12 – Removing old vinyl wrap

Using vinyl wrap is a great and inexpensive way to give your vehicle a fresh look. Many comapanies will use vinyl wrap to add graphics, logos, phone numbers, and the like to a vehicle to improve visibility of a product or service. In the off-road world, professionals use vinyl wrap to display sponsor logos, team information and vehicle numbers. But what happens to vinyl wrap if you leave it on too long?

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Recently I purchased a 1999 Isuzu Vehicross, a great little 4 wheel drive SUV that was ahead of its time. When I purchased the VX it was completely covered in vinyl wrap that displayed a faux-carbon-fiber print. I am sure that several years ago it may have actually looked good. After all, in the early 2000’s carbon fiber was all the rage. Wasn’t it?

Most vinyl wraps are good for 5-7 years. Longer if they are garaged more often than not and stay out of the sun. Prints and patterns generally last for up to 5 years, and is generally recommended to remove or replace the wrap after 3-4 years. As long as the vinyl wrap is taken care of per manufacturers instructions everything should go smoothly, in theory.

But what happens after that? While I am not sure how long the VX has been encased in vinyl, I can say it is definitely been more that 5 years. The wrap was cracking, brittle, flaky, and the clear top coat that had long ago stopped providing any sort of shine had a tendency to peal away without the rest of the wrap.

It has taken the better part of four days to completely remove this, gluey, sticky, brittle mess from the VX. Normally you just apply heat from a heat gun to vinyl wrap and peels off as a single sheet with little to no glue residue afterwards. This was not my experience. Basically I had developed two plans for attacking the problem.

The first plan worked well, for a while. The plan was to apply lower heat over a longer period of time to slowly remove the wrap with as little glue residue as I could. The problem was the wrap itself had become so brittle that it kept breaking. This was further compounded by small dings the wrap had suffered throughout its life. At each “ding”, the glue, nor the wrap, would let go of the metal. It took a lot of work to get an area about the size of the ball on a ballpoint pen to come loose. Painstaking work to say the least. The worst part was that it did nothing to reduce the glue residue that was being left behind.

Another plan was needed.

My second plan worked very well, mostly. Better than the first, but still not so great. The second plan was to use high heat, but also over a long period. I would heat the vinyl wrap to the point that it started to bubble, then work quickly to pull off as much as could, as fast as I could, before it cooled again.

This worked for speed, but left even more glue residue than the first plan. It also did nothing to help separate the wrap in the “impact zones”. These areas included the front slope of the roof and hood and were the absolute worst to deal with. But it did come off. Slowly, painfully, and against its own will, but it did finally come off.

Now I need some acetone to remove all the glue residue and I can start prepping for a repaint. A real repaint, not another vinyl wrap. In fact, this experience has probably turned me off of ever wrapping a vehicle. However, if you do wrap your vehicle, make sure you remove it after not more than four years. Get a re-wrap done if you really want to keep it looking good. Not many people keep a vehicle more than a few years anyway, so do the next owner a favor and take it off before you sell it.

Until Next Time …

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