The allure of modifying the outward appearance of one’s vehicle can be quite the draw. And why not? It is a very valid form of self expression, a mobile artistic outlet, and a generally simple way to scratch a unique visual itch. The best part? With modern technology, the act of personalizing a vehicle can be completely reversible, without expensive paint work or damaging the existing paint.
The American consumer has never had as many options as they do today.
First we can look at one of the less expensive options, the simple static cling. Contrary to popular belief, static clings don’t actually use static electricity to bond to a surface. Static clings are composed of a very thin, very smooth vinyl material, which allows the cling decal to act like a large, flat suction cup. In some ways this is nice. There are no adhesives to damage paints, and static clings will generally stick to any large, flat, very smooth surface. They are also generally inexpensive due to the very thin material required.
However, static clings also have some significant shortcomings. First, their bond with a surface is only as good as the surface is smooth. They work well on glass, but often not as well on paint or bumpers due to even minor surface imperfections. This also means they are particularly susceptible to wind and weather damage, as they have a weaker bond than some of the other options listed in this article. Overall, static clings are a decent option for reversible window dressings, but less so for the rest of the vehicle.
And what about the simple automotive magnet decal? These are essentially overgrown refrigerator magnets—large flexible magnets with a vinyl outer surface for printing letters, designs, or logos. A magnetic powder is mixed with a rubberized polymer to create flexible sheets of magnetic material that will adhere to ferrous metals—irons and carbon steels, the stuff most vehicle panels are made from these days. That is also one of the downsides—if you own a 2016 or newer Ford F-150, the aluminum body construction means you’re out of luck. Similarly if you own a Corvette or any number of other vehicles with composite body panels, magnetic decals just won’t stick. This also rules out glass surfaces and most bumpers, which are generally plastic these days. However, for vehicles with steel body panels, magnetic decals represent an incredible easily reversible visual modification.
They are easily reversible due to the low-powered magnetic bond, which also means they do not like to stay in place. Magnetic decals and “stickers” tend to move around on a body panel due to wind or even just gently brushing up against the magnet. This also means they can come off while driving or going through the car wash. These shortcomings are offset by the low cost, with any number of small designs under $20, and larger ones not too much more. Flexible magnets are limited in size, as their low bond strength means larger designs can’t stay in place very well. They also tend to degrade in the sun over time as UV light breaks down the rubber polymer. While the most reversible option, flexible magnets are not the most robust.
Another inexpensive option is a simple sticker. Typically a glossy paper or PVC product backed with some sort of glue adhesive, automotive stickers will adhere to nearly any surface. And stick they do. They are one of the most robust options for sheer adhesive power. After application, these won’t move at all, meaning you only really get one chance to apply them in the correct spot. This also means that they can be a real pain to remove after they’ve begun to fade or if you’ve just grown tired of the design. The glue backings can sometimes damage paint or leave stubborn and unsightly residue upon removal that can take a lot of time and elbow grease to remove.
The construction materials also matter a great deal—the thicker the sticker, the easier to remove, but are also more expensive. Matte and paper-like finishes can take on moisture and ruin the look of the decal, as well as make it harder to remove. Glossy finishes are much more resistant to the elements, but still not infallible. Paper- and PVC-based stickers also do not adhere well to complex curves or compound angles, making them difficult to apply many areas of modernly designed vehicles. Stickers can be a good option due to their low cost, and they will stick to nearly any material, with nearly any type of finish, unlike magnets or static clings.
VINYL DECALS & CAR WRAPS
However, the simple sticker in many ways gets beat up on by its bigger, more developed brother—the vinyl decals. Vinyl decals have a number of advantages over the other options discussed so far. Vinyl provides a very vibrant color that resists UV light very well. The adhesive backing is of a higher quality than most stickers, meaning that it still sticks just as well to just as many surfaces, but does not leave residue behind when removing, as the glue bond is stronger with the vinyl than with the surface it was applied to. Vinyl is also good for complex shapes and contours, as it can be stretched to fit around corners, spherical surfaces, and more. Vinyl decals are also easier to remove than stickers, as they are much thicker, and much less susceptible to tearing upon removal.
They do however, have one big downside—cost. Small vinyl decals cost several times more than stickers, static clings, or even magnets. Large designs such as car wraps can stretch into hundreds or even thousands of dollars, a tradeoff opposite of the other options explore thus far.
There is another interesting solution though, that combines a lot of the best features of all the previously mentioned visual modification options. Car Floats provides a very unique product that is in many ways a step above the alternatives. Car Floats are a fabric-based cutout decal for your vehicle. This means they resist tearing better than a thin sticker, but also have the durability and flexibility similar to a vinyl decal.
Car Floats also use a unique adhesive that allows them to stick with great strength, but also be easily removeable and reusable like a magnet, with no adhesive residue or damage to the vehicle’s paint. They hold up well in adverse weather unlike static clings and can go through the car wash with no issues unlike magnets.
Car Floats can be used seasonally and removed like they were never there, stored in the closet, and brought out next year to stick again just like the first time. Unlike magnets however, Car Floats will bond to virtually any material or clean surface, giving users great flexibility in placement—painted metal, composites, plastic, glass—you name it.
Despite being perhaps the best of all worlds in the reversible vehicle style market, Car Floats are remarkably affordable. With single small decal options under $20 and larger full-vehicle packages under $200,
Car Floats undercut a vinyl of the same size on cost, but unlike vinyl decals, are completely reusable. And with a number of creative styles available, there’s something for nearly everyone. But no matter what you choose to spice up your vehicle with, rest assured that you’re doing your part to bring fashion, originality, and most importantly, joy, to our roadways. And the world could use more of that these days.