Why do car dealers always place those promotional decals on the back of a car? Whether you refuse to comply with the dealer’s assumption of free advertising or you just want a clean look, step one is figuring out how to remove the dealer sticker from the car.
Will you need supplies? Yes. Are they expensive or hard to find? Nope. Some of these tools are on hand at home. If you’re motivated and have a bit of time, let’s go “incognito mode” and strip those awful dealer decals from your new car.
How to remove a dealer sticker from a car
The average, run-of-the-mill dealership sticker is just cut from vinyl sheets with a noncorrosive adhesive to hold it to the paint. Others might be plasticized, printed stickers that have a flashy chrome background—or maybe they’re transparent. If they’re heavy-duty plastic or metallic emblems, there could be two-sided foam tape on the back. What they’re made of doesn’t matter quite as much as the adhesive used: a glue that stays pliable for years.
The trick to removing stickers isn’t so much about the sticker itself—it’s getting the adhesive holding the decal to your car to let go. This is doable with a few common supplies:
- A bucket of warm soapy water
- A clean lint-free rag
- A plastic razor or scraper
- Adhesive remover
- A hair dryer or heat gun
If it’s really stuck on, you might also need a drill and a low-speed rubber wheel.
Clean and dry the area with soap
Regardless of which type of sticker you’re removing, start with a clean surface. Dirt, sand, dust—they’re all abrasive materials that can scratch the paint’s glossy finish if you’re attacking it with a scraper.
Be gentle. Use warm water in a bucket with a gentle car wash soap and a clean cloth or sponge to clean around the stickers. Clean an area large enough that you don’t have rivulets of dirty water running down into your work area. Then wipe everything dry. Save your water for later, though.
Avoid using dish soap for washing your car. Dish soap is designed to strip any unwanted bits and substances from your dishes, so it has the capacity to pull the protective wax or polish off your paint.
Heat the sticker with a hair dryer
The first trick for how to remove dealership decals is found in a beauty salon: a hair dryer. If you’ve tried picking at the edge of the sticker with your nails, you’ll find that they’re not nearly as pliable as a new sticker usually is. With a little heat added, the sticker will soften right up and should peel off whole or in larger chunks.
Using a hair dryer aimed about six inches away, warm the decal. Keep the hair dryer moving in circular motion—if you hold still too long, you could damage the paint. Even the benign heat of a hair dryer can leave a hazy, whitish blotch around the sticker. You can always rewarm it, and you’ll probably have to come back to this step often.
If by chance you have a professional-grade heat gun, that works even better, but you’ll need to be extra careful not to burn the paint.
Begin to lift the sticker with the plastic scraper
Using a scraper with a plastic edge—not a metal razor—begin to lift the edge of the sticker. All you’re looking to do at this stage is create tiny fingerholds so you can pull the pieces off. You’ll need to lift the edge of each individual piece if it isn’t a single slab of vinyl or plastic.
If you don’t have a scraper or a plastic razor blade, an old credit card could also do the trick.
Use your hand to peel the sticker in one piece
Once you have the edge lifted, use your fingers to gently pull the sticker off. Newer ones will stretch but come off in big pieces or whole. This is the best way to remove a dealer sticker from a car, even if it’s older—but expect the pieces to break off from time to time. Pick at the edge with your scraper again and keep pulling.
If your sticker is stubborn—an old, cracked one, for example—use one hand to pull on a corner of the heated sticker and the other to coax the decal away from the paint with a plastic scraper. Take your time and reapply heat as required. This is a good time to start applying adhesive remover.
Repeat until the sticker is all pulled off leaving a gooey, sticky mess exposed.
Clean off any remaining adhesive
If you leave the situation at that, a grimy, dirty patch will be left behind as the residue collects everything that touches it. That will make it much harder to clean up. Spray or wipe adhesive remover onto the spot using either a spray bottle or a clean, lint-free cloth.
Give it a minute to soften and absorb, then aggressively wipe with the cloth. Your plastic scraper could assist, working the residue off the paint as it glops together.
After the residue is gone, give the spot a final wipe with a clean part of your cloth moistened by adhesive remover.
Clean, dry and wax the area
With the goo gone, clean up and protect the area. Wash it with your soapy water, then let it dry completely. Evaluate if the adhesive is gone. If not, touch it up and wash it off again.
Protect the spot that was previously covered by a sticker. Odds are that any wax or paint protectant was applied long after it was installed, so the spot is bound to be unprotected. If you regularly wax your car, use the same stuff to protect this area.
How to remove dealership decals
Wondering how to remove a dealership decal from a car if it’s a massive, textured chunk of plastic or fake chrome? The process is similar to vinyl or plastic stickers, but with a few twists thrown in for fun.
Before you attempt to pull the decal off the car, examine the backside of the panel to make sure it isn’t held in place with screws. If it’s screwed or riveted on, shake your fist at the sky while cursing the dealer, then consider if removing the decal is worth it. There will be holes that need to be repaired and the panel will need to be repainted.
Because even stronger adhesives are often used in these instances, there’s a moderate chance that you could pull paint off with the decal. Is the risk worth it, or should you have a detailing shop do it for you?
Clean the area first
Just like dealing with vinyl dealer stickers, wash the area with warm, soapy water and dry it. Because the adhesive layer is probably thicker, try to get any dirt away from the edges of the chunky plastic decal.
Apply heat liberally
Thick, three-dimensional dealer decals require more heat than their vinyl counterparts. It could take a few minutes of gentle heating to get the area warm enough to work on. Careful, it might be too warm to touch barehanded.
Work the decal loose
While the decal is warm, apply adhesive remover and start working around the edges of the decal to break the adhesion. It will probably take a few times around with a plastic scraper before you see progress. Apply more heat when the spot cools down. You’ll be able to feel the difference between warm and cold adhesive.
Once you’ve made a little progress, apply gentle pressure between the decal and the car body with your fingers or a plastic scraper. Continue working at the adhesive until the decal pops free.
Remove the adhesive
In the same way as vinyl decals, generously apply adhesive remover. For this style of decal, you’ll need your scraper to remove more adhesive material. Give it a final wipe with your cleaner-dampened cloth.
Clean up, repair if necessary and protect
Wash the affected area and wipe dry. If there are holes in the panel or the adhesive removed any paint off, you’ll need to have a body shop repair that before moving on. Otherwise, apply your favorite wax or polish to protect the area you’ve just debadged.
How to protect your car long-term
If removing a decal is as much car care as you’ve ever done, let’s just say there’s some room for growth. A car’s longevity often hinges on how well it has been cared for over the years. That’s more than just engine and mechanical maintenance—it’s exterior care and protection, too.
You’ve clearly taken pride in your car by learning how to remove dealer decals, so take the next steps to try and ensure it’s going to look great for years to come.
Wash your car often
Do you see swirl marks on your car in the sunlight? If you look at the paint closely, you’ll see ultra-fine scratches all over. They’re unavoidable over the course of years or decades, but a recent-model car shouldn’t look that way. The culprit? A dirty car.
Dust and dirt are abrasive materials, like microscopic jagged little pieces of gravel. Any amount of friction on these aggregates will make them gouge into the paint. Never wipe your dusty or dirty car with a dry cloth, or you’re going to make it much worse.
Instead, wash your car often. Rinse away visible dirt with a pressure washer, then lay down a good coat of water before scrubbing with a brush or wash mitt. Rinse your brush or mitt often.
Consider frequent waxing
You can make dust slide right off the paint if you establish a slippery coating on your car’s finish. Using premium wax products should do the trick for this. Experts often suggest waxing a car at least every three months to keep it protected from the sun and create that slippery barrier.
Products available today are better than ever. Color correction techniques, such as ceramic coating, can last much longer than three months if they’re kept clean, although regular washing will eventually wear the coating away.
Park in the garage
Who doesn’t want to show their car off, parked on the street in front of the house? Instead of being that guy, park your car in the garage, carport or parkade to keep it better protected. The more you can prevent the car from getting dirty or getting bugs or bird droppings on it, the longer it’s going to look fabulous.
Invest in a good car cover
If you don’t have a garage, keep your car squeaky clean with a car cover. It might be cumbersome to put it on and take it off all the time, but the other option is a car worn more than it needs to be.
Don’t put a car cover on a filthy car. The dirt will act like sandpaper trapped between the cover and your car, causing more damage.