might tempt you with cheap upfront pricing.
The wraps are somewhat self-healing for any fine scratches and are tough enough for touchless car washes. To lock in the wrap for a decade or more of toughness, the pro’s recommend doing a ceramic coat applied on top of the wrap. This can add cost so we skipped it for the project car.
How much does it cost to do a full color change via a “3M 1080 Film Series” wrap?
Budget for about $2 – 4k for parts and labor. This would include ordering a full roll (25 yards) of your new color along with the 2-3 full days needed to apply the film flawlessly.
On this wagon, we were left with about 10 feet of wrap. Only the biggest pickup trucks will need more than one roll for the whole exterior. Prices of the wraps do vary – with some of the newest films being the priciest.
Is this a DIY-able project?
Yes and no. For accent elements like the roof or a car’s hood, it is safe to try the process out yourself. It will probably take a few tries to get it done perfectly and you ideally need a buddy to help drape the shapes properly.
We went for the professional installation to have a true paint-like quality in the execution. Think about the door handles, bumpers and other details that have to be removed to wrap around the shutlines. Not only will professionals have the right experience, but they have the right tools on hand to make it perfect.
We went with Pleasant Details & Tint in Mount Pleasant, SC, because they do great work and are an official 3M supplier. A huge thumbs up and rave reviews – these guys are the best in Charleston. Two locations and expertise beyond just vinyl wraps – these guys can handle basically any aftermarket or detailing project you have in mind.
We suggest visiting a physical shop instead of using a mobile installer. This guarantees your project isn’t rushed and also lets you take a look at their facilities before turning over your baby.
Pro tip: Plan your project and get your films ordered – shipping can take a few weeks.
Once your car is on site and ready for the install, do a walkaround with the installer team. Any existing dings or paint blemishes can be visible through the wrap. We found a few minor scuffs on the BMW wagon that the shop could fix before applying wrap, but we just opted to accept nearly invisible blemishes in final product.
If your car is already going to be in the shop for a few days, this is the perfect time to upgrade your tint.
Just like everything, there are tons of no-name tint products out there that age badly into purple, bubbly hell. They might save you cash on front end, but will be awful as a long-term owner.
Guess who runs the tint game!? It is our pals at 3M again.
3M offers three levels of film, with the Color Stay and Crystalline being the better options for the long haul.
For the Bimmer wagon, we wanted to go as dark as is legal. This was CS20 for the back windows and CS35 for the front side glass.
The difference visually on the 3 series wagon is literally night and day. The dark, continuous line of black for the glasshouse just highlights the amazing wagon proportions. And this happens with every single car that gets dark tint.
How good do dark windows look? If you take a close inspection of manufacturer press photos you will find that nearly all of them have dark glass.
We opted against doing even a light or clear film for the windshield, but that is another option to maximize your heat-reflecting benefits of the tint.
The visual results are great. The privacy is stellar behind black glass. And the best part? Your car will stay about 40 degrees cooler when parked in the sun. Triple win.
18-inch alloys all around with serious width in back, a polished lip on the edges and gloss-black for the five-spoke blocks.
Another added-value element: removing the 328xi badges from the tail adds a bit of mystery to the car in traffic.
Speaking of badges — we did order new BMW roundels for nose and tail. The originals have to come up for the install and were scruffy anyway.
Is a color wrap and tint job worth the expense? We’d say absolutely. One look at the before and after animations will hopefully convince you too: this is a far hotter wagon thanks to 3M goodies and Pleasant Details.
Go for quality in your vinyl products and the installers – and the sky’s the limit in terms of visual impact for absolutely any vehicle.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.