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How Can You Decorate Your Car Without Doing Damage

October 1, 2020

How Can You Decorate Your Car Without Doing Damage

They’re back in school. No, wait, they’re attending classes online. No, there is a rumor that they’re gonna be in person. Graduation ceremonies were nixed. Sporting seasons were cancelled. Oh, now sports are back on. Maybe. Ugh! This Covid thing is really confusing for students and their parents.

But among coronavirus concerns and school uncertainty, one tradition is sure to persist. Students love to show school spirit by decorating their cars – or those of their parents – to be used as rolling message boards and banners. Maybe more so now that a lot of in-person activities are on hold. And as fall sports may be heating up, you can expect a teenager near you to decorate a vehicle with all sorts of slogans and exclamations of “Go Bulldogs!” and “Seniors Rule!”

Did you know that there are ways to deck out the family sedan without damaging the paint? Or that damage was even a possibility? A probability? Here are some ideas to keep the car safe from damage underneath all of the graffiti.

(Read “How To Keep Your Car Cleaned and Organized”)

Number one is to make sure that the vehicle is clean, clean, clean before doing any decorating. There is no need to wash the vehicle by hand (in fact, that can do more harm than good anyway). Find a good soft touch automatic car wash and pay for the premium package. That way, you not only end up with a clean palate to work on, but the car wash “extras” – polymer sealant and wax coatings – will help to protect the paint and prevent decorations from sticking too aggressively.

You see, anytime you rub the surface of a vehicle that is dirty or dusty, you run the risk of scratching your paint. The words “Wash Me” scrawled onto the trunk lid unfortunately live on long after the dirt is removed. That is because dirt and dust are actually microscopic bits of rock. Abrasive rock. The acrylic clear coat surface on your car is hard, it is durable, but it is not made of stone. So, microscopic rocks will cause scratches. Avoid tracing letters into the mud on a car panel at all costs.

But even using a paint marker on a slightly dirty surface can cause slight scratches. Maybe not deep enough to dig through the clear coat layer, but enough to dull the paint and warrant professional detailing to remove the scratches and restore the gloss.

Magnetic decorations can do the same thing. Dirt trapped beneath a magnetic applique’ will cause scratches. Make sure the car is clean and dirt-free before adorning.

Once the car is clean, stick with temporary paints, paint markers, and window chalk. Permanent paints and inks are more difficult to remove; some even require the use of strong chemicals or abrasive action with a buffing wheel.

The glass on a car is less prone to scratching than the paint. But that is not to say that it cannot be scratched. It can. And care should be exercised when decorating the windows so as not to obstruct the view of the driver. Especially the windshield. Better to jazz up the body panels than cover the glass.

Other accoutrements to consider when dressing up a car include stickers and decals, most of which are extremely difficult to remove. Especially if they sit for too long or get wet. Sticky adhesives either lead someone to be too aggressive or to use harsh chemicals when removing stickers and decals. Neither of these methods is good for the paint. Consider using small magnets to hold the transfers in place rather than actually adhering them to the surface. That way, cleanup is simple and damage-free. If applying a sticker, make sure that the surface is clean.

Once the event is over, clean off the paint and other decorations as soon as possible. The longer some paints and adhesives remain in place, the harder they become to remove. Some can even etch their way into the paint, especially if the vehicle has been repainted. Other paint-safe ideas are using window flags and license plate frames. Not as showy, but not as damaging.

All of this to say, just take care when decorating (or letting your teenager decorate) a car. As long as it is clean first, and you (they) use temporary paints and non-abrasive measures, your car will make a fine billboard for the “Lakers” or the “Junior Class”.


This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

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