Here Are the Three Ways to Remove Old Vinyl Stickers Off Your Car

If you wanted to find the most well-worn, gnarly vinyl-stickered-up car available, you’d have a hard time finding something better than Alex Roy’s BMW M5 that he used to reset the NYC-LA Cannonball Run record back in the 2000s.

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The car ran thousands of miles of high-speed driving across a couple continents, and it has spent its retirement in the middle of New York City. It is, ahem, dripping with character, not to mention grime.

And this is why it charms me that Alex’s buddy Larry Kosilla, probably the world’s most eager auto detailer, got a hold of the thing to fully detail it.

Larry put a whole video of the process online, and it’s worth watching just to see and hear him sternly advise you about how to take care of even the most cracked leather seats, or patiently scrub brake dust from the well-used calipers. To watch the video is to see a man engage in productive obsession, like a successful monomania.

But anyway, I’m getting away from the meat and bones of this. Just before the eight minute mark in the video, Larry goes to town on the three means of removing stubborn vinyl, in order of most ideal to least, or least desperate to most.

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1. Steam

The idea of all of this is to loosen the glue that holds the sticker to the paint without damaging the paint itself. A steam gun will do this job as gently as possible.

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2. Heat Gun

Same idea, more risk. It’s not hard to overheat the paint and damage it as you try and get the vinyl off. A good way to check, Larry notes, is that if you put your hand to the body of the car and you can’t standing holding it there for a second or two, the panel is too hot.

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3. A Rubber Wheel

A rubber wheel on a power tool will absolutely take off any vinyl (and eat itself in the process), but again, dwell too long on one spot and you risk taking off not only the vinyl but also your clear coat.

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Outside of these three points, Larry reminds that what you want to do is always pre-heat the vinyl with a towel soaked in hot water laid resting on the sticker itself for 20 seconds or so before you go to town in it. (That towel is microfibre, right?)

Larry also notes that you may have used your fingernail to get vinyl stickers off in the past, but if you’re going through a lot of stickers, you’ll really want a plastic cutter to get the job done and keep your hands in one piece.

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So too will you want to rub over all of the remaining sticker outlines with glue-gone before polishing the whole thing again. This will stop you from buffing glue residue back onto your paint.

It’s not the fastest process, but this is something you want to do right once, not wrong a dozen times.

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About the author

Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.