RV decal replacement, what you need to know

decal replacement cracked vinyl
Decal replacement – Unless you’re the happy owner of a vintage travel trailer like the Airstream, chances are the exterior walls of your RV are covered with colourful wavy stripes.
Since manufacturers started building laminated or fiberglass RV exterior walls, you can see graphics on their surface. It is sad but these giant vinyl stickers never outlive the RV. As time goes by, your motorhome will start to lose its shine, decals will start to fade and crack. So what can you do about it?

How to protect the decals?

Vinyl respond to exposure to the elements differently than the fiberglass and painted surfaces they are attached to. With time you will see the edge peel off and the vinyl will crack. Unfortunately, there is no magic product on the market right now to make cracked vinyl look new again. Good news is you can still use some protectants that will work against the sun and elements. You can use vinyl protection sprays to protect your decals from the sun. It is strongly advised to avoid any kind of adhesives or glues to reattach them as those products could damage the surface of your RV exterior walls.

The makeover

If your graphics are too far gone to protect, your choices are limited to either leaving the graphics as is or opt for decal replacement. If you choose to go for the makeover, you basically have two options: new decals or fresh paint. Either way, you will have to remove the old decals which can be a very painful job. The more damaged the vinyl, the harder to take it off.
Some people will suggest using a rotary vinyl eraser but you might damage the surface below. The best way to peel the decals off is to apply heat as you peel them (as described below). You will need a blow dryer, plastic razor blades, your finger nails and a lot of patience.
Removal of the graphics reveals the original vehicle color, creating a ghost image of the shape that have been peeled off.  Basically, you will have the thin semi-translucent lines that shows where the decal was. After removing the vinyl you can clean the glue with Rapid Remover made by RapidTac. Just make sure you don’t use harsh chemicals or abrasives for it can damage the fiberglass and also your health.

decal replacement motorhomeTo paint or not to paint

The ghost line can be hidden by new decals but only partially. This is why we recommend painting the unit previous to installation for ultimate results. Going for a full body paint job seems to be the optimum solution, but it will cost quite a bit. Not to mention that it will hardly compensate with the resale price. Nowadays, you can buy an RV with painted design on it instead of vinyl decals. It is more expensive but it will look good for a longer period of time.
We do not recommend installing decals over existing decals. Some people will even paint over top of old decals. We do not recommend that! Even if you do a nice job covering the vinyl with paint, it will only last for a little while. It will also make it harder to fix or replace a damaged panel if you get involved into a collision.

New graphics?

As for graphic kits, most of them are hard to get, unless your unit is relatively new. Manufacturers will sometimes order extra decals in addition to those needed for production. They can keep them in stock for warranty replacement or parts sales later on. But the shelf life of vinyl is limited, decals can deteriorate even when not installed. If you have some extra, make sure you store them flat or as they originally come (usually on a cardboard roll). They can become much less flexible and durable with time so it’s best to avoid manipulate them. The useful life of uninstalled graphics can be as little as a couple years.
You can find a lot of videos online that explains how to install decals and it can look pretty easy. But in fact, it takes skill and experience do a good job, and it might be better to let a professional do the install.

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How to peel decals

If you are going to do this yourself, make sure you check with your graphics supplier for their advice .

1- Soften the edges of the tape stripe with the heat gun or air blow dryer.
2- Use you finger nail  or plastic blades to carefully peel a corner away from the surface.
3- Heat the vinyl as you peel away to keep it flexible. If the vinyl melt or brake, it means your heat source is too close or too far. 
4- Use Rapid Remover on the residues to dissolve the remaining adhesive.
5- Scrape the glue off with the plastic razor blade. Rub vigorously with the rag and repeat until all adhesive is gone.