Top 4 Paint Protection Options To Consider for the 5th Gen 4Runner

Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Paint

A Complete Guide to Paint Protection for your 5th Gen 4Runner: Waxing, Ceramic Coating Vs. Wrapping Vs. Paint Protection Film (PPF)

Let’s get right to it; protecting your paint is essential. Whether you use your truck for mall-crawling or to take on the Rubicon, its paint is constantly exposed and at risk. So how do you keep it looking good for years to come? Wax? Ceramic? Wraps? PPF?

Keep it Clean, Ya Filthy Animal 

Before we get into the actual protection, let’s establish some ground rules. First, stop going through automated carwashes. Just stop. They damage components and mods on your rig while wreaking havoc on your paint.

You’ve invested in your 4Runner, so go ahead and invest in washing it by hand – either your own hands or someone else’s. Steve (@kcsnowrunner) did a pretty good write-up on the site covering the bases of how to do a good handwash, so go check it out.

Things like bug guts and bird poop are nightmares for paint longevity, so constantly keeping your car clean and free from these contaminants is also essential. And if you remember nothing else, “keep it clean, but not by machine.” You do that, and you’ll be on the right track.

Clear Coat and Layers

Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your PaintSource

Your paint’s first line of defense is the clear coat. It’s the invisible shield that gives us the shine or shows off the swirls of our vehicle. That said, one of our biggest goals is to add additional layers of protection on top of our clear coat, which in turn is an addition of layers/protection to our paint.

The TL;DR of Paint Layers

Car paint has layers. The uppermost layer is your clear coat, and we want to add additional layers of protection to keep the paint looking good. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent all scratches, but let’s work on the ones we can.

Layers of Protection

Generally, car paint consists of 3 layers (often referred to as “coats”): primer coat, base coat, and clear coat. Sometimes, based on manufacturers, standards, etc., there can be additional layers, but we’re not going that deep. Most of your imperfections, blemishes, swirls, etching, and small scratches impact the clear coat.

When the scratches get deep, they affect the base coat, primer, or even the metal/fiberglass itself. I could write an entire article on paint, paint hardness, clear coat levels, e-coating for paint adhesion, etc. Let’s not go there. Just know, the deeper the scratch, the more layers have been penetrated, and even paint protection can’t save you from everything. There are limits.

PPF, Ceramic, Wrapping, Wax, or Something Else?

This article isn’t an exhaustive list of every single method – or product – for protecting your paint. Instead, this is a breakdown of some of the most prominent ways to go about it. Just to show how many creative ways there are, check out the article Ryan (@gibburnz) did on magnetic armor.

My Personal Story

I was tired of detailing my wife’s car and decided to visit DoubleTake Auto Spa over in Fremont/Newark about protection. It’s not cheap, but I decided to give them a shot with many 5-star reviews and a personal referral. I asked the owner (Sandra) a bazillion questions, and she answered them all and was honest.

For my wife’s car, she would need a 2-stage paint correction (I do what I can to keep it clean, but it’s an 8-year-old car) before the 5-year ceramic coat. Now, that 5-year protection came with a few caveats. First: I still have to wash her car with a specific method, but it’s super quick and easy. Plus, I don’t have to do any additional detail (waxing, claying, etc.) work. And most days, all I have to do is dust it when she’s not driving it. Second: I have to pay Sandra and her team a yearly visit to check the coating, and if necessary, address any issues. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not bad. It keeps me on my toes, and it makes sure that too much time doesn’t go by without addressing potential issues. So if you’re in the market, feel free to check them out. They can do it all: detailing, ceramic, PPF, etc., and they’re super friendly and professional.


  • The single up-front cost for more extended (better) protection than wax
  • Protects from light scratches, UV, and water (better than wax)
  • Makes cleaning/washing more manageable, and no need for external details
  • Gives a showroom look with minimal extra effort
  • Harder/more robust protection than wax (dependant on application)


  • Substantial up-front cost (when done professionally)
  • Still have to wash your vehicle
  • Doesn’t mitigate rock chips
  • Helps with, but doesn’t entirely prevent pinstriping
  • Intense prep-work (especially if not put on when the vehicle is new)
  • Needs to be reapplied (based on product and application method)


Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Paint

Pictured: @Kelvanamo – Freshly waxed front fender and hood.


  • Can come in paste, liquid, or spray
  • Hand or machine application
  • Professional application is not necessary
  • Cost: $1000+

Top 5 Waxing Products

  1. Chemical Guys Buttery Wet Wax
  2. P21S 12700W Carnauba Wax
  3. Griots Garage Wax
  4. Meguiar’s G18220 Ultimate Liquid Wax, 20 oz
  5. Carfidant Premium Liquid Car Wax

Initial Impressions

An old-time favorite, and for good reasons. Waxing your vehicle’s paint helps add to the topcoat an additional layer of protection from the elements. Specifically, waxing can protect your paint from harmful UV rays, water, rain, snow, contaminants, and even minor abrasions from dirt. You may be thinking, “water”? Yes. Rainwater isn’t just water. It’s full of pollutants and abrasive materials that, left alone, can adhere to the clear coat and, over time, cause issues. Wax allows water to bead up and roll off your vehicle (creating a hydrophobic layer of protection).

Another benefit is that wax helps to fill in the imperfections in your clear coat, the minor ones. When you wax your vehicle, you’re not only giving it a nice, shiny barrier, but you’re also helping your clear coat and filling in some of the gaps that are there.

Choosing to hand or machine wax your vehicle will drive different results (and some camps will say otherwise, and that’s fine). However, a random orbital can work wonders on your truck, and with patience, good instruction, and practice, it can give you a professional detail finish without a “professional detail” cost. With that, hand waxing is probably one of the most fool-proof methods of paint protection. Furthermore, since it doesn’t require the use of a machine, the likelihood of “messing up” is significantly low.

Wax isn’t a permanent solution, and the impact of protecting your paint isn’t as high as some other options we’ll go over. Waxes need to be applied (and reapplied) ideally to a detailed (wash, clay bar, etc.) surface every so often (based on your waxes instructions, where you live, and your driving/storage habits). A general rule of thumb is about 4+ times per year. And when it comes to “protection,” a good layer of wax won’t save you from rock chips, but it can help you with pinstriping (if you have a good enough coat of it).


  • Cheaper upfront cost (than ceramic, wrapping, PPF)
  • Protects from light scratches, UV, and water
  • Makes cleaning/washing easier
  • Gives a nice shine/appearance
  • Relatively easy to do yourself


  • Long-Term cost (if done each time professionally)
  • Still have to correctly wash/detail vehicle regularly
  • Doesn’t mitigate rock chips
  • Doesn’t entirely prevent pinstriping
  • Isn’t a very hard/strong protectant

Ceramic Coating

Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Paint

Pictured: @GOPHERDIRT – Ceramic Pro Coating + Paint Correction by Front Range Auto


  • Various brands with varying degrees of “hardness.”
  • Hand or machine application
  • Professional application recommended
  • Cost: $100s-$1000+

Top 3 Products:

Initial Impressions

More and more, people are talking about ceramic coatings. Like waxing, the ceramic coating protects your vehicle from UV, light scratches, water, dust, etc. – but arguably much better than wax. One of the significant differences between waxing and ceramic is that ceramic can last much longer. How much? It depends.

Like wax, ceramic coats are not made equally, and the application and number of coats vary. Some products tout months, while others claim years. And if you have it professionally done, many detailers offer 5-year, 10-year, or lifetime protection packages. Generally speaking, these longer-term protection offerings include – and require – touch-ups from the detailer – and proper upkeep from you. So if you’re going the professional (my recommendation) route, do your homework and ask questions (I’ll tell you about my experience later on).

The long-lasting protection is because ceramic coatings chemically bond to the clear coat – wax just sits on top. In addition to bonding with the clear coat, ceramic also increases in hardness once it’s finished curing. Meaning this is a potentially much more durable substance than your typical wax once all is said and done. That said, some of the same rules apply with ceramic as they do with wax: ceramic won’t stop things like rock chips, the effects of being keyed (it happens), or sliding alongside a gnarly rock. It can, however, act as additional protection for your clear coat and paint by taking the brunt of sand, dirt, rain, snow, and brush/bushes (so long as you don’t get gauged).

As far as the install and application: you can probably do a ceramic coating yourself. There are a ton of Youtube videos on it. Just be sure you’re able, willing, and ready to do any paint correction necessary beforehand. Think of ceramic coating as an additional, more substantial, clear coat. If you put that over a messed-up paint job, you’re going to highlight any imperfections already there.


Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your PaintPictured: Jeff Steffens’ 4Runner – TRD Style Valance, Grill, and Hood Vinyl Wrap


  • It can come in any color or design
  • Professional application recommended
  • Cost: $1000+ (professional)

Top 3 Products:

Initial Impressions

A lot of folks wrap vehicles because they want a new, or unique, look. Wrapping consists of a vinyl film stretched, heated, and adhered to your vehicle’s surface. The options and colorways are nearly limitless and could have you going from a Super White 4Runner to Electric Lime Metallic seemingly overnight.

Beyond making your vehicle look and feel “brand new,” a vinyl wrap can also protect your paint. Since it can cover your entire vehicle (or selected pieces), you can shield your 4Runner from UV, water, dirt, dust, sand, etc. The wrap is exposed to the elements in your paint’s place, similar to a thin “skin.” Vinyl (depending on thickness) will do a much better job at withstanding rock chips and pinstriping than waxing or ceramic. But that doesn’t make it impervious. Gashes and deep scratches can still go through to the paint and leave you with a “badge of honor.”

You can technically wrap your car “as it” once it’s clean, but for the best results, you need to take care of any imperfections in the paint first. A minor issue now can, over time, become a much larger problem after years have gone by and you decide to remove the wrap. And yes, you can apply a wrap yourself. I’ve seen plenty of folks wrap their roof before adding a roof rack; there’s even a guide for wrapping your valance, grill, and hood here on the site. For the big jobs, though, get a professional to take care of it for you. Besides the peace of mind on the install, most reputable installers will offer a warranty to cover quality.

Now, where most people get concerned with wraps is when it comes time for removal. And this is touchy. When installed professionally and taken care of (regularly hand-washed, etc.), vinyl can last around 5-years. After that, you’ll potentially begin to see deterioration and fading over time – and some wraps can be ceramic coated to slow that process down a bit. And when your wrap has hit its limit, you’ll typically have to pay whoever installed it to take it off (a fraction of the install cost) – or remove it yourself. Again, there are Youtube videos galore on how to apply and remove wraps. People run into a problem because heat and time can cause the vinyl to adhere to the paint, making it a pain to get off. And here’s where asking an installer all of your questions comes back into play (the method, does it come off easy, etc.).

Remember, vinyl adheres to your vehicle via heat. So it stands to reason that heat impacts longevity and quality (bubbling, etc.). Of course, this is usually in extreme heat circumstances where this becomes a problem, but it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you tend to live somewhere where heat and full-on sun exposure are the norms.


  • Single, up-front cost for more extended protection (~5 years)
  • Protects from light scratches, UV, and water (better than wax)
  • Can have a custom looking car for less than a quality paint job (and it’s not permanent)
  • Better protection than wax/ceramic (adds an extra layer between the vehicle and the elements)
  • Better rock chip protection than wax/ceramic
  • It takes the brunt of pinstriping


  • Substantial upfront cost (when done professionally)
  • Still have to correctly wash/detail vehicle regularly
  • Doesn’t eliminate rock chips
  • It doesn’t prevent hard scratches from taking place
  • Be mindful of consistent high heat/direct sun exposure.
  • Removal can be a pain

Paint Protection Film (PPF)

Protecting Your 5th Gen 4Runner: Wax, PPF, Wrapping, or Something Else? A Complete Guide to Protecting Your PaintPictured: Steve KPA – @ANCHR3D – 2018 Cavalry Blue TRD Pro with Suntek PPF


  • Top 3 brands: SunTek, 3m, Xpel
  • Professional application recommended
  • Cost: $1000+ (professional)

Top 3 Products:

Initial Impressions

The most expensive and most protective option of those listed above is PPF. As the name implies, paint protection film (PPF) is a semi-thick film that can cover entire surfaces of your vehicle. Like the protective film used on cell phones, these products boast the ability to resist scratches, UV, dirt, sand, water, and even rock chips. Back in the day, this was generally offered only as a “clear bra” to protect your car’s hood and front bumper. However, this product has evolved over the years – no longer becoming that crusty off-yellow film you’d see on older luxury vehicles.

Like vinyl wraps, PPF is applied however you deem necessary, or your pocketbook will allow. When thinking of getting it for your 4Runner, you would likely be looking to protect the hood, bumper, front fenders, and all four doors. Doing this would give you protection from incoming rock chips, all manner of pinstriping, and light door dings here and there. Also, similar to every method so far, you will want to invest in getting the paint looking as good as possible before application.

PPF is a transparent film (urethane or proprietary combination) applied to a clean and fully prepped surface with a fitting solution. What makes it so unique is that it not only resists scratches, adds a (thick) layer of protection, but some even tout “self-healing” properties. Again, if you’ve ever had one of those film screen protectors, you get the idea of how PPF works and is applied. You can find a manufacturer with a template for your vehicle, or you can get individual sheets/rolls and cut them appropriately. And just like those pesky film screen protectors, PPF will trap anything that gets between it and the vehicle – if you’re not careful. Personally, if you want to go the PPF route, get it done by a professional. PPF is a product that, when installed properly, can last upwards of 10 years – so you’ll want it done right, without visible seams, jagged edges, or peeling down the line.

One of the things that PPF also can do is be ceramic coated. This combo may be overkill for most, but it does bear mentioning. So instead of just getting arguably the best protection from PPF, you also add to its longevity, look, and durability. Combined, they create the ultimate showroom look and feel for protecting your 4Runner. And while it sounds fancy, it’s also got a price tag to boot. So some will say, “it’s a truck, it’s meant to get messed up,” and others will say, “yeah, but it’s MY truck; it’s my pride and joy.” And both would be right.


  • 10-year paint protection (when installed professionally)
  • Protects your paint from scratches, UV, dirt, sand, water, etc.
  • Prevents rock chips
  • Protects against pinstriping
  • Can select which portions to protect


  • Substantial upfront cost
  • Still have to correctly wash/detail vehicle regularly
  • With enough pressure, it can be penetrated

Final Thoughts

Fresh Wax from - Chemical Guys Buttery Wet WaxFresh Wax from – Chemical Guys Buttery Wet Wax

There are several options for protecting your paint and your investment.

Above, I’ve tried to highlight the general pros and cons of a few of the most common and most asked about options – without going too deep into too many specific product recommendations.

While there isn’t a “bulletproof” solution, each category above will leave you in a better state than nothing at all. Personally, if you can afford it, go with the PPF. It’s pricy, but it’s long-lasting, and in the 4Runner world, it’s not a matter of “if” you’ll need protection; it’s just a matter of time until, “man, I should’ve.”

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1 year ago

Cost: $1000+ for wax? That’s gotta be a typo right? Wax is the cheapest option, way cheaper than a ceramic coat, even if you’re reapplying ever 3-6 months.

Anthony Jackson
Anthony Jackson
2 years ago

Enjoyed the article. Good read and a lot to consider.

2 years ago

If you are going to wheel your truck go with PPF instead of ceramic coating. You are guaranteed to have pin stripes and such and coating does not protect you from that. Plus, the more you wheel the more frequent “touch up” is needed and that can add up a lot.

Source: Me. I have 10 year ceramic coating on my rig but after a year of weekly wheeling and going down tight trails, getting dusty and muddy, and all the fun stuff my shop had to redo the coating entirely. Pin stripes and other badges of honor are not protected by coating.

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